Magic Sox Points
Okay, I’ve held off long enough. It’s time to write my “Red Sox are really freaking good” column. So here goes…
It’s May 14 and the old town club has an eight game lead over that team bombing in the Bronx. The good guys are currently on pace to win 112 games, and they just walked off at Fenway for the first time this season in most emphatic fashion.
And I missed it.
Being a Sunday game that was initially billed as Josh Beckett’s chance to stick his name next to Babe Ruth’s in the record books, this was the one that all of Red Sox Nation was tuned into.
Everyone except moi. At the precise moment when Julio Lugo was sliding into first base I was on a Long Island Railroad train returning from covering NCAA Lacrosse.
No worries though. In the words of the legendary-Tony Montana: “Isssoh-kay.”
In the two minutes or so that the train was underground in Brooklyn I received a barrage of texts and voicemails, and I pretty much got the gist. With a game like that, though, you really had to have watched it to capture it. In other words I couldn’t write about the game and offer a whole lot to my passionate and knowledgeable Sox-readership.
So in place of filling you in on my experience watching “Baseball Tonight” after the game (which was AWESOME), I will instead take you back to the last time the Sox overcame a five-run deficit in the ninth inning, because I was there.
April 10, 1998. Home opener against the Seattle Mariners. I was in the right-center field bleachers with my mom. The Red Sox were down 7-2 heading into the last of the ninth and Fenway had emptied. But I knew something most didn’t.
The worst closer the Red Sox ever had, Heathcliff Slocumb, had finally been dealt in 1997. While he was traded for two unknowns named Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe (a whole other column in itself), the Nation was both ecstatic and relieved just to hear he was out of town for good. I happened to know where the trade had spit him out, and to my delight on that fateful afternoon at the ballyard, he popped up in the most glorious of places: the Seattle bullpen.
With the bleachers almost barren he was fortunate enough to have one obnoxious little 14-year old boldly reminiscing about days past while he attempted to get loose on a brisk April afternoon turning to dusk.
To this day I still don’t know why Lou Piniella made the decision to bring Slocumb in for the ninth. But if Sweet Lou is anything, he’s a manager who’s not afraid to throw a player to the wolves if he feels like he’ll learn something from it. He probably calculated that a five-run lead at Fenway on Opening Day was the perfect combination of leeway and pending-disaster for him to get a legitimate look at his new “closer”.
What resulted was a complete catastrophe as Slocumb took the mound with no control and even less composure. He scattered a few singles around a few hit batsmen without recording an out. I’m pretty sure he hit Nomar to force in a run, making the game 7-5 with still nobody out and Mo Vaughn on deck. By this time the undersized concourses and slim alleyways were more populated than the cramped seats in the old ballpark. People were literally trying to cram their way back in.
Lou then pulled the plug on Heathcliff (and his career). He summoned Paul Spoljaric who promptly gave up a mammoth-walk off grand slam to the “Hit Dawg”, which soared over my left shoulder and disappeared into the right field grandstands.
To my knowledge there is no YouTube clip of this home run, but there should be. And should it surface you will see a brief shot of a kid jumping onto the fence between the visitors bullpen and the bleachers, hands violently waving over his head, as the ball carries into the blue wood-paneled seats in right.
And if someone ever tracks down the Channel 56 news reel from that night, amid the bedlam in the tunnel underneath the stadium a skinny kid in braces will appear from the left and in the next shot will have a mic in his face, belting out some version of: “I LOVE HEATHCLIFF!!!! THANK YOU HEATHCLIFF!!!!!! YOU’RE THE BEST!!!!!!!!”
I look back at that day as a defining moment. I grew up watching and loving the Red Sox, but that game marked the first time when I convinced myself that “this is the year”. The Pedro-acquisition had certainly helped reinforce that belief, but it was Mo Vaughn who made me really, truly believe.
Coming back to the present there’s no way anyone within the Nation would classify Sunday’s surreal victory as an illuminating, perception-altering moment, because the whole “this is the year” thing simply doesn’t apply anymore (see: 2004). Neither does one ridiculous comeback give off the collective impression that the ’07 Sox are suddenly the comeback kids (again, see: 2004). That’s the whole purpose of a “precedent”.
2004 and precedents aside, this 2007 Red Sox team is rapidly turning into something special, just not in the way we were expecting.
What if I had told you in March that on May 14, 1) Manny would be hitting .250, 2) J.D. Drew would have 12 RBIs…in 34 games, and 3) Dice-K would have an ERA of nearly five. Now would that be something you might have been interested in? I think not. In fact if you were privy to that info before the season started all you would’ve been interested in would be showing up at Scott Boras Headquarters with a blowtorch. But I digress.
Yes, Manny is still Manny. Dice-K is still getting acclimated, and is a self-proclaimed slow-starter (a phrase he now knows in multiple languages since meeting Manny). And Drew, well, Drew still gives as much of a hoot when he’s sucking as he does when he’s productive. Which is to say either way he doesn’t seem to care too much, so at least we don’t have to worry about this slump getting him down.
Point is, maybe we should all take a page from J.D.’s book of caring, because who really gives a crap about stats when the Sox are 25-11, eight games up, and only gaining steam? Not I.
All we should care about is that this team is gelling and it’s already adopted an identity, something I didn’t think would be possible to even start fathoming until mid-summer. But it’s happened, and it’s happened without some of the big-money new guys contributing much on the field. That’s fine by me because they are clearly chipping in what’s necessary for this team.
For Dice, and J.D., and even Julio Lugo, the numbers will come in time. (The Sox play 81 games at Fenway, remember?) All we need to concern ourselves with right now is that these guys are having fun, playing great baseball, and could care less about where they stand statistically in the league rankings.
Throw in a game like Sunday at the Fens and that’s when you know it’s a good time to be a Red Sox fan.