I am trying to give a sense of the zealousness of the Boston faithful. Many instances of their zeal occur to me, from the two days I spent in Boston watching Games 3 and 4. While the players were stretching out before Game 4, for instance, a man sitting one row in front of me tapped me on the shoulder.
"Hey," he said crossly. "My wife told me to take care of you."
"Huh?" I responded.
He nodded at me with his malevolent red face. "You a Yankee fan?"
I was wearing a red shirt, very big, very gaudy, with the words BOSTON RED SOX printed on its face. I pointed to the shirt and asked, "Does this say 'Derek Jeter'?"
He glanced at his wife, then looked back at our group suspiciously. His wife was a red-haired woman with small eyes. Like Voltaire's Candide, her soul--that of a miserly sow--was visible on her face.
"You guys look like Yankee fans," the husband continued. "You look Italian."
It was true. The four of us--my father, my brother Luciano, our friend Dino, and myself--must have appeared more like hit men from "The Sopranos" than typical Red Sox fans; we are from New Haven, a city with a large population of Italian-American Yankees fans. Yet the four of us are contrarians and Yankees haters.
After explaining this to the man, he became our friend, of course. By virtue of wearing a Red Sox shirt, you could have become friends with every man or woman in the stadium. If you went to the men's room not five minutes later and switched into a Yankees shirt, though, 35,000 fanatics would have instantly hated you quite as much as they hated the thought of death or taxes. That is what Fenway Park was like during the American League Championship Series.
WE TRAVELED TO BOSTON for Games 3 and 4 of the ALCS, but we did not get inside Fenway for Game 3. Few scalpers could be found on Yawkey Way that day, though dozens of sad fans like ourselves shifted about, calling, "Two needed here!" or carrying signs with rueful messages, like "Here from Maine, need 1 ticket!" Everyone wanted to be in Fenway for Game 3, even the scalpers. The one or two scalpers we did meet were selling tickets for $600 and up.
The atmosphere around Fenway before Game 3 was wild, joyous, as though the Red Sox had already won the series. Cars full of mad fans passed by, the drivers leaning on their horns, the passengers painted red and blue, and chanting the new Red Sox slogan, COW-BOY UP (each syllable stressed). Cowboys have no place in the history of Boston, but the slogan had been introduced by Boston's first baseman, Kevin Millar, and it had caught on.
Game 3 was supposed to be a lot of things: a contest of bitter rivals, a great pitcher's duel, great baseball, but it ended in anti-climax, for the Red Sox did not play or behave well enough to merit high praise. It is not that they lost, exactly, but how they lost. Even after blowing a two-run lead, and giving up four runs, Pedro Martinez might have collected himself and gotten his teammates back into the game.
By now everyone has seen a few of the inglorious images of Game 3--Pedro Martinez pitching at Karim Garcia's back, Pedro Martinez threatening Jorge Posada, Pedro Martinez throwing Don Zimmer to the ground. It was not a classic game, not a great game; indeed it was infamous and rather shameful.
The interesting thing about Game 3 is the way it revealed the character of the two teams and their fans. In the bar where we watched the game, the sight of Pedro Martinez tossing Don Zimmer to the ground was greeted so enthusiastically by Boston fans that one would have thought they were watching good baseball. It was a typical reaction, though, for the entire psychology of the Red Sox is one of hopeless resentment. Indeed, I spoke to Boston fans that cared more about seeing the Yankees lose than seeing the Red Sox win, and I spoke to others who said the World Series meant nothing: defeating the Yankees was the only thing that mattered.
The dominant psychology was the powerful versus the powerless, the fortunate versus the cursed, the lucky versus the unlucky, the gracious versus the uncouth. The Yankees are the powerful ones. They pitch when it counts; they drive in runs when they need to. They win, or they lose with grace; but mostly they win. They are gracious, classy, great-souled. And almost always they are better at the game of baseball than the Boston Red Sox.
Meantime, the Red Sox fail when it counts, and they leave a perpetual bad taste in one's mouth, for the manner of their defeat is often unprofessional and depressing. Red Sox fans (I stress that I am one of them) are generally so bogged down by the thought of losing that baseball becomes quite secondary to them. I remember walking up the aisle toward my seat during Game 4, and accidentally getting in the way of two Yankees fans who were taking photographs of each other.
"You should have stuck your middle finger at them!" a nearby fan said to me.
BUT SOMETHING HAPPENS to Red Sox fans when their team is in the postseason. They change, they transform, just as surely as caterpillars change into butterflies. Spending most of the year despairing, it suddenly occurs to them that their team might win.
My father is a life-long Red Sox fan who generally reserves one remark for his favorite team: "They'll fail." He called me up on the night of Game 7 sounding anxious, excited.
"Can they win? Can they do it?" he asked. He too had felt the change.
And my brother, who had earlier in the year delivered critiques of the Red Sox bullpen that would have brought a blush to the cheek of Mike Lupica, announced that he was throwing a party in his house. I called him, and heard only toasts, cheers, and loud laughter on the other line: "They're going to do it. Pedro's going to do it. I feel it," he said. Just as the club's slogan demanded, he believed.
What is unforgivable about Game 7 is that the Red Sox did not lose badly or obviously. Had Pedro Martinez been hit for 14 runs, had Roger Clemens recorded 20 strikeouts, one might have looked ahead hopefully to next year's season. But the Red Sox tempted fate. They hit Clemens early, knocked him out of the game. And on the other end, Pedro moved swiftly through the Yankees lineup, looking brisk and businesslike. Even after Jason Giambi hit two solo homeruns off Martinez, David Ortiz kept the Red Sox ahead, 5-2, with a solo homer of his own. My telephone rang all night: brother, father, friends--all believed that, with two innings--6 outs--to go, the Red Sox could not lose.
They lost of course. This year it wasn't an error, a ball through the legs. It was Grady Little's decision to leave the ball in the palm of a tired Pedro Martinez. It was too heroic a gesture for the Red Sox; it was something a dominant team might do in a game with less at stake. The strategy failed; and Pedro gave up 3 runs, extending the game to extra innings.
I called my father. "They'll lose," he said. My brother said nothing. No one supposed for a minute that the Red Sox could beat the Yankees in extra innings. We had all been transformed back into sufferers, pessimists. After Aaron Boone hit the solo homerun off Tim Wakefield to end the game, I called my father.
"If they win the first 88 games next year, I still refuse to watch them."
In a strangely artful way, the Yankees' narrative continued. For them, it was "destiny"; they were on their way to the World Series, perhaps to win their 27th title. For the Red Sox, it was back to the curse, to the sufferings of the Pilgrims, to 1986, to 1918, to trading Babe Ruth.
Life had imitated art again.
Stephen Barbara has written for the Atlantic Online, the New York Sun, and the Globe & Mail.