Saturday, October 6, 2007

Manny is Back and God is Smiling

Are you kidding me, Manny?

Throughout much of Game 2, I told my cousin over and over, "This game feels so weird.  Lots of weird stuff has happened."  "You're right," he said.  "Or maybe it has to do with us not being sober."  For me, it was difficult to tell for a while as a strange, back and forth, seemingly endless 4+ hour game wore on.  Youkilis made both some fantastic and frustrating plays.  Dice-K looked great at times then shaky when his defense couldn't come up with outs.  Manny was being Manny all night in left.  And despite a hitless effort, the bullpen seemed to always be about to give up runs before nailing down the final out of each inning.  But it was earlier in the game, in the 7th, when good old Cousin Sam gave me some inspiration.  "I've got a good feeling about this game.  I'm gettin' good vibes."  I wasn't completely convinced, but I went with it.  And boy, did those vibes turn out to be good.  Or was I on E when Manny drilled, no, crushed, or better yet, OBLITERATED that K-rod offering somewhere into the Boston night.

Having said that, I would like to finally (yes, FINALLY, and I do sincerely apologize) introduce myself as Stro, who from now on will hopefully be a more reliable weekend editor.  Conveniently, it is now a weekend, and I am just a few hours fresh off what has to be about the most rewarding feeling from watching a baseball game of this nature that I can ever remember.  For the past two weeks I had been planning various columns about how dominating the Pats have been, and how lucky we are to be watching this team, but after a baseball game like tonight, not to even mention Game 1, I have no choice but to write about my true team - the Boston Red Sox - and their beautiful finish in Game 2.

And what a game it was.

From the start I tried to get a feel for how this game would progress.  About midway through the second inning I realized that would prove to be just about impossible.  The quick Sox lead, the quicker Angels comeback, the painful-to-watch play(s) by Manny in left when it appeared he just could not believe his hat was on the grass in front of him before jogging back to retrieve the baseball.  Then Dice-K settles down while the Sox  hitters go cold, and all of a sudden a near-spectacular grab by Youk and a "tsk tsk shake your head" at Dice-K has the Angels  threatening.  But really - can you blame the guy for not covering first?  The ball is smashed off the bat, then Dice-K looks over to see Youk sprawling out and almost nabbing it.  I can understand why Dice-K wasn't sprinting towards first in that situation.

Even though the bullpen pitched a brilliant 4 1/3 innings without giving up a hit, it somehow felt like the Angels were about to make something happen every inning.  I found myself just praying we'd get out of each inning so that somebody could step up in the bottom half for the Sox.  It almost felt like the Sox never even tied up the game.  There were enough bad turns and unlucky wind  currents to make one think this just might never straighten out into a Sox win. But my cousin's words held true.

I predicted Lugo would lead off the 9th inning with a walk.  When he lined the first pitch off of K-Rod into left, I was OK with it.  Suddenly every Sox fan thought the same thing:  "Could this be the start of some wild thriller of an ending?"  Pedroia moving Lugo to second was exciting as well - now just a base hit would do it.  But Youk looked bad striking out for the second time in the game, and now everyone knew a solid hit would need to bring home the run.  I don't think anyone could have expected the "solid hit" that was soon to follow.
Of course Ortiz was walked intentionally.  This move is about as obvious as it can get in managing a baseball game.  It's just unfortunate for the pitching team that a decent hitter named Manny Ramirez is lurking on deck.  But you take your chances and go with the righty-righty matchup every time.  And Manny was more than happy to stand and deliver.

As Manny entered the box I turned to my cousin and said, "Can't you envision the headlines tomorrow: 'Despite a couple of shaky plays in left, Manny proves why he's one of the greatest hitters of all time'."  I won't go as far as to say  I called it.  I certainly didn't.  And I know that I'm not alone when millions of Sox fans were surely thinking the same thing.  Just not quite like this.

Pitch 1:  Ball.

Pitch 2:  Gone.

Not just gone.  WAY gone.  Like "oh my sweet lord what in god's name did I just see happen" gone.  Like "jump out of your seat and scream and don't stop smiling for 15 minutes" gone.  I think I can honestly say that I was more happy with this home run than I was when Foulke and the Red Sox closed out Game 4 in the '04 World Series.  Strange, I know.  But I think it had to do with the way Manny stood there, hands raised, admiring all 1,692 feet of that ball he hammered.  (It had to be at least that many feet).  Or maybe it was just how swiftly that bat came down and attacked that ball, putting a stunning and jaw-dropping ending on a 4-hour marathon of a game.

The only game I can say I was more happy to see won was Mueller's walk-off homer against Rivera on July 24, 2004.  A game I was lucky enough to attend (kudos to a certain Sam Shaughnessy).  Of course, you can point to any game in the '04 Yankees ALCS.  And sweeping a World Series is nice, too.  Besides - that history is way in the past now.  And it's been a whole three years since the Sox won it all.  But seriously.  This game, like Beckett's gem in Game 1, will go down in EVERY Sox fan's memory for a very, very long time.  This game is tell-your-grandchildren-about material at the very least.

It's hard to get much happier after a night like this.  But perhaps Loren will get an extra kick out of finally seeing me post something here.  Hopefully this is the start of many more posts to come (seriously folks, I'll do my best).  And hopefully this Game 2 was the continuation of many more Red Sox post-season victories to come.  Let's just see how many more awesome ways they can find to win.

Saturday is a good day to call yourself a Red Sox fan.