Life After Death at Fenway
B.S. on Sports
Red Sox fans all over, put away your bats and gloves in peace now. There really is justice in the world. There really was a pennant race, an autumn appendix to the Summer Game. Baseball is dead in Boston until next April, but its death was swift, fair and bittersweet instead of tragic.
The American League Eastern Division race ended the only way it should have ended yesterday, with "baseball's Athens and Sparta" meeting at the Pass at Fenway to stage the ultimate epic and write a decisive final chapter to a title and a season that were undecided throughout.
Everything was the way it should have been as the battle dressed up for the national audience. Ron Guidry vs. Mike Torrez on the mound. Guidry, the cagey Cajun who had kept the Yankees in the race all year with his fastball and slider, was called upon again by the New Yorkers, this time on only three days' rest. With a record of 24-3 before the contest, his regular season job was strangely not yet over.
For Torrez, the game fell rather heavily in his lap. The former Yankee, while making millions and winning but 16 in his first season with Boston, was out there attempting to justify his place in the free agent system, attempting to justify his ability to pitch well in the clutch, attempting to beat the best pitcher in baseball. Somehow, all that pressure seemed right.
Neither Guidry nor Torrez went the route, and why should they? Why should one player dominate in a game where domination is the prize? This was a chance to see the teams; the stars, the bullpens, the stiffs, and this was a chance for the spotlight to find many in its path.
First it fell on Carl Yastrzemski. If we extend the Peloponnesian War metaphor, it's hard to deny that Yaz has forever been Achilles in Boston, sulking and slugging for 18 years, first through determination then idolatry. No one will ever doubt Yastrzemski's indispensibility on the baseball field, and no one was surprised when his adrenalin-powered shot found its way around the right field foul poll and into the seats for the game's first run in the second. And when Yaz popped to third for the final out of the game, myths may have been shattered about his supernatural skills, but respect did not diminish.
Bucky Dent, the starting shortstop whose play has tested the loyalty of many a Yankee fan, coupled his bat with less-than-graceful Lou Piniella's glove to form one mammoth unsung hero for New York. Dent's three-run homer in the seventh that put the Yankees ahead silenced a too-cocky-for-such-a-close-game Fenway crowd, while Piniella's defensive efforts in Glaucoma Country (sundrenched right field) enabled the lead to hold up.
And in the end, though we waited all along for gifted Jim Rice to give us the game-winning moonshot that we all took for granted, the spotlight incidently fell on an athlete who knows its beam all too well.
Reggie Jackson drove in the game's winning run in the eighth with a Reggie Jackson-type home run to straightaway center field. The abortive comeback effort by the Sox in the last two frames may dull the memory of Jackson's clout, but it cannot deny the importance. Reggie Jackson was once again the hero on the type of battlefield where he can be nothing else, when the battle is all or most of the marbles.
So where does the Red Sox fan, instinctively wandering through the aftermath of the battle, wandering why "those guys Guidry and Jackson" always seem to do it while the Red Sox forever disappoint?
Do me a favor, Mr. Self Indulgent. Hop the next plane to Seattle, Atlanta, Chicago, or Milwaukee. Tell everyone you're from Boston, and they'll sit there wondering what a playoff and excitement on a baseball diamond in autumn are like. Tell them you were there and felt the vibrations of Athens and Sparta and your team almost won. They won't feel sorry for you. They shouldn't.