When he left us for the Blue Jays, I was all, “To heck with that fat bastard” and “Have fun playing in front of 2,500 people.”
Then I attended his first game back at Fenway, pitching against Aaron Sele. And he had that look. That weird-ass I’m either gonna strike you out or charge the batter’s box and tear your throat out with my teeth thing. And he was setting us up and knocking us down and by the middle of the game we were cheering his every pitch.
Then he went to the Yankees. And whatever feelings we had left for him were squeezed away. No love for you. Not in those stripes, baby. It just can’t happen. And in the 1999 ALCS, we screamed for him to “have another donut” and chortled as Jose Offerman and Johnny V knocked him around like a sock full of pudding. It was the only thing worth cheering in that bloody awful series, and we sucked out every last ounce.
But then he pitched what we thought would be his last game at Fenway. And we got on our feet when Torre came to take him out. And we stayed there. And he waved his cap. And he nodded in acknowledgement. And for a few, awe-inspiring moments, we were willing to overlook the city emblazoned on his chest. Forget the fact that he’d eventually make another Fenway start in the now-infamous Game Three of the 2003 ALCS. I prefer to think of that walk-off standing O as our official “make peace” with the Rocket.
Then he retired. And then “un-retired.” And in doing so, he kinda-sorta messed with the Yankees a bit [prompting that “What an Ass-tro” headline in The Post]. And that was cool. And suddenly we found ourselves checking the Houston box scores and not-so-quietly rooting for the guy to win another Cy Young.
Now he’s un-retiring for yet another year. To the tune of a cool $18 million. And I gotta say, I’m happy for the guy.