All I can tell you is something happened to Fenway in the bottom of the eighth inning. Remember Opening Day last year when the crowd all cheered Mariano Rivera, and I wrote later that all 35,000 plus had been making the same joke all at once? The Fenway crowd displayed that exact same type of hivemind at the end of last night's game.
By the eighth inning, the Sox were down 8 to 1, an even worse score than the previous night, when plenty of people were content to beat the traffic. I remember looking around as Foulke worked the first of two steady innings (though he seemed frustrated, often pounding his glove and gesturing after a pitch that didn't go where he wanted it to go, which makes me more worried than the formal record of those innings might lead you to assume) and thinking, "Not a lot of people have left. Hm."
I myself had been thinking of leaving after Matt Clement gave up a grand slam to straightaway center in the second inning. So far he had put up a zero in the first inning, and so I had headed into the second downright smug, already doing better than the previous night, which is pretty much when the hand of Fate bitch-slapped me for arrogance.
From there the game was often a plodding affair, seeming at points (like when Julian Tavarez allowed two more runs to be tacked on to the total) interminable.
When Mad Mike came out to work the seventh, I was scanning the park with my binoculars, content to switch gears and try to find little tangential details to enjoy, like watching Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling, complete BFFs at this point, lean together on the dugout fence. They didn't talk all that much in the middle innings, but they seemed totally attached at the hip nonetheless, as if afraid to leave the other's side. I looked at the faces of the fans behind the dugout, reflecting back my own boredom and angst. I looked out to the bullpen to see if anyone else was warming up. Some of the things I spotted were mildly interesting, but I'm not going to claim it was anything but totally humdrum at this point in the game.
What happened in the eighth, on the surface, seems simple enough: Ortiz hit a two-run homer, and suddenly the crowd had something to be happy about again.
But the fact that there was a crowd still there, and the fact that what could easily have been seen as a throwaway homer with Lilly cruising--too little, too late--was cheered like it was the go-ahead run...that's what was odd about it.
And yes, you can make all the observations you like about Red Sox Nation, but I can tell you Red Sox Nation the previous night wasn't feelin' this.
Still, as I watched one Red Sox batter after another suddenly find a way to get on base, as the crowd was on its feet, clapping, chanting, I was proud to be a Red Sox fan. I peered through my binoculars again to watch Beckett's reaction, which seemed just on this side of panic--that guy's wound pretty tight as it is, and sometimes I wonder if he's going to be able to deal with the atmosphere. Where before he had been content to just lean placidly with Schilling, spitting occasionally, now he seemed to be alarmed, asking Schilling rapid-fire questions. Schilling was smiling at him, nodding. They could have been exchanging recipes for top-shelf margaritas, for all I know, but I chose to interpret their interaction as Beckett saying in wonder, "Is it always like this?" and Schilling answering, "No. Sometimes it's even louder."
Still, it was unusual, the way the ballpark suddenly seemed to decide after Ortiz' homer that you know what? Fuck this. We are not going out like this, period, no matter how many strikeouts Lilly has on the night, no matter how many strikeouts, for that matter, Manny has on the night.
And you could see the way it changed the players. You can make all the arguments you want that the fans don't really have an effect on the game or that positive visualization is a bunch of hooey, but it's not hard to imagine what the eighth and ninth innings might have been like for the Red Sox were there only a few quiet die-hards left in the stands. Thoughts among the lineup would probably already have turned to postgame massages, showers and beers; Tito might have begun working out his roster for the next day rather than pinch-hitting both Alex Cora and JT Snow in an arguably completely hopeless situation.
But the crowd had stayed, and seemed almost to shame the players, spurring them to give a performance more worthy of our enthusiasm. The whole relationship between action on the field and reaction in the stands seemed to reverse itself. It felt like we were willing this to happen.
By the time Loretta was on base and Papi was back at the plate, the place was absolutely berserk. I like to think I got a small taste, right then, watching people in the field boxes pound the walls like I've seen on my DVD, joining in the waves of LET'S GO RED SOX, of what it might have been like to be there for Game 4 or 5 two years ago. And Papi almost gave us a reprise, didn't he, swinging for downtown and coming within about five feet of hitting back-to-back homers, the second one to tie the game with Manny coming to the plate behind him.
But though right off the bat it had seemed like it was headed over the wall, it was caught, and Papi stopped on the basepath, taking off his batting helmet slowly, looking to the ground in disappointment.
"It can't be over just like that," I said out loud.
But it was. The Fenway organ started playing "Good Night, Sweetheart," and the slowly crowd woke from its daze and began to shuffle toward the exits.
We had lost, but my adrenaline was still pumping. It was like I couldn't acknowledge right away that the game had ended--I was still riding the high of base hits falling in and clapping till my hands stung and chanting "Youk. Youk. Youk. Youk."
I had come that much closer to the come-from-behind, walkoff chaos I've been longing to see. And while I guess I could be more frustrated by having come so close, I don't find I have it in me today to be angry. I'm still just riding the high of the bottom of the ninth, two outs, and the determined hope we were all feeling; I can't help but feel that in the grand scheme of things, it works out to our advantage, more often than not.