David N. Townsend
Baseball Journal

October 16, 1986.
ALCS Game 7, Fenway Park

(Note: I actually wrote this at the time.  Little suspecting the tricks that Fate yet held in store.)

The papers had reported that, during a Red Sox rally, the pitchers in the bullpen conduct a funny ritual of holding their caps out, like beggars, on each pitch; between pitches they put their caps back on their heads: "reloading" them.  I glanced down at the bulpen from my bleacher seat, and I noticed a baseball cap poking out from under the roof.  Behind it, up in the stands, I saw several dozen fans imitating the hidden pitcher, holding their caps out.

Jim Rice swung at the first pitch and missed.  The caps went back on.  Spike Owen led from second, Wade Boggs shuffled off from first.  Caps off.  Rice took a ball.  Reload: caps back on.  The crowd surged with another expectant cheer; caps off.  Rice swung and chopped a slow grounder, foul, down the third base line.  Caps on.

There was no doubt that Rice was swinging for the long ball.  With two outs and two on, and a 4-to-0 lead in the 4th inning, he could take advantage of the opportunity to swing away.  No sacrifice fly, hit-behind-the-runner, choke-up-on-the-bat situation here.  This was a chance to go for broke.  This time Rice, swinging away again, lined a foul down the right field line.  Caps back on.  

The crowd was with him, as it had been from the beginning, in spite of his poor hitting throughout the Series.  Rice, by this fourth inning of Game Seven, remained the only unredeemed Sox player.  Dave Henderson, Calvin Schiraldi, Spike Owen, Oil Can Boyd, even Bob Stanley, had all come back from adversity and ill fortune to play key roles in this rising crescendo of Sox glory in the playoffs.  Through all the heroics, however, Rice's bat had remained silent.  He had struck out 8 times in the previous 6 games, had hit into those type of ghastly double plays that we thought he had put behind him.  His only big hit had been a meaningless home run in the Game 2 blowout.  His catch off Gary Pettis to sustain the Game 5 miracle had been a relief, but not the great play the commentators tried to make it, and certainly not enough to atone for his misplay in Game 4, which directly contributed to a bad defeat.

The caps came off another time.  Rice let the pitch go by, and many in the stands moaned, but it was just low and inside, and the umpire called it a ball.  Reload again.

Once more, the crowd rose in unison, as it had on so many pitches already in this game. We knew what Rice was trying for, but we also somehow doubted he would achieve it. With the 4-0 lead and Clemens on the mound, there was a good chance the Sox would take this game without Rice, and it seemed that perhaps this most hoped-for redemption might be missed. Still, a four run lead in Fenway is never safe, and there had already been so many great comebacks by both teams in this series.  Some insurance would feel good about now.  The caps came off again...

Delirium.  de.ler.e.um, n., from Latin delinare:  to be deranged, rave.  Figurative: a state of violent excitement or emotion; mad rapture or enthusiasm.

For a moment after the ball left the bat, I lost track of its flight against the background of the left field stands.  The initial burst of excitement upon seing its velocity and trajectory waned for an instant, as a final, lingering doubt suggested the ball might just be going foul.  Downing, the left fielder, hadn't moved to chase it.  But then the ball suddenly reappeared, clearly over fair territory, still climbing toward the Wall, toward the screen, and finally banging high into the screen, as Downing didn't even bother to watch.

In that moment, that half-second, the entire crowd of 33,000, and undoubtedly the millions of fans watching and listening elsewhere, shared the very same feeling of momentary uncertainty ("Rice swings and hits a long drive to left field, WAY up there..."), followed by a sudden, simultaneous, and thorough delerium ("... and it's GONE!!").  The tidal wave of emotion that swept through the stands at Fenway was indescribable.  The cheering reached a peak level I've never heard before, and kept going.  For two, three, four minutes, no one stopped yelling, jumping up and down, waving, screaming.  

In one moment, with one swing of the bat, Ted Williams's and Carl Yastrzemski's heir had slammed down the lid on the coffin of three generations of painful, doubting hope.  It was not just that the home run put the game out of reach, and assured the Red Sox of a tremendous comeback pennant victory, their first in 11 years and only the fourth since 1918.  It was the fact that Rice, last and best and most emphatically of all, came through when we most wanted him to.  Just before he hit the homer -- I swear it's true -- I was reflecting among the pleading cheers upon how such imploring never really works: of course we all wanted a home run, but we'd settle for a single, and we really expected a groundout.  It was that thought, the deeply bred conviction shared by all Red Sox fans that nothing ever really turns out the way you most want it to, which Rice destroyed forever with his might blow.

Bring on the Mets, who cares?  Win or lose, it almost doesn't matter, although I think we may win.  All I know is that you can grow up and find that your childhood dreams do come true, and what a wonderful knowledge that is!

Boston, 10/26/86, 2:50 AM

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