BOSTON — That was no baseball. That was a rock heading straight for heaven’s window. “THE RED SOX WIN THE PENNANT!” Did you hear that, angels?
Did you hear that, Angels? The Red Sox win the pennant. They are going to the World Series. That ball off Jim Rice’s bat Wednesday night that rose high above the lights of Fenway Park, high above the hysteria, above the grass-and-sand diamond until the players below looked like ants — that ball, which seemed for a blessed moment as though it might never come down, carried more than three runs, more than the game, more than the sweat and muscle of Rice, a man hitting nearly 200 points below his average in this American League playoff.
It carried the breath and hopes and the history of a franchise that has specialized in broken hearts for years and years. One of these two teams, Boston or California, was bound to let its fans down in this seventh and final game. The roar that shook the very concrete of Fenway when Rice’s ball hit the left field net was a gleeful acknowledgement that, for once, it wasn’t the Boston faithful who would take it in the face.
“THE RED SOX WIN THE PENNANT,” screamed the radio announcer, twice, three times. “THE RED SOX WIN THE PENNANT!” Believe it. It was easy. Well, this game was easy. Give Roger Clemens a seven-run lead and you better not blow it. Not if you want to live.
In truth, this bizarre, sometimes brilliant series was closer in its middle than it was around the edges. Games 4 and 5 were extra-inning classics. Games 6 and 7 — like 1 and 2 — were runaways. But look who was doing the running! Boston, which had been down three games to one, coming back to capture the flag. Boston? Boston?
“Have a nice winter, Reggie!” yelled a fan as Mr. October grounded out.
Yep. Boston. Mauch saw fateful moon It was carved in stone even earlier than Rice’s towering home run in the fourth, which made the score 7-0 and chased John Candelaria from the Angels’ mound — and chased any hopes of a happy winter for manager Gene Mauch, who has now failed twice this decade to win a single game for the pennant. No doubt Mauch knew what was coming when he saw the near-full moon over Fenway Park as the game began. Or at least when he saw Wade Boggs, the best hitter in baseball, at bat with the bases loaded in the second inning.
Come on. That’s too good. And he hit a vintage Boggs smacker, right up the middle, and it hit second base. It hit second base? And it bounced off weirdly, so the Angels outfielders had to chase it around, while Don Baylor and Dwight Evans raced around to score.
It hit the base?
You knew it then. The Sox win the pennant.
“WE WANT WADE! WE WANT SPIKE! WE WANT RICE! . . . ” The curtain calls echoed through the night. Everyone got an encore in this 8-1 victory. Everyone got a bow. Clemens, who led the team all season — and finally won in his third start of the series — heard the loudest cheer of all when he left the game in the eighth, dizzy from the flu. And Evans, who, like Rice, was on the 1975 Red Sox team — the last one to reach a World Series — he heard it, too, after he smacked a home run in the seventh. And Dave Henderson, the understudy-turned-hero. And Boggs, who . . . aw, you know him.
“What do you think about coming back from so far down?” someone would ask Boston manager John McNamara.
“What’s that expression?” he said. “Hope springs eternal? . . .”
Yeah, something like that. Angels candidates for a fall Of course, up until Wednesday night, being a post-season fan of either team was sort of like being dragged around by the hair. Both Boston and California seemed destined to fall off the rainbow. When was the last time the Red Sox won a World Series? 1918? And the Angels have never even been in one.
And what of the Angels? As the game unraveled, they were quiet. Silent. As harmless in the dugout as they had been on the field. One run, six hits.
“It hurt like hell,” Mauch would say. “We put our hearts out there and they got stepped on.”
Like the Red Sox, the Angels, an odd assemblage of crow’s feet and receding hairlines, had surprised everybody this season. But the combined experience of Bobby Grich, 37, and Doug DeCinces, 36, and Bob Boone, 38, and Don Sutton, 41, and Jackson, 40 — who struck out in the eighth inning in what might be his last major league at-bat — couldn’t turn the flow of this evening.
And Mauch? Oh, my. The 60-year-old manager already wears the heaviest of amulets, a loser’s reputation. Wednesday he achieved that which he dreaded most: He outdid himself.
Remember that the Angels were one strike away from the pennant last Sunday in sunny California. And then reliever Gary Lucas hit Rich Gedman and Henderson came up and smacked a home run and . . . forget it.
And now, here it was Wednesday, in the dark cold of Boston, and Calvin Schiraldi, who blew Game 4, was striking out Jerry Narron to end the game and leaping so high off the mound that only gravity kept him from drifting off into space.
What had Mauch said before the game? “Tonight we’ll see which team knows how to win when it has to”?
Today we know.
The Red Sox win the pennant.
And ultimately, the “WE WANT ROGER!” and “WE WANT RICE!” turned into “WE WANT THE METS!” The last brick in this unlikeliest yellow brick road. They want the Mets. And so they shall have them, starting Saturday, a World Series that pits the team everyone knew would be there against the team no one expected.
How could it exceed what had brought them here? This had been a series of mishaps and masterpieces, turns so decidedly different they could only be perceived as part of a master plan: Bring the thing to seven games.
It’s all history now.
“What are you thinking about for the World Series?” someone would ask Rice.
“Have fun, may the best team win,” he said.
That would be nice. That would be fitting.
After a lot of coaxing in the fourth inning, Rice finally stepped out of the Red Sox dugout and acknowledged the screaming fans.
He waved. He tipped his hat. Perhaps at the crowd, perhaps at the spirits of 1918, who no doubt were watching from somewhere above. Hear that, angels? Hear that, Angels? Red Sox win. Red Sox win.