Surreal. It’s the only word to describe what took place in the Bronx on a rainy Friday in September. From wire to wire, this game lived up to the hype. A controversial Manny home-run-turned-foul-ball in the first to an improbable ninth-inning rally against a closer whose name is being whispered among those with an MVP vote. Throw in the oft-criticized left fielder making a catch for the ages and hours worth of game-threatening rain, all in the fever-pitched venue of Yankee Stadium, and you’ve got a Hollywood script as far-fetched as The Natural. Except this really happened.
The ninth inning of this game was the Red Sox 2004 season in a nutshell. The highest of hopes: a lead-off walk by Trot. The kick-in-the-crotch low: Varitek striking out for the fourth time on a high heater that everyone east of the Rockies knew was coming. The silver lining in the cloud: pinch-runner Dave Roberts stole second on the strikeout. The unlikely hero: “The OC” coming up clutch in the most important game he’s ever played as a professional to tie the game. The seed of doubt: Youk’s strikeout invokes the fear of extra innings. The big hit and the big break: Damon’s sinking line drive to center that Kenny Lofton inexplicably pulls up on. And finally, the closer: Keith Foulke gets Posada to fly out harmlessly after crushing an upper deck foul ball, then strikes out Giambi and Olerud. Ballgame.
It was the more subtle images that will stay with me longer. A quick shot of Curt Schilling standing on the top step of the dugout with his hand cupped behind his ear, asking the crowd why he couldn’t hear them anymore after the Cabrera hit. Orlando Cabrera’s face, an open book of joy as he lived a moment he dreamed a thousand times in his life. Manny Ramirez leaning over the railing watching the events of the ninth unfold, a lock of hair hanging on his forehead making him look eerily like Prince on steroids. And the best for last – Mariano Rivera watching Damon’s hit drop in front of Lofton with a look of disbelief, while yelling “catch the ball”.
This team has recaptured the hearts and imagination of Red Sox fans everywhere. As it has so many times before, the season feels like the anti-1978 season. Did it seem like the thinned-out crowd faithfully watching the final outs were mostly Sox fans? And before I forget (because it seems so long ago already), Bronson Arroyo pitched one hell of a game. Considering the history, the opposition, the venue and the elements, he pitched a friggin’ gem.
The euphoria may only last for the next 15 hours, but I will relish it. In fact, I may not sleep tonight for fear of missing a moment of what I’m feeling right now. It might be gone tomorrow night. But it just might be here forever.