That's what Curt called it last night after the game, and our bullpen studs deserve the credit, but for me, the top story last night was No. 38, regardless of the number of innings he pitched.
He held off the Rockies for five and a third, but with one out in the sixth was finally lifted with two baserunners on and one out. It was clear he had nothing left, from the way he kept shaking his head, ashen-faced, and saying to Tito over and over again, "It's my fault."
But all around him, even as he walked off with the game still hanging in the balance for Okajima, the Fenway crowd was rising to its feet.
Curt began his descent from the mound and the roar gathered. There was an audible collective inrush of air as people filled their lungs to fuel the noise. It had the feeling, as Curt took his first steps across the infield, of undertow sucking the water line away from shore before a tidal wave.
That wave broke as Schilling doffed his cap, first to the right-field side, then to the left-field side, slowly lumbering toward the dugout and gingerly pausing at the baseline. He still looked somewhat morose, the situation he was leaving behind for Oki clearly weighing on his mind. But as he doffed his hat, his eyebrows furrowed. The grim line of his mouth wavered a little. His eyes shone. He and I both swallowed hard.
"Bittersweet" doesn't begin to describe the feeling I had watching that scarlet "38" disappear into the dugout last night. It will never be the same team without him.
But the beauty of the Sox, as the years under HWL ownership continue, is that for every player we still miss, there's a new one coming that we wouldn't want to trade the chance to know for anybody or anything.
Like Hideki Okajima.
None of us will ever forget what Okajima said when he first arrived here in America, and all of us presumed he was a "stable pony" for Daisuke Matsuzaka: "I am willing to be a hero in the dark." That, I think, was the first moment Boston really took notice of Oki, the first time we wondered to ourselves just who this little lefthander with the candy-cane necklace really was.
I still don't think we know that. Perhaps more than any other player on the team, Okajima is not one we know all that well, between the fact that he continues to be overshadowed when it comes to media attention by his counterpart in the starting rotation, the language barrier, and the fact that it just seems to be that he's a quiet guy.
Opposing hitters can't figure him out either, and that's all that matters. Our dark horse was the hero last night, though it was under the brightest lights possible.
Two and a third unhittable innings. All of it kicked off when he got Garrett Atkins to ground out there in that sixth inning, ratcheting up the tension another notch as the Colorado runners moved to second and third. (By the way, what is with these Rockies names? Their roster reads like the finalists for the Arquimedez Pozo Award.)
Then he struck out Brad Hawpe on three. straight. pitches. The last one was a filthy, tailing, 84-mph Okie Doke to the man representing two go-ahead runs at the plate.
Good thing those meatheads gave his parrot back, eh? Note to all Northeastern frat boys: let's keep it that way. I don't think you'd want someone stealing your lucky Coors Light mug or singing beer-bottle opener, much less the ratty Nomar shirt you still sometimes sleep with. So let's leave our players' good luck charms alone while they're in the World Series, how bout it? Jesus.
Never has a one-run lead felt so unshakable as when the bullpen door opened with two outs in the eighth inning, and, as Jonathan Papelbon was announced, the Fenway crowd brought the pain for the Rox (Once again, FOX failed to show the grand entrance. I just despise them so much at this point, it's not even funny). I know they've refurbished the place, but there have got to be a few old bolts loose in the grand old dame after the last two weeks' events. Even players have been saying that Fenway has been haunted since game 6 of the ALCS, and it showed no signs of backing off last night.
The thing is, we don't know the Rockies. Thus confronted with the unknown, the Fenway Faithful have chosen to bring out the Yankees-level big guns first and ask questions later.
"Can you imagine what it must sound like to the Rockies in there?" my best friend K said last night. The last time they played the Sox was in June, when Boston was in a funk; there can't possibly be a comparison between that crowd and this one.
You could see it was rattling the young Coloradoans, too. FOX miced up a mound conference between Jimenez and Bob Apodaca. "You're not in trouble, they're in trouble," Apodaca said as Jimenez stood hyperventilating on the mound with the bases loaded in the bottom of the fourth. "You're one good pitch from getting out of this."
You think Francona had to come out and tell Schilling anything of the sort? You think Beckett ever needs coaching like that? These Rockies are just so young. Painfully young at times. Between the veteran Sox players and a keyed-up Fenway both bringin' it for all they're worth, the Rockies have simply been overmatched.
