Well it's like Forrest Gump said. Life's like a box of chocolates, etc. In many ways the experience of watching the Red Sox is similar. Whereas it is possible to clear your schedule around the once-a-week event that is a football game, it is virtually impossible to be front and center, attentively watching every last pitch of the Red Sox season--even in the postseason. And so you never know where you'll be when they're on.
Witness this past Sunday, for example, when attending first the Patriots game in Foxboro and then a comedy show in Providence left the Red Sox in the lurch on our schedule. Fortunately, we had more time than we'd planned between events and managed to find a bar near where the comedy show would be to catch the final three innings of the Sox - Angels game.
On the one hand, it's disappointing that we didn't get to see the full Monty--including and especially the towering blasts by Papi and Manny. Especially Manny. Has that boy been bitten by a radioactive spider or what?
On the other, that Forrest-Gump feeling is one of the charms of baseball. I've watched / caught up with / heard about the Red Sox in more random places than I can remember. On my cell phone via text message while on a business trip to Las Vegas. Via announcements interjected by a member of the Board of Selectmen at a Town Meeting (that was during the 2004 ALCS). On a Wifi-equipped bus riding back from New York via text messages from a coworker who subscribes to some kind of game-update service online. Through voicemails left by my father while I was in Chicago, again, on business. At bars, in storefronts, on wall-mounted TVs in restaurants. The Red Sox blend and weave their way in to daily life--that's why, even with the Patriots still around to watch, life can feel somehow lonely after baseball season ends. It's like a friend you run into every single day, but only for eight months out of the year.
And so here we came to another random place where the Red Sox have led me--a bar called Finnegan's Wake in downtown Providence, where Red Sox fans were vastly outnumbered by football fans from away cities such as Baltimore and Pittsburgh. In fact, the Sox game itself was confined to one, faint, grainy fat-screened television all but crowded out of the space by dozens of blaring flatscreens showing the Ravens-49ers and Colts-Bucs games.
And so I'm afraid that under those conditions, all I really absorbed was that the Red Sox won, they batted around in the 8th, and Eric Gagne pitched the ninth (that part I remember vividely, for what I'm sure are obvious reasons). I really don't have too many flowery descriptions to offer on the game where the Red Sox clinched their third ALCS spot in five years.
Except for one.
Given how little of the game I saw, there was really only one standout moment for me: the moment Curt Schilling delivered the final pitch of the seventh inning.
He'd reached a full count on Mike Napoli, the first time he'd reached Ball 3 on a hitter since an intentional walk to Vladimir Guerrerro in the bottom of the third. Given how much Curt relies on precision these days, this was a somewhat unsettling development. Napoli, representing the tying run, did not go down easy, fouling off another pitch right after the count went full. Visions danced in my head, I'm sure you know of what. Of meltdowns and big innings and letting the Angels get their foot in the door. Of slow hooks and Francona-roasting in the papers and questions about the viability of Schilling's career.
All of which were silenced by the pitch Curt threw next, an 85-mph split (I think) that completely fooled Napoli, who swung clumsily to end the inning.
There's a reason Curt Schilling has the best postseason winning percentage of any pitcher ever to play the game. There's a reason he's almost always come up big. What we're learning this year is that it may not have had anything to do with a 95-mph arm. It's also got to do with those notebooks he carries, all the numbers he crunches, the no-doubt long late-night hours spent hunched over spreadsheets on his computer. It's got to do with that look on his face when he takes the mound with the hopes and expectations of all of his teammates and millions of fans riding on his shoulders. It's got to do with the reasons he takes that cross out from under his shirt collar before every first pitch.
It did my heart so good to see all of that effort, all of that self-revision, all of that refinement and adjustment he's made this season come together in this one game, that one pitch--to seal the deal for his team, to seal the seven-inning shutout for himself, to seal the hopes of the Nation for the series. Seeing him come roaring off the field like the ace of old made me happy on a level that has little to do with baseball--and more to do with watching someone, in any endeavor, struggle both nobly and mightily, and finally succeed.