Thing Number One: This morning, Kiddo turned to me while eating breakfast and said, "hey Daddy, it's really quiet in here. Maybe that's because Mommy's gone."
"Hey Daddy, why are you laughing?"
Thing Number Two: I ran across a really great piece of writing that I had saved from right after the Red Sox beat the Yankees in the 2004 American League playoffs. I wish I could say I had written it...actually I suppose I could say I had written it, but I'd be lying. At any rate, it's an incredibly well-written "average die-hard Red Sox fan" viewpoint of that series, especially the final game. It's almost as if this guy had crawled into my brain and listened to my thoughts as I watched The Red Sox come back from the brink of being swept to complete the greatest series comeback in modern sports history. (OR...to watch the Yankees complete the greatest series choke-job in modern sports history...that sounds almost as nice.) Whether or not you're a Sox fan, if you've ever rooted for an underdog, you may be able to empathize with some of these emotions. Here you go:
The Nation's Independence Day by Bill Simmons
Honestly, I don't know what to do.
I just watched my beloved Red Sox win the American League pennant. That's only happened twice in my lifetime. I watched them rally back from three games down in a playoff series. That's never happened before, not in the history of baseball. I also just watched the Sox beat the Yankees in a deciding playoff game. Not only has that never happened before, it's a possible sign of the apocalypse.
Now get this ... all three things happened at the same time.
So what happens now? Where do I go from here? Should I throw myself into politics? Backpack across Europe? Take up gourmet cooking? Learn how to fly airplanes? Should I take the bus to Fort Hancock, cross the border and wander the beaches of Zihuatanejo looking for Andy and Red? You tell me. What should I do?
As recently as 75 hours ago, they were dead. Cooked. I can still remember standing in Fenway Park with my father, ready to hustle out of there as soon as the Yankees completed the sweep in the ninth. Then Millar drew a walk from Rivera. Signs of life. The crowd just wouldn't give up on this team -- everyone was standing and cheering like it was the seventh game of the World Series. Roberts ran onto the field as a pinch-runner, rattled Rivera into a few pickoff throws, swiped second and scooted home on a single from Mueller. Tie game. And the series was never the same.
I started thinking about a comeback that night, about 0.00000003 seconds after Ortiz's walkoff home run landed in the Yankees' bullpen a little before 1:30 a.m. So did everyone else. We had Pedro going in Game 5, then Schilling in Game 6. That's a puncher's chance. We also had a little momentum. Not much. But a little. Then Game 5 happened, moving us into the "Regardless of what happens, I love this team" stage of things. Then the Schilling Game happened and everyone believed.
To stage the greatest comeback in sports history against the most successful franchise in sports history, some Renee Zellweger-level crazy things need to happen. Like Rivera blowing consecutive saves. Like Wakefield getting out of a crucial inning despite three passed balls. Like Torre pitching to Ortiz instead of loading the bases for Mientktxdwdsdz at the end of Game 5. Like Schilling pitching with the sutures and the Roy Hobbs bloodstain on his sock. Like Foulke somehow recording 15 grueling outs over the course of 48 hours, including an impossible ninth inning in the Bronx in Game 6. The list goes on and on.
Miracles don't just happen. You need a bunch of mini-miracles along the way. Eventually they add up. So do the heroes.
And that's when it gets interesting.
By the time Game 7 rolled around, October 20th felt like a combination of New Year's Eve and the Fourth of July in Boston. This was bigger than all of us. Everyone was headed somewhere, or planning on heading somewhere. Nothing else mattered. Nothing. You couldn't walk five feet without seeing a Sox hat or hearing a conversation about the series. It was physically impossible.
I ended up watching the game in the Financial District, thanks to my buddy Sully's connections at a bar called The Office. We were able to invite about 20 guys -- closed-off room upstairs, projection TV, pizza and wings, the whole shebang -- operating under house rules (only Sox fans) and old-school country club rules (no chicks). Sometimes, guys just need to be around other guys. This was one of those times. We were 27 outs away from toppling the Yankees.
The beers started flowing. Fox kicked off the telecast by using the music from the Rocky-Drago training montage in "Rocky 4." You can imagine how I felt about that one. “When Nomar died, a part of me died, too. But now you're the one.” Everyone seemed optimistic ... right up until Damon was thrown out at home in the first inning, thanks to yet another bone-headed decision from the immortal Dale Sveum. If this guy was a school crossing guard, little kids would be getting pancaked by SUVs like Tony Mandarich in his prime.
We didn't even have 10 seconds to bitch about this before Ortiz crushed a two-run homer to right, and we were rolling. Derek Lowe pitched the biggest six innings of his life -- on two days' rest, no less -- and salvaged his dreadful regular season. The Struggling Johnny Damon (his extended name all week) smacked an astounding grand slam, my personal favorite moment of the night, only because it came from nowhere and sparked a two-minute long celebration of high-fiving, chest-bumping and general idiocy. Two innings later, Damon came up again and crushed another home run, a two-run job into the upper deck. So much for The Struggling Johnny Damon.
8-1, Red Sox. Fifteen outs to go.
We would have felt more confident with that cushion, but the announcers were determined to avoid any Yankees talk and concentrate solely on how the Sox could blow the game. They dragged out every disturbing statistic, every Babe Ruth sign, every negative Boston playoff memory they could find. I'm not positive on this, but I think McCarver and Buck started a "1918!" chant at one point. So yeah, we were a little uneasy.
But the Sox kept racking up those outs. The announcers didn't know what to do -- they had geared their entire broadcast around the inevitable Boston collapse. Forget about the fact that the Yankees had choked in the last two games in Boston, or that they lost at home to a 40-year-old guy whose ankle tendon was stapled to his ankle bone, or that they had a $180 million payroll, or that a Yankee collapse to Boston would be the most devastating moment in franchise history. Forget about showing more shots of the stunned fans, or Yankee players sitting listlessly in the dugout. None of this stuff mattered early. As the game dragged on, they started coming around.
