You didn’t think I was gonna let that pass without comment, did you? The phrase “World Champion Boston Red Sox” still carries a slight flavor of an alternate history of some kind. After all the disappointment, nay, true heartbreak, over the previous several decades, it still gives a long-time Sox fan pause. It isn’t that Boston doesn’t have at least its share of champions. Since I began following sports in the early 70s, the Celtics have won six Championships, including 2008. The Bruins, three. The Patriots, three Super Bowls, and are contenders every year. But the Red Sox? It is a strange realization that there are young adults who have no concept of the Curse. Youngsters with three World Series wins already in memory, who probably think the oft-told tales of long-suffered angst and anguish and fatalism has more to do with their parents than with the team. For them, the crushing disappointment of 2003 with the loss in extra innings of Game 7 of the ALCS, once again to the hated Yankees, is a mere blip. After all, we came close, didn’t we? And we won it the next year, anyhow! No big deal.
But that is truly a short perspective. For my Dad, there was Enos Slaughter and the mad dash. And Denny Galehouse. 1967 is special, an exception. even being a 7-game loss to the same St Louis Cardinals, because of the rank improbability of it all for a young and underdog Red Sox Impossible Dream team. While not a disappointment, it is, nonetheless, a defeat when they had been so close. For me, it is 1972, and 1974, when seemingly dominant Red Sox teams unraveled in the late summer heat. In ’74, the Sox led by 3 games with 4 to play, only needing to win one. They lost all four, including a double-header in which they looked absolutely frightened, and lost the division by half a game. And then there is 1975, and the World Series against the Reds. Jim Burton giving up Joe Morgan’s bloop single to score two in the late innings of game 7, and Yaz flying out to Geronimo to end it. Maggie crying against her fridge somewhere in Charlestown… And 1978, the Yankees again, who come from 14 games back to win a playoff game. Bucky f-ing Dent, and Yaz, again, ending it with a pop-up to Nettles, after homering off Guidry earlier in the game. And then there is 1986. I couldn’t even watch a show about that series until after the Sox won in ’04. A 5-2 lead, bases empty, with two outs and two strikes in the 9th inning. And they lose. (Calculate the chances of THAT, sabermetricians!) Calvin Schiraldi coming in from the bullpen looking like he was being led to the executioner’s post. Stanley’s pitch in the dirt. Mookie Wilson and Bill Buckner. They had NO chance in Game 7. My TBS classmates tried to console me, but I told them I knew the Sox would lose. And even when the Sox had a 3-0 lead in Game 7 with Clemens on the mound, I was firm. Nope. No way. They have NO chance. As one of my Basic School platoon mates said after, when the Sox indeed lost the game 8-5, (and the World Series) to the Mets, “Man, THAT’S fatalism”.
This was a fun team to watch. Much more enjoyable than even the 2004 and 2007 teams, for the entire year. Both of those teams had a couple of jerks whose poor attitude and lack of effort were aggravating to see. (Manny Ramirez, great hitter that he was, played left field like he was blindfolded on roller skates. And for being paid $150,000 a GAME, you’d think he could run out a ground ball, for Christ’s sake.) But this team was hard-working, and overachieving. Fast on the bases and in the field, with excellent pitching more often than not. And they were clutch. I never got the feeling they were going to find a way to lose. On the contrary, they had the tools and the speed and the hitting to find ways to win. Even when St Louis loaded the bases, good pitches and good glove work ended the threat.
Maybe it was karma, but a couple days before the deciding Game 6, ESPN played the classic Four Days in October, the story of the Sox coming from 3-0 down to beat the Yankees in 2004. Local comedian Lenny Clarke has a great line in that. He was looking at the faces of Yankees fans as the Red Sox were thumping the Yanks in Yankee Stadium in Game 7 of the ALCS, cameras showing the disbelief and disappointment, the occasional tears. He said “I recognize those faces! That’s US!” And until 2004, so it was. Oh, so many times. But no more. And that is a nice feeling.