Sitting in a hotel bar in Dallas for the third straight night along with several colleagues from work, having made sure to sit on the exact same barstool each night while twirling my cell phone on the marble countertop, it was with much satisfaction that I watched Ruben Sierra hit a ground ball right to second baseman Pokey Reese, who simply scooped up the ball and threw with ease to Doug Mientkiewicz, completing a unbelievable comeback and igniting a celebration in that bar that probably woke up people on the eleventh floor of the hotel next door. All at once, the compounded weight of disappointments from the past seemed to lift off the collective shoulders of Red Sox fans from coast to coast and around the world; though the final ascent to the peak must still be made, a tricky, winding mountain passage was finally completed that many before them had tried to pass, only to be turned back at the end.
As had been the case so many times in years gone by, it had not been easy despite the bold predictions of those who knew better. What had seemed certain to the legion of fanatical followers almost turned out, on a cool Sunday October evening in Boston with just three outs to go, not to be, but the gods of baseball decided that long-suffering fans had endured enough heartache. The tables suddenly turned and what appear impossible became possible; a team that nearly had the plug pulled suddenly began to breath on its own and shocked those pundits who thought they had watched the same drama unfold many times over. Suddenly, the naysayers became believers and the faith of a nation was revived, spreading throughout the land like wildfire.
Admittedly, I am only old enough to recall the disappointment of another comeback that spelled doom for the Boston nine. The 1986 Red Sox were up two runs and within one out of staking claim on a championship in the sixth game of that World Series, but that final out never came and millions of bottles of champagne that had been opened went flat as the shock was too much to overcome. Before that, there was the collapse of 1978, which ended with a one-game playoff being decided by a light-hitting Yankees shortstop who hit only 40 home runs in 12 major league seasons. That was preceded by seven-game losses in 1975 at the hands of the mighty Red Machine, in 1967 thanks to three complete-game victories from Bob Gibson, and in 1946 thanks to Enos Slaughter’s mad dash from first to score the deciding run in the final game.
There are very few still alive who can actually recall the six-game series in 1918 when Babe Ruth led the last Red Sox team to win a championship over the National League. Since then, the team that he was sold to racked up 26 world championships and went through Boston more than once to accomplish that feat. As Yogi Berra told the young Yankee ballplayers before last season’s league championship series with the Red Sox, somehow New York always found a way to come out on top of Boston when it mattered most. True to his word, in the deciding game of that series, the mystique of the Yankee dynasty prevailed as the destiny of the Red Sox took a turn for the worse again and the Boston faithful watched victory get snatched away by the jaws of defeat.
However, that was just simply not to be this year; even the ghosts of Aaron Boone and Bucky Dent, who threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the deciding game in the series, were not enough to deflate the spirit of a franchise that felt so strongly that this was the year. The self-proclaimed band of idiots decided at the beginning of this season that there would not be any chance of a New York ticket-tape parade down the Canyon of Heroes between the Battery and City Hall and, this time, they collected on that wager. Even with their backs against the Green Monster, the collective spirit of the Boston nine rose above the noise and confusion and delivered themselves into the annals of Red Sox folklore as the team that finally brought down a mighty empire, not just in a regular season battle, but when the money was on the line and another loss meant a dour end to another long season. In the grand scheme of things, New York still owns Boston in the record books but, as of this moment, the Red Sox own the Yankees on the playing field. While this season will not be complete unless a championship parade winds through the cheering streets of Boston in November, for once mighty Casey struck out and those loveable losers of Yawkey Way delivered the deciding pitch.