"If they hold on to this lead, I'll tell you how big this would be," McCarver said at one point. "This could very well be the biggest win in Red Sox history."
Of course, that's like saying, "If John Kerry wins the election next month, that could very well be the biggest moment of his political career." But it was better than nothing. At least they weren't bringing up the Boston baggage as much. At least I wasn't thinking about it.
When Francona lifted Lowe in the seventh for Pedro Martinez, and Pedro allowed those two rockets to Matsui and Williams ... I mean, all those old demons came roaring back. It was the ultimate test. Like a recovering alcoholic opening that hotel mini-bar and seeing those tiny liquor bottles. Our room went silent, save for a few expletives and the echoes of the "Who's your Daddy?" chants. Poor Francona had unwittingly plugged Yankee Stadium back into its socket; I kept waiting for him to pull off the Paul Shaffer mask and reveal he was actually Grady Little.
I can't even describe the things I was thinking about. Terrible, horrible things. Dark things. I just kept remembering the words of my magazine editor, Neil, who called the series "Shakespearean" Wednesday afternoon. Well, if you were Shakespeare, how could you top last year's collapse if your ultimate goal was for an entire base of fans to kill themselves? Wouldn't you have their team roar back from a 3-0 series deficit, then blow an 8-1 lead in the deciding game? Wouldn't that do the trick?
I have never counted down the remaining outs in a game before. Never. Not until last night.
12 ... 11 ... 10 ...
(Pedro comes in.)
(Good God.) (Come on.) (Don't do this to me.) (I will hang myself.)
8 ... 7.
Just when the Yanks had some momentum, Bellhorn slammed an insurance home run off Gordon. Can you have insurance homers when the score is 8-3? Apparently so. Timlin made it through the eighth unscathed, with a major boost from Mientkiciwzwzz's outrageous scoop on an errant Mueller throw. (Defense, baby!)
5 ... 4 ... 3.
The top of the ninth yielded another insurance run off Gordon, who will be covered in blankets, duct-taped and thrown off one of Steinbrenner's yachts some time this winter. Now Fox was showing the obligatory reaction shots -- Yankee fans ready to start sobbing; Cashman frozen in his luxury box; A-Rod's eyes darting around the stadium, trying to figure out a way to cheat to get on base -- and that's when it felt real.
That used to be us. Not anymore.
"I almost started crying that inning," Sully said after it was over. "Is this what it feels like to be a girl?"
Seven-run lead. Three outs to go. Timlin got the first two and gave way to Embree, who retired Sierra on a routine grounder to end the game.
Let the record show that the Yanks went out with a whimper -- especially A-Rod (the anti-Babe), Sheffield (disappeared) and Matsui (never the same after Pedro dusted him in Game 4), not to mention Brown, Vazquez and Gordon, and even Torre (not his finest series). Only Jeter seemed to care that the Yankees were getting smoked -- there was one replay earlier in the game, after his RBI single, when he pumped his fist and shouted at his dugout, "Come on!" He seemed desperate. The Yankees never seem desperate. Now they were headed home for the winter, headed for the No. 1 slot on ESPN50's "Biggest Chokes" show in 2029.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox were celebrating at Yankee Stadium. Have I mentioned that yet? Meanwhile, we were doing our own celebrating at The Office—between exchanging high-fives and heterosexual man-hugs, I couldn't stop glancing at the TV. It's official, right? We definitely beat them, right?
"What's wrong with you?" Sully asked.
"Honestly? I keep waiting for them to announce that there's a Game 8."
Well, there wasn't. I said my goodbyes, headed out the door and walked around Faneuil Hall and Beacon Hill for the next 45 minutes, soaking in a scene I never thought I would see. Fans wearing Sox hats and T-shirts, everyone whooping and hollering. Car horns honking. A steady rumble of distant cheers coming from every direction -- Kenmore, Copley, B.C., B.U., Charlestown, you name it. If there's a better sound in life, I haven't heard one yet. Even greater than I imagined. Looking back, I probably had that same dumb smile walking around that Andy Dufresne gets in The Shawshank Redemption when they're working on the roof and everyone is drinking his beer.
To recap: Greatest comeback in sports history. First trip to the World Series in 18 years. First meaningful victory over the Yankees. All at the same time.
You have to be from here to understand. You just do. It wasn't just that the Yankees always win. It was everything else that came with it -- the petty barbs, the condescending remarks, the general sense of superiority from a fan base that derives a disproportionate amount of self-esteem from the success of their baseball team. I didn't care that they kept winning as much as they were jerks about it. Not all of them. Most of them. In 96 hours, everything was erased. Everything. It was like pressing the re-start button on a video game.
And yeah, I know. We need to win the World Series to complete the dream. But you can win the World Series every year. You only have one chance to destroy the Yanks. As my friend Mike (a Tigers fan) wrote me last night, "Everyone outside of Yankee brats are celebrating quietly with you guys. It's like you killed Michael Myers, Jason, Freddie Kreueger and Hannibal Lecter in one night."
It was the choke of chokes, an unprecedented gag job. For once, finally, the Yankees have some baggage. Just like every other baseball team.
One last story: I rolled into my dad's house at 1:30, only to find him in the living room, sound asleep, holding the TV remote in his hand like he'd been cryogenically frozen. On the television in front of him, Fox25 was showing live footage from Kenmore Square, as thousands and thousands of Boston fans were celebrating the impossible. After I muttered "Dad!" a few times, he finally jolted awake, glanced at me, then glanced at the TV.
"I can't believe it," he mumbled. "We beat the Yankees."
And it wasn't a dream.