Last Day at Fenway Park
With one out in the last of the ninth Gossage obligingly walked Rick Burleson Jerry Remy followed with a line drive to right and my eyes quickly riveted on Lou Piniella, perhaps 150 feet away squinting into the sun, standing frozen.
“He’s lost it,” I shrieked, a piece of intelligence unfortunately lost on Burleson rooted between first and second. The ball hopped directly to Piniella, and he threw toward third. Burleson rounded second, then came skidding to a halt and retreated.
Now the wildest fantasy I could have spun way back in March, when I was listening to the first exhibition game on the car radio, the snow stacked high on either side of Route 2, was unfolding –the whole season coming down to Rice and Yastrzemski coming to bat with the tying and winning runs aboard.
“Swing at the first one and I’ll personally strangle you,” I hissed as Rice stepped in, for fearsome hitter as he is, he often does not wait for the optimal pitch. He watched the first pitch go by, but the best he could then do was fly deep enough to right to move Burleson to third.
And then there was one. The roar rolled down from the stands and tumbled over the field as Yastrzemski came out of the on-deck circle, the noise swelling to a near-insupportable din as he approached the plate.
Yaz. Thirty-nine years old. A rookie when I saw my first game, the one link to all that history since.
Tom Yawkey was dead, Tony Conigliaro was off somewhere being a godawful TV sports announcer, Rico Petrocelli was on call-in radio, Orlando Cepeda was in jail — and Yaz was peering out at Gossage, his bat cocked.
Everyone in the ball park was standing, now, for this final exquisite agony, our best against theirs, another season of giddy highs and abysmal lows, all hanging in the balance in the Back Bay gloaming.
Bill and I looked at each other and shook our heads slightly, beyond words. I rolled up my scorecard into a tight baton and turned back toward the plate. It is funny what you notice and recall. I looked up at the spectators standing along the left-field roof, silhouetted against the sky like elongated pigeons.
Gossage was ready. The first pitch rode in, and 32,925 people winced. Ball one.
The crowd roared anew, and a thought sprang loose in my mind — my God, this could happen. I was suddenly assaulted with mixed feelings. Could I handle winning? Had I become so adept at rationalizing close-but-no-cigar, so comfortable with second-guessing and speculating, that I didn’t in my heart of hearts want anything else? Did I want it to end cleanly and honorably right now so that I would not have to face the pressures of a stake in the Series? I was, after all, the one who missed Fisk’s legendary foul-pole home run in 1975 because I had gone to bed, unable to endure the tension.
On the mound Gossage was looking for his sign.
And then another random thought:
“Bobby Thomson.” He of the 1951 playoff-winning homer for the New York Giants. I had always envied Giants fans the eternal ecstasy of that moment, had run through many a daydream of something like it in Fenway one day. Now the day was here and I was thinking, “No thanks”?
I looked out at Paul Blair in center, waiting, and pictured Yaz ramming one over his outstretched glove. Remy would be flying around the bases for the winning run, I would be pounding on Bill, he would be pounding on me, and the general eruption would make the ’67 homer seem like afternoon tea at the Copley.