All praise to the Red Sox and all pity to the Rays. I recognized ourselves in both of them Thursday night.
The Red Sox were our better angels, the team we believe the Mets to be when circumstances demand they be it. The Red Sox were the best of '69, '73, '86 (ironically enough) and '99. They were every Amazin' comeback we've ever catalogued, every ten-run eighth, every five-run ninth, every unlikely grand slam that has ever tied or untied our fate in our favor. They were us as we see us.
The Rays were our worst instincts, the team we watched the Mets devolve into in October 2006 and September 2007 and over and over in 2008 until we devolved into nothingness. They were every uneasy pitch, every blown lead, every empty feeling that has enveloped us in failure. They, too, were us as we see us.
Dueling archetypes. One won. One lost. Typical Mets.
The cumulative effect of the way the past three seasons have ended has drained me of passion for October baseball as practiced by others. I don't know that I've watched a single LDS, LCS or World Series game from beginning to end since October 19, 2006. Game Five between the Rays and the Sox I caught only in snatches. I saw the Rays take a large lead, I saw them extend it, I noticed young Scott Kazmir rolling along and I heard it mentioned that Red Sox fans were beginning to file out of Fenway in the seventh down 7-0.
It was license enough for me to keep flipping and commence napping but not before I wondered what I'd do in that position, at a playoff game, my team all but dead, my season all but the same. Of course I said I'd stay, and I would. But I remembered how I weaseled out of Shea the night the Braves were about to clinch against us/eliminate us from divisional contention in 2000. I also found myself surprisingly cognizant of train schedules a year later when the Pirates were a half-inning from knocking us out. But those weren't playoff games. And Lord knows I've made up for those indiscretions on recent final Sundays.
The Red Sox, in the obit I was ad libbing in my head, had been proud champions. My, how they had changed their script since 2003 and my, how they had zero of which to be ashamed. Jason Bay — Scott Kazmir to us before Scott Kazmir came to mean something more — had been a great replacement for Manny. The Red Sox seemed to make lots of smart pickups like that as a matter of course. I noticed Mark Kotsay playing first. I'd forgotten about him. He didn't have the impact of Jason Bay, but that's a player I've always considered a little underrated. J.D. Drew's contract was written off as a boondoggle, but he's a piece of the puzzle up there. And Papelbon, out on the mound soaking up the seventh to give them a shot. Yes, the Red Sox had been good for the sport, I decided. It was nothing personal against them that I was thrilled for the Rays.
The Rays were still a bit of a mystery guest to me, a little shy of familiar this deep into the postseason. But I was getting to know them when I was bothering to pay attention. Was Upton really hitting that many homers? Was Longoria that good? Carl Crawford…didn't he say something about being better than Jose Reyes a couple of years ago or generating as much buzz as Jose if he played in New York? Maybe somebody said that about him. In any case, I was looking forward to pulling for the Rays in the World Series, Senior Circuit loyalties be damned. What has the National League done for me lately other than gang up on and crush my dreams?
Baseball certainly changes your priorities in a Fenway minute, doesn't it? As I grew drowsy, it was 7-4. When I was a pliant eyelid from dozing, it was 7-6. When I next looked at the television, it was 7-7, two out, bottom of the ninth, Youkilis up with nobody on. Slow grounder to Longoria…he makes a nice Wrightlike play…he'll get it to first and they can go to the tenth tied…
Not so much.
It was hope against hope, to the extent I was hoping all that hard, that the Red Sox wouldn't end it in the ninth. Bay was walked and Drew did what Drew did against the Angels, what I vaguely recall him doing against the Tribe last October. What had been 7-0 for the scrappy underdogs was now an 8-7 final for the scrappier champions.
And people left?
Sorting out whether this is another 2004/2007 in the making for the Red Sox or a blip for the Rays along the lines of the Astros having to endure Pujols' bomb off Lidge in the fifth game of the NLCS in '05 before returning to
Minute Maid old Busch (its last game ever) to finish off the Cardinals is best left to fate. Though the Rays didn't exist when I was an undergrad in Tampa, my heart will be with them Saturday night. I liked the idea of them clinching their way into the World Series on October 16, the 39th anniversary of their most obvious inspirations winning it all the first time. But I like even better that my Bulls are home Saturday afternoon and the possibility exists for an area doubleheader sweep of sorts, even if I'll be the first to admit USF vs. Syracuse doesn't hold a candle to a potential pennant party. It's just a possibility, however, no matter what the Bulls do. As we learned a lot in 2008, and as the Rays have been cruelly reminded, good relief help is hard to find.
Sympathy for the former Devil team notwithstanding, I also like the idea of what I saw after the Red Sox came all the way back in Game Five. I love that those who did stay when it was 7-0 stayed long after it was 8-7. I loved watching the Red Sox fans eventually stream giddily out of Fenway, maybe not forming “the largest conga line ever” as in Fever Pitch (hey, that was beating the Yankees when that seemed like fiction), but a marvelous street scene in its own right. The warmth of it all reminded me of Roger Angell throwing Bostonians a bone in 1986, extracting “spirit and pleasure” from the Red Sox' Game Five victory in what was about to become our World Series: “This was the last home game of the year for the Red Sox, and when it was over, the fans stayed in the stands for a time…” I liked Thursday night's TBS shot of the grounds crewman hosing down the pitcher's mound, too, for it signaled Fenway wasn't necessarily closed for the winter.
Then again, I thought, the Shea grounds crew dutifully manicured the mound and the batter's box in the wake of the loss of September 30, 2007. Maybe it's just what grounds crews do. Or in Shea's case, did.
I keep peeking at pictures and video of Shea being hollowed out. I shouldn't, but I do. I was going to say I'm doing it 'cause it's a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon, but so is a fatal disease. I guess it's part curiosity and part weird gratification that somebody is bothering to record the deconstruction process. It's a little like when I was in high school and the Mets sucked yet I was grateful when they were mentioned at all, even for sucking. Shea is still a topic of conversation this October, albeit for the most dismal of reasons.
The Red Sox fans who stayed to the end and then after, they were lucky. I'd love to not leave a ballpark right about now.