What a great win.
Heartwarming, touching, suspensful from the very first pitch thrown by David Pauley, for whom I had a deep affection before he even took the field.
All it took was NESN's pregame shots of the kid, eyes goggling out of his face involuntarily, looking every bit the lamb to the slaughter. Though I'm normally an incorrigible pessimist, something about his face and his tense, hunched posture made me decide: You know? What's so impossible about this kid winning?
And then: I want him to win. He HAS to win.
When the Sox took the field for the bottom of the first, the resolve I saw on the faces of the infielders as they made putouts with extra vigor (including and especially the injured Mark Loretta, playing with a grimace more often than not, and Alex Gonzalez, who dialed his acrobatics up a notch on several double plays), seeing the way every aspect of their posture said harm one hair on this guy's head and you'll have all of us to deal with, my hope took on full life.
From then on I was rooting for Pauley outright, cajoling him through the screen. "Come on. You got him. You got him." Every time he reached the third out like a platform at the end of a tightrope, I clapped and listed, out loud, the virtues he'd displayed that inning.
"Nice!" I hollered after the first was over after two men had reached, but none scored. "Put up a zero! All right!"
"Awesome double play!" I yelled after the second, though a run had scored. "Good thinkin'!"
It was incredibly unlike me. But by the fifth inning, when Pauley gave up a triple and a bundle of runs to cut the Sox' lead to one, was removed for van Buren, and choked back exhausted sobs as he hurried from the field, I had decided that a loss would officially break my heart.
But after that, the bullpen came in with the same resolve as the other teammates that had backed up Pauley the whole night, and didn't allow another run. Trot Nixon homered for the insurance run and before you knew it, Papelbon was making his grand entrance, only a few years older than Pauley but seeming to take the same big-brother role as the rest, gritting his teeth and closing his mouth into a thin little line while looking in for the sign, and blowing filthier pitches than usual past the swinging Blue Jays.
All of it. The way Francona and Nipper clustered around the despondent Pauley in the dugout, hanging his head so low it was almost between his knees, the way Jason Varitek gave him a firm "buck up" slap on the butt, the way Manny and Papi broke out the big-boy bats in support, the way Mirabelli would lead Pauley gently back up onto the mound during conferences with one hand on his back and was seen giving him enthusiastic instruction between innings in the dugout...Sometimes the "back up your teammates" ethic in baseball seems like so much empty-headed machismo, especially when it comes to beanballs and fights. But tonight it was a touching display, the millionaire Boston Red Sox professional baseball club suddenly looking for all the world like a ragtag sandlot team, sticking up for the little guy on the mound.
The human drama and the heart of it. That's what's beautiful about these men and their game. The Yankees have swept the Tigers; the Sox dropped two of three this series; NESN's reports from afar showed Pedro Martinez pitching brilliantly for the Mets (though thankfully there was no update on Bronson Arroyo tonight); Barry Bonds has passed the Babe; the so-called Blue Jays "fans" who were conspicuously absent before this year still infuriate me to no end. There's still a war on; the gas prices are still through the roof. Etcetera.
After that win, though, I'm going to bed tonight with a light heart and a clear conscience.
That's the hook, isn't it? The drug. That's the "why" for a baseball fan.
P.S. The broadcasting moment of the evening--and one of the best ever--came after Pauley winged a pitch so wildly (thankfully with no one on base) that the first thing it touched was not Mirabelli's glove or even the dirt around home plate but the turf to the left of the plate near the backstop.
"Juuust a little outside," Remy said.
I realized in that moment I'd been waiting years for that.