Until the seventh inning tonight, the consensus was that Sox Nation is dead. TBS can't shut up about how quiet Fenway's been, Tom Verducci has decided we've all lost our edge, and according to some, we have the worst bandwagon in the history of ever.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the Fenway crowd has been quiet, but has also remained mostly intact these past few nights, even with deficits up to 10 runs for the home team.
In the seventh inning, with a seven-run deficit, there were admittedly some empty seats. But there were more full ones.
And tonight, starting with that seventh inning, they did not remain quiet.
It began to get loud in there before the scoring even began.
With a single run on the board in the seventh, the crowd was completely back into the contest, chanting "Pa-pi! Pa-pi! Pa-p!". Papi's answering blast into the right-field
corner was greeted with full-throated jubilation.
In the eighth inning, still with a three-run deficit, two of which had been given up by the closer already, the crowd was nonetheless on its feet for Papelbon. They cheered a strikeout. Then they cheered each individual strike. Let's go, Red Sox! ... Let's go, Red Sox!
He struck out two for a shutdown inning, and was followed up by a lights-out Justin Masterson. When the Sox offense tied up the game against a visibly rattled Tampa Bay bullpen, the crowd, smelling blood in the water, heckled and chanted the shaky relievers, and greeted the tying run with a reaction even TBS had no choice but to describe as "bedlam in Beantown."
Bandwagoners? Fairweather fans?
I've seen this kind of thing happen before--I've been at the park at times when the fans have collectively decided, the heck with this, we're coming back. It doesn't happen every time, but when it does, it's like there's a hive-mind coming to life, and a nearly palpable electricity begins to fill the place up.
The players respond to this. I've seen it. I've seen them start to mill about more busily in the dugout as the crowd grows louder. I've seen them stride to the plate with more purpose with the roar at their backs.
But I don't think I've seen it happen quite this way before.
It's the consensus around here that Tito manages differently--more to the point, more ruthlessly--come October. During the regular season, he shows player loyalty to a fault. In the postseason? Ellsbury benched. Timlin cut from the DS roster. Tito ain't playin'.
And so 99.9% of his move to bring in Papelbon two innings earlier than he normally appears comes from that same cold focus on the numbers, using his bullpen ace in the truest Jamesian sense, to quash the Rays during the most crucial part of the game and give the team a chance to come back.
But let's also not ignore a great side effect of summoning "Wild Thing" from the 'pen--giving the crowd a chance to light up like they always do when Papelbon comes in, regardless of the score. Giving them a chance to sing along to "Shipping up to Boston." Boston adores him, he electrifies the ballpark, and none of that could've hurt, either.
It's true that Paps tacked on two more runs before buckling down (on runners belonging to Manny Delcarmen)--and that homer from Papi was what brought the electricity to its full proportion. But as Tito put it, during that seventh inning, Fenway "came unglued". Some kind of metaphysical logjam broke. The tide turned. The complexion changed. Physically and emotionally, Papelbon's appearance was the initial catalyst--and literally and figuratively, that move by Tito was the first key.
Between the triple in Game 4 and the homer in Game 5, the Large Father may in fact be back, in which case, let us rejoice.Mightily, even. But also not to be overlooked is Dustin Pedroia, who has continued to hit defiantly throughout this series, and with two outs in that seventh inning, singled home the game's first run.
One of my lasting memories of this postseason no matter what happens will be the sight of Dustin Pedroia on the top step of the dugout during the rally, all but glowing with energy, hungry to get back in the box and prove to the pitcher that he ain't shit.
Am I cocky heading in to a Game 6 at the Trop with a diminished Josh Beckett taking the hill after being shelled his last two times out? No, no I am not.
But one of the biggest single-game comebacks in postseason history can't help but put a little spring back in your step. And I can't help but remember that famous line of Kevin Millar's: "Don't let us win tonight."