by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

NEW YORK — No fair! The words screamed inside Oil Can Boyd’s head, pounding off the sides of his skull, even as he pulled his cap over his eyes and tried to disappear. No fair! Forget the team, forget the Big Picture. Man is an animal that, when cornered, thinks first of his own survival. When John McNamara stood at the top of the hotel escalator Sunday night and told Boyd,
“I’m going with Bruce Hurst” — the Can would not start the last game of the World Series — Boyd did only what comes naturally. He began to cry.

“It hurts so bad,” he told a reporter after pacing the marble lobby for several minutes. “But what can I do? . . .

“It’s just that it was my turn, and after all I’ve been through. . . . I’m sorry, but my sensitivities are going to show through every time.”

No fair. No fair. Like a kid, he had repeated the words inside his head for the next 24 hours, and it was hard to look at the thin young pitcher Monday and not feel something. Pity. A sense of justice. Something.

But for the weather, Dennis Boyd would have been on the mound for Boston in the first inning of Game 7, top of the heap, center of the universe, a chance to show the world that all the stories, the rumors, the midseason walkout, the hospitalization — were meaningless when the Big Game was on the line.

Instead, he didn’t know his future, in this game, or with this team. A rain

delay had done all this? Rain? How ironic that such a whirlwind of a man should be shelved by a storm. More than a game for him Now, no doubt, when Boyd was bypassed in favor of Hurst, there were those who felt a tingle of retribution. Hadn’t Boyd deserted the Sox in July after being overlooked for the All-Star team? Threw a tantrum in the clubhouse and disappeared? Hadn’t he?

“That kind of guy doesn’t deserve to pitch Game 7 of a World Series,” the jurors say. Perhaps they are right.

But know this: Boyd’s problems, his walkout, his tantrums, his vulnerability to emotion on the mound, are not because he is above the game, but rather because he is too deep into it. If ever blood was laced with red stitches, it is Boyd’s — and that of his father and grandfather, who played the game for years in forgotten ball fields of Mississippi, in the old Negro leagues, in places scouts never bothered to visit.

When Boyd left Mississippi for pro ball, he told his mother, “This is it. The last of the Boyds. I gotta make the big leagues.” And when Boston called him up in 1982, he phoned home and said, “We made it! We all made it!” He cried then, too.

Boyd, more than most players, plants a family tree each time he takes the mound. And last week, in Game 3, his family came from Mississippi to see him for the first time — his mother and his father, who have been separated for a while. Both showed up. So, reportedly, did his father’s current woman friend. There were words exchanged.

All this was going on as Boyd took the mound. It — and the inherent pressure of the game — made him nervous. The nerves affected his early pitching. That helped allow four runs by the Mets in the first inning. And though Boyd retired 17 of the next 18 batters, it planted a seed of doubt: How would Oil Can — always an emotional butterfly — handle the pressure of a Game 7?

McNamara had no choice were the game played Sunday night (Boyd was his only starter with enough rest). But the rain delay threw Hurst into the picture, and the manager played the odds; left-hander over right-hander, hot pitcher over hot-and- cold pitcher. And one can only guess how much Boyd’s excitable nature had to do with the decision. McNamara says, “Nothing to do with it.”

What do you expect him to say? We’ve been there, too So Oil Can sat and wondered whether he’d even see action in relief in Game 7. There were no tears. Not on the outside. “I’m going to fool them,” he said. “I’m not going to do nothing. I’m going to take this like a man.”

That would be nice. Win or lose, the Red Sox have been a remarkable team this season — emphasis on the word team — and Oil Can pitching for harmony would be a welcome change.

But anyone who has ever been passed over, had something snatched away, been stuck in traffic for a job interview, only to find the spot filled upon arrival — must know something of how Boyd feels. “This hurts more than the All-Star thing,” he said. “I don’t know. . . . It hurts too much to think.”

Rain rusts the Can. Isn’t it ironic? Baseball is a game of angles and percentages, of a right move at the right time. But even in its most heartthrobbing moments — a World Series victory, a World Series defeat — there are voices from inside the men who play it and they will not let up. “No fair,” said Oil Can Boyd, but he said it to himself. In the end, he had no one else who would listen.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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