I'm not going to tell you that I've changed my mind about this season because of yesterday's game. I'm not going to tell you "I believed", or anything like that, since even if I wanted to make that claim, there's unfortunate photographic evidence that would contradict it:
At the very beginning of the game, just after the announcement of Tavarez as the starter was greeted largely with stony silence from the approximately 1/3 capacity crowd, I will admit to despair.
I was torn between feeling angry about the Sox' fortunes this year like everyone else, and angry at seeing all the empty seats. Having read the Globe article yesterday about people selling off tickets, I assumed as the National Anthem played to a woefully small house that I was personally seeing the sellout streak come to an end, and I bitterly reflected that it had only taken about a month for the entirety of the World Series afterglow to come to an end, and for the bandwagoners to have cleared out, leaving Fenway disconcertingly decimated.
The Sox players' comments about returning to Boston had been painful to read. Especially Youkilis's remark, "Are you dealing with rational people? I don't know. They're Red Sox fans." I know that Sox fans have not always covered themselves in glory, but...ouch.
And I seem to recall a season just three years ago when my pride in being a Red Sox fan was not because of their W-L record but because of the dedication, determination and fortitude of Red Sox Nation. Because despite decades of futility and a bitter attitude on the surface, our actions spoke louder--and our actions were to keep watching, keep going, keep cheering...
It was a dark moment, indeed, to see Tavarez trudge from the bullpen largely ignored by the tiny knots of fans that dotted the stands last night. It felt like more than just the season had been lost.
If you'd told me right then that we'd start Tavarez against Roy Halladay and that he, Brian Corey, Manny Delcarmen and Mike Timlin would combine for four earned runs over the first 7 and 2/3 innings...if you'd told me as Tavarez delivered his first pitches that come the last out of the eighth, we'd all be standing up as "Wild Thing" played...if you'd told me that Alex Cora would belt a homer for the tying runs and that the Sox would win this game...I'd have asked you to share whatever you'd been smoking.
But there I was, on my feet in the ninth for Papelbon. And, I might add, I was on my feet with the rest of the packed house, who were reacting to every strike with thunderous pandemonium. I'm not going to say Lansdowne Street wasn't quieter than usual before the game, and the crowd had certainly taken its time filling in the stands. I'm not going to say it changes anything about what's to come, or what's already gone wrong over the last month or so. But there we all were--the crowd at full strength and a Red Sox victory imminent.
And maybe it's the lowered expectations. Or conversely, maybe it's the fact that the victory, despite everything, felt so necessary yesterday. From Coco Crisp's leadoff bunt single in the first to the most spectacular double play I've ever witnessed turned by Dustin Pedroia, it was clearly the principle of the thing for the players. Either way, taken in isolation--without any of the baggage of the season going down the toilet--it ended up being probably the best time I've ever had at Fenway.
Because in the moment that Papelbon kicked and delivered the final pitch to seal the victory, I was proud of what Boston had done that night--the players on the field and the fans in the stands. We may just have been playing for pride, but as "Dirty Water" played, pride was more than enough.