BOSTON — There was fever. In the streets, in the shops, in the dirty hallways of Fenway Park and in the Red Sox clubhouse, where reporters darted like waterbugs, player to player, gathering news for the third game of the World Series. The Sox had won the first two in New York. Now they were home. The town was juiced. The town was electric. There was fever everywhere.
Except here, in the lazy slouch of Wade Boggs, who stood alone by the bat rack, sifting through the lumber, looking for the handles marked “26.”
“What are you doing?” someone asked.
“Just making sure they’re all here,” Boggs said.
“Your bats?” he was asked.
“Yeah,” he said, finding one and taking a half-swing. “I always check my bats after a road trip. In case somebody steals one.”
“Does that happen often?”
“Sometimes,” he said.
“Right from the clubhouse?”
“Yep,” he said.
“Do you ever get them back?”
“Nope,” he said, looking up. “Once they’re gone, they’re gone for good.”
Gone for good. It might well be his epitaph. To Boggs, there is what can be done, and what can’t be done, bats here, bats not here, a pitch that is coming in, and a pitch in the mitt, gone for good.
He won the batting title this season, for the third time in four years. He drove in Boston’s first earned run of this Series with a double down the line in Game 2. He made three dazzling plays at third base — a bare-handed grab, a dive, a backhanded scoop — all fired to first in time for the out. So?
“They’re all here,” he said of the bats.
And he walked away.
Ego is a clay that hardens with the heat, and Wade Boggs, under the lamplights of pressure, only gets harder, tougher. He is all parts ego. That is what allows him to be so calm, so prepared. Dancing with a .400 average does not make his palms sweat. He is secure in the idea that hitting excellence is what he is meant to do, not something he happened upon.
And so he is not satisfied. Not with his 3-for-12 and two RBIs in the first three Series games. Not satisfied, and not showing it. “I’ll do better,” he said. He counted his bats and took his warm-ups, and .400 or .100, World Series or exhibition, you will not tell the difference.
He is a part of the Red Sox that wasn’t always here in previous talented teams. A steady, quiet, confident part. He and Roger Clemens, in particular, Mr. Hit and Mr. Pitch, do little screaming, little surfing on the emotional waves.
“What’s the difference between a Series game and a regular one?” Boggs was asked.
“Here I have 50 guys around me asking questions,” he answered. “That’s all.”
He is self-absorbed, and self-absorption is the ground floor of ego, the part that makes Boggs, 28, one of the game’s best hitters. There was a blip on his screen this summer, when his mother was killed in an auto accident. He spoke of it recently. But even that he spoke of as simply something he had to get over.
“There was a time right after that,” he said, “when I couldn’t concentrate on the game. For a week or so. That’s never happened to me before.
“Anybody can hit .357 and win a batting title. That’s easy with no distractions. Just go out and do it. But having to regain your concentration, that was the hardest thing I ever had to do.”
Anyone can win a batting title?
But this is Boggs. He follows every pitch from the mound until the mitt or his bat. He rarely swings and misses. His career average is .352. He is so good. And he is so rare these days, in that he is far more a hero for his on-field performance than any off-field image. Would you know him without a bat?
On Monday, a crowd of reporters was asking about his improved fielding, some even suggesting he deserved the Gold Glove award. “I think I had a Gold Glove year at third,” Boggs said, shrugging. “But that’s not in my hands. Managers and coaches vote. I’m glad the batting title isn’t like that. The batting title, you have to win.”
And that has been done. This season’s is in his pocket. Gone for good. Now there is a World Series to capture, and it is impossible to stand near Wade Boggs, even if he is just checking his bats, and not sense that he is going to do something about it. You catch the scent of ego. Not the boastful kind. The kind tangled up in destiny.
These Red Sox are not an Impossible Dream team. This whole thing is very real for them. As real as the fever. As real as the count of the bats.
What will be for Wade Boggs here? Could there be a Gold Glove in all this? Could there be a 5-for-5 night? A game-winning hit? The face is quiet. The bats are all here. There could be anything. Anything he wants.