Last Day at Fenway Park
To appreciate the pattern of the game it is important to know the pattern of the season. The Red Sox jumped out ahead — way ahead — of the Yankees and the rest of the division. But the advantage began to dissipate in late July and then was abruptly wiped out altogether almost violently, in mid-September when New York invaded Boston for a four-game no-contest sweep, seemingly leaving no survivors.
Somehow the Sox regrouped and revived, winning their last eight straight to pull even on Sunday, the final regular game of the season. I came away from the box office afterwards with precious tickets to the play-off Monday.
One of the tickets was for my friend Bill, who had not given a second thought to winging in from upstate New York for one afternoon of baseball. I met him in the early afternoon in a crowded Kenmore Square, where the Indian-summer air was electric with excitement, people surging toward Fenway, straining for their first look at which way the centerfield flag was blowing; scalpers testing the marketplace and the ticketless appealing for handouts; radios blaring the pregame show from stands where vendors were shouting ten times a minute, “Hey, SOUVENIUHS”; people chattering speculation on what amazing events might unfold on this gleeful reprieve of a day when the passions and wills of decades of bitter rivalry would meet head-on. (“Tell you what Zimmer oughta do,” Clif Keane was saying. “He oughta have somebody warming up as soon as Torrez throws his first pitch.”)
Our seats were in the right-field stands near the foul pole. We watched the green-trimmed low-slung country grand-stand slowly fill, the players go through their perfunctory warm-ups, and a few puffs of white clouds go scudding across the perfect blue sky.
We were talking about history. About how I had been sitting near this spot for the penultimate game of the ’67 season when Yastrzemski cranked out a three-run homer to win it, and how as he circled the bases you would not have thought a group of people could make that much noise.
Bill told about his parents 30 years ago making the same pilgrimage as he was today, journeying to Fenway to watch the play-off with the Indians, when manager Joe McCarthy played a bad hunch named Denny Galehouse and the pennant was lost. This, we agreed, spoke worlds both about the legacy of Sox fandom passed down from generation to generation and the nature of its anguish.
The game finally began, one of quiet tension interspersed with bursts of drama. The first came in the second inning when Yastrzemski caught a Ron Guidry fastball flush, stroking it in a long line drive out our way, just fair around the foul pole for a home run.
I abandoned the careful nursing of a searing sore throat and was screaming, “YAZ, YAZ,” and less intelligible things while repeatedly jumping up and down for joy for the first time since I couldn’t remember when.
Then came the slow accumulation of innings, Bill and I exchanging sporadic, shorthand appraisals, Mike Torrez after all his stretch drive disappointments mowing down the hated Gothams, then the addition of another Boston run in the sixth.
The grandstand and light-tower shadows were beginning to cut deeply into the field, the sun lowering to the blinding treachery level for right-fielders, when in the seventh New York for the first time put together two straight hits.