Top of the eight, bases loaded, two outs. Cue Wild Thing. Cue I'm Shipping up to Boston. Cue a first pitch ground-out, another Houdini moment. The game continued; the thin lead held into the ninth. Papelbon got the final batter to pop the ball up, and started jumping up and down while it was still in the air.
Then there was a big shouting, hugging dogpile on the field, which never gets even one bit old.
We rushed to get down close to the field while the team was partying in the dugout, and ended up right behind the home plate net. Bullpen pitchers emerged carrying tiny babies and champagne to spray. There was Kevin Youkilis with his cherubic blond child*** jogging around the bases. There were players being interviewed, all drunk and happy and grabbing each other. There was Papelbon hugging himself and gesturing to the crowd, strutting about in a belly shirt, and actually digging the bases up and giving them away to random fans.
And then Jason Varitek decided to greet every fan left in the park. Personally. He is the Captain, after all.
He made his way around starting at the dugout by first base, down to the area back of home plate, where he gave us the world's most gentle high fives. His eyes were crinkly. His hands were big and warm and surprisingly soft. He went all the way down to the left field corner before he rejoined his teammates for more back-slapping and lite-beer drinking in the middle of the diamond. We didn't manage to take pictures in our glee. He looks amazing in person. In real life.
We went to ten Sox games this year, and we sat through rain delays and heat waves, come-from-behind wins and inexplicable losses to the Orioles, Julio Lugo forgetting how to catch a batted ball as if the knowledge was surgically excised from his brain****, and Jed Lowrie learning to hit at Fenway. We sat through the lows and the highs of a very long season. And we know that as long as it was for us, it was longer, more arduous and stressful and punishing, for the guys on the field. There's been a lot of baseball.
So it's astounding, and wonderful, that the greatest moment***** we shared with them in person was the moment that confirmed we will see more baseball. The season won't end in September. We have another chance at the brass ring. And this isn't cause for exhaustion, it's cause for a champagne celebration. Big strong men cheered and hugged their teammates and danced with their children and, at Fenway Park on a suddenly warm autumn night, they reached out to us to share the joy.
Red Sox Win, the scoreboard said.
And we sang and danced all the way home.
*Sometimes, you buy tickets from the official site and end up standing on your head behind a pole somewhere in Medford. Sometimes, you end up with pretty awesome seats.
**By which we do, in fact, mean us, personally. If Wake only pitched while we were in attendance, he'd be 800-3 or something crazy like that.
***Is it weird or wrong to think they're extra cute because it's his fiancee's kid and not, biologically, his?
****Sigh. But it's mean to pick on a dude who's down with a nasty calf injury, so this is a mercy footnote.
*****We missed being at Jon Lester's no-hitter by one day! But we were at the crazy game with the 19-17 score. Definitely got several Broadway shows' worth of drama.