Preceded so effectively by the bloodthirsty howls of his minions in the stands, then, Jonathan Papelbon entered the 2007 World Series for the first tme.
Awash in the electricity, Papelbon's eyes looked like they were going to bore holes in my couch through the TV screen. "We talk alot about the silly stuff with this guy, like the Irish jig and the YMCA dance and all that," Joe Buck intoned. "But right now...look into the face of Jonathan Papelbon."
The screencap at the top of this post--that's what Papelbon's face
looked like when Joe Buck said that. Immediately goosebumps shot up and
down my arms. It was not for the first time during this game.
Papelbon's stuff was everything we could have expected and more. Like Beckett, Jonathan seems to have found another gear in October, when his normal gear is already electrifying. Pitch after pitch from Jonathan was a polished beauty, hovering around 97 and 98 and zipping away from swinging bats into every corner.
But it was actually Papelbon's fielding that got the Sox out of the top of the eighth, when a heads-up signal from the bench earned him his first-ever pickoff. That's right, not his first pickoff in the World Series or his first pickoff in the postseason--his first pickoff ever. And who was picked off? None other than Rockies MVP Matt Holliday, representing the tying run.
What was that I was saying about the breaks?
And how about the break that had already happened--the line drive off the bat of Helton that went whispering by a scant few inches from the right hip of The Precious, touching off the night's fourth or fifth heart attack for yours truly. There but for the grace of God go the Red Sox, and Red Sox Nation, and the final vestiges of my grip on reality.
By the time the ninth opened, even with the Sox still clinging to a one-run lead, I found myself not only unafraid, but relishing the fact that the Rockies were up to bat again, knowing we were sending an all-but-unused Papelbon back out to the mound. While similar situations in regular season games have had me reaching for the paper bag and portable defibrillator unit, last night I just sat back and tried to enjoy the show.
The final hitter, Brad Hawpe, has done little but strike out against Red Sox pitching. "Okay, Mr. Hawpe," I said aloud to the TV screen as he stood in against Papelbon. "Here's what you can expect to happen. Two of the filthiest heaters you've ever encountered in your entire life, and then you get to meet Mr. Splitty." The only question was whether or not there would be a waste-pitch after strike two.
Just FYI, there was. Otherwise, Jonathan followed my prediction to the letter and then let loose with a nice, solid, fist-pump and yell.
This year, things happen for the Red Sox the way you expect and hope they will. What is this strange and beautiful universe?
The greatest games ever played at Fenway will always be Games Four and Five of the 2004 ALCS. There will never be a first victory again, and tenser, more dramatic, thrilling baseball than what we saw in those games is just not possible.
But last night's game was a close, close second.
Choice posts, quotes and other tidbits:
Kristen gets slow applause from me for her recap of Game 1. Quite possibly one of the most brilliant stretches of text ever to appear on an already relentlessly clever blog:
And now we read about how Beckett is embarking on some kind of pitcher outreach program and adopting Buchholz and Lester over the winter and, I guess, taking them to his Texas ranch where he's going to teach them to spit and shoot things be better pitchers. This is either the best idea in the history of ever, or the worst. And either way, I'm going to need a NESN camera crew filming every second of it. Ignoring for a second the fact that I'm not sure Buchholz won't suffer some severe separation anxiety when apart from his BFF Jacoby, are we absolutely certain we want these guys subjected to whatever depraved and insane rituals Josh Beckett undergoes during the offseason? What if he makes them eat pork rinds? From a pig they killed themselves? Buchholz seems like a sensitive soul. I'm not sure how this is going to go over. And then what happens when Timlin makes his inevitable field trip to "visit?" I just would not be surprised to read about a rebel band of misfit pitchers knocking over grocery stores and mini-marts using only chin-high fastballs as weapons. Which actually kind of makes them sound like superheroes. And if that's the case, they're going to need capes. I love capes. People should wear capes more.
Sleep deprivation, people. Catch it!
You know who else needs a cape? Dustin Pedroia.
