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BOSTON--How many people actually thought back in March that they would see something like what happened at Fenway Park two nights ago?
All right, maybe you thought the fans would salute the players, Jack McDowell style. Instead, when the Red Sox clinched the division title with a 3-2 win over Milwaukee, the players came out of their lockerroom to thank the fans.
The gesture carried a lot more significance this year than in any past one. Boston loves its Red Sox, and attendance took less of a licking here than in other major league cities.
Still, the atmosphere at historic Fenway Park lacked what one would expect on a night in which the home team could clinch a division title. The crowd was late-arriving and the fans didn't get very excited until the bottom of the seventh, despite the fact that Erik Hanson was pitching a no-hitter through five innings.
No, something was wrong. Scott Underberg '96, my diehard baseball fan roommate, had asked me at about 4:30 Wednesday afternoon whether I wanted to go to the game and see the Sox clinch.
As a native New Yorker and a Yankees fan, the idea at first repulsed me. But then again, as a sports writer and a sports fan in general, you never want to pass up a good story when the chance hits.
So, we got to the park at 6:52 for a 7:00 start. There were no tailgate parties, but rather just a bunch of people looking for tickets. Naturally, we thought that bleacher seats or standing room would be all that was left. Instead, we got third-row tickets down the left field line in the grandstand.
Did people forget or just not care! Was the strike still in people's minds, or are Boston fans in general so laid back?
Officially, 32,653 fans showed up. But there was something wrong, because the loudest noise through the first six innings came from the wave, not from the Red Sox scoring or the near no-no.
By the seventh, though, the crowd was more into it, including the three people in my section that showed up at the sixth inning.
When Jose Canseco laced a broken-bat single into left to score Luis Alicea for the go-ahead and division-winning run, the roar was deafening but only about a minute long. I suppose that is something, since people even stopped gulping down their beer at that moment.
The ninth inning had some atmosphere, too, but certainly less than I had expected. Sure, people cheered and banged on the green monster, but they were somehow more reserved for the most part.
Perhaps they remembered that winning the division nowadays has half as much meaning as it did two years ago, or maybe they were just waiting for the Red Sox to suffer their annual late-season meltdown.
Rick Aguilera came from 3-0 behind in the count to strike out the Aussie, Dave Nilsson, and win the game, 3-2. The team poured out in the usual pile up celebration, which included one fan who was unceremoniously torn away and arrested five seconds later.
The players threw caps and their A.I. East Championship t-shirts into the crowd, and several rode the Boston police horses. (Poor things, they had to carry around Mo Vaughn.)
However, instead of investing their energy in those types of gestures, the players and the owners should settle their disagreement once and for all.
Perhaps the strike is the reason why the scene was relatively calm. I just don't know, and I certainly wasn't ready to ask 10,000 people with a little too much alcohol in their systems.
In any event, the fans deserve better, and with a settlement, they might care a little more in the future.
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