Sports Nut

Wait ‘Til This Year

The Red Sox win the World Series. Finally.

“And the seventh angel poured out his bowl upon the air, and there came a great voice out of the temple from the throne, saying, ‘It is done.’ “
Revelation 16:17

Sox win! Once in a lunar eclipse …

I went out into the yard, out into what Faulkner called the “iron New England dark.” I heard them yelling in the distance a town away, behind the trees and over the hill. I stood there and listened to the rolling chorus of distant joy. I raised a glass to the shaded moon.

I raised it for the old sign-painter, my grandfather, who’d been there with his father the last time this happened, when that fat slug Ruth beat the Chicagos, and to whom I was one of two regular companions on a lot of Sundays past, watching an endless parade of awful Boston Red Sox teams. The other one was a quart bottle of Narragansett Lager. I raised the glass to my friend, the editor, who did so love baseball and who left us, damn it, a month ago, and missed every wonderful moment. God, John, you would have loved it so.

It ended placidly, normally, with a couple of easy wins over a St. Louis Cardinals team that has to go down as one of the cheesiest league champions in baseball history. They couldn’t hit. Their pitching sprung leaks at the worst possible moments, and Tony La Russa, their manager, now has a record in World Series play that rivals that rung up by possums on a highway. First, Pedro Martinez stood them on their heads, and then Derek Lowe baffled them completely last night. Because of those two performances, the Red Sox ended the 2004 season as the best team in baseball by a margin that isn’t even worth discussing anymore.

There are any number of moments to be chewed over for the next eight decades, though. We learned that Steven Tyler should be kept away from the national anthem for the same reasons you keep your toddlers away from knives. We all experienced The Passion of the Curt. We saw the New York Yankees give it up four times in a row to a team they’d just hung 19 runs on, and we saw perhaps the beginning of the end of the Torre Era. And we watched a Red Sox team so different in so many important ways from the ones that had come before it.

However, the moments I will choose to remember involve Martinez, Manny Ramirez, and David Ortiz, the three players who make up the Dominican heart of the Red Sox. The Red Sox laid all their ghosts to rest over the past two weeks, and the most important one was the truly ghastly history that the franchise had in terms of race. This was the last franchise to integrate, in 1959, and a franchise that was still sending its employees to whites-only functions in Florida  in the 1980s. While it was true that the great Luis Tiant was beloved around town in 1975, it was Martinez’s arrival in 1998 that changed the ballpark.  

Suddenly, Fenway Park, where not once but twice had trod an unreconstructed bigot of a manager named Pinky Higgins, was awash in Dominican flags. Later came Ramirez, with his startling moments of vacancy, his broad grin, and his sweet swing, and then Ortiz, a bear of a man, and the most popular of the three.

Game 3 will be it for me. Pedro, perhaps in his last start with the Red Sox, shaking off all that trouble in the first couple of innings, and then guilefully making the Cardinal hitters look like fools—14 of them in a row, and the last two, Jim Edmonds and Reggie Sanders, on strikeouts. After each of the strikeouts, he dropped that stare on them, that cut-eyed glare straight out of Manolete in the high sun, watching them over his shoulder all the way back to the dugout.

And then there was Ramirez, the World Series MVP that the Red Sox tried to give away this past off-season, virtually eliminating the home-field advantage by hitting a high fastball from Jeff Suppan nearly through the bleachers in left field. Watch him some time when he’s got two strikes. There’s never been anyone better at hitting out of that hole. You can see him relax all the way down to his fingertips. The base-running is still suspect, and the fielding can be surreal, but in the batter’s box, Manny Ramirez is as serious as gunpowder.

When it was over last night, though, he was a kid again, running in from left field, hair flying, tugging his uniform shirt out of his pants. Meanwhile, Martinez was on the third-base line, pointing at the sky and dancing from one side to another. And that was about when I went outside. As long as I have been following this team, people have asked me what will happen when the Red Sox finally win. Now I know. You go outside into the freshening night breeze, and you hear cheering in the distance, and you raise a glass to the moon as it begins to get bright again. We should do this again sometime. Soon.

And, if form holds, that ought to be some time in the autumn of 2090.

Sorry. Old habits die so very hard.