Texas Gal was there (the lucky biatch!!!) to see Game 1, and had a very interesting observation on Josh:
Per usual, Josh strode back to the dugout with his eyes lowered, and in measured stride... almost infuriatingly measured, considering the thunderous applause and cheers. No grin, no wave, not even eye contact. But then, just like the crowd had realized the magnitude of the occasion and responded with unbridled glee, I think Josh also finally realized it as well. The guy who took up the mantle of the ace of the pitching staff one of the very best teams in baseball, and lead the charge to win game one of the World Series (THE WORLD SERIES!) had his teammates and coaches and all the Sox fans in attendance busting at the seams with joy. And I think the moment caught up with him, and Josh couldn't help himself- he broke his own code, and let a tiny sliver of his emotions break through. So Josh briefly raised his eyes, and with an almost bashful expression, he tipped his cap to the crowd.
That tip of the cap was the Josh Beckett equivalent of a year's worth of Papelbon Irish jigs and Bud Light hats- and possibly even more precious an experience to be a part of, because Josh just doesn't really ever share a piece of his joyous emotions with the fans. But he did tonight.
I know I've been heavy on the FOX hate already, but Eric Byrnes is really the last straw. Thank Christ he's not in the booth with Buck and McCarver, but even his squinting, shrill-voiced pregame appearance was enough to make my blood curdle. I've hated that toolbag before he was talking at me from my television screen. Adding him to Zelasko and Co. during pregame festivities makes me feel like now I truly know what TV is like in hell.
Another thing I've been harping on ad nauseum is how SG has snapped into full-on postseason form. But I really need to point out that their post entitled "How I Fell In Love With Josh Beckett: A Totally Straight Guy Explains" is the funniest thing I've read since the "Born Again Hard" post of Aught Four, and if you've been reading this blog longer than a week, you know coming from me, that's saying a lot.
"By the time you get done with that question, the odds are gonna change." --Tito Francona to a reporter in his postgame presser, after the reporter asked him in an incredibly long-winded way how to keep the odds in favor of the Sox winning the Series from swinging the other way.
Mike Reilly's column about Denver's love for the Rockies was a great one this week, but I really have to take exception to the line, "You think Cubs fans have suffered? Please. At least they had a team. Ours was the cruelest kind of suffering -- the hopeless kind. Our motto was: Maybe Next Century."
Sorry, but that's not cool, especially not this year, even if it was meant to be tongue-in-cheek. Cubs fans have suffered beyond the wildest imaginings of anyone else in the league, including Sox fans and most definitely more than yuppies in Denver who sat around for five or six years sighing about how they wanted a slick cartoon-anime purple-uniformed sports franchise to come to town.
But otherwise it really is a good column. So.
Here is what Jose knows to be true.
Jose knows that the beer will be cold and his house will be warm. He knows that Tim McCarver will say many foolish things. He knows that someone in spoken or written word will rhyme Fox with Rox or Sox. He knows that Dustin Pedroia will swing big and swing hard. He knows that Jacoby Ellsbury will run fast. He knows that Colorado pitchers fear Manny and Papi.
He knows that regardless of whether his arm is ready, Curt Euro’s mind will be sending current across synapses and every electron will contain some little, critical piece of data about how to get batters out.
These things Jose does not believe. These things, he knows.--Jose Melendez, Keys to the Game, previewing Game 2.
Red, predictably, was thrilled with the Papel-puppet in the bleachers last night (he also has a screencap, natch). And truer words have never been spoken about Mike Lowell:
"[He] gets the gold star and double hookers, however, for making an error that lead to a run in the first, then seemingly doing everything in his power to get that run back, scratching his way to third on a Drew hit in the fourth and eventually scoring, and then nailing the go-ahead run with a double of his own in the fifth. If this guy ends up playing third base for the Yankees next year, a little piece of me is going to curl up and die."
Iain keeps it short and sweet.
Wait, are you tellin' me you don't pine for the days when falling behind in a playoff game would have you crawling on the floor like Scarlett O'Hara, starving and rooting around for dirty potato while beseeching God to spare you from such misery? Jeez. --Soxaholix, addressing just one of the many thorny issues currently springing up around Sox fandom right now, which is another long-winded post for another time over here.
Esquire magazine blog, via Annette:
The 2007 Boston Red Sox: two Japanese exchange students, a feisty runt, a tough-looking Jew, a Navajo Indian, an idiot-savant, a right-wing asshole, the human embodiment of charisma, and a man named after a breakfast cereal. That's America, right there. And, ain't that something worth cheering for?
Finally, if you want a far, far more comprehensive catalog of choice posts, quotes, pics and Sox facts than I could ever hope to accomplish here, make sure to check in often with Joy of Sox.