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.