I was in bed last night — sans cable (not that Red Sox games get picked up here anyway) and sans Internet — tracking the status of two baseball games on my iPhone.
The Boston Red Sox had to win, and the Tampa Bay Rays had to lose, and an awful month would have been tabula rasa. The Sox, my hometown team, would have been in the playoffs. They were up, 3-2. The Rays were losing, 7-0.
And then it all fell apart. Jonathan Papelbon, the Red Sox closer, blew the lead. And the Rays inexplicably came back and won the game in 12 innings.
And what did I do? I turned off my phone and went straight to sleep. Fell asleep faster than the season itself unraveled — three minutes, I've read.
But in 2003, when I was 15, I barely slept a wink after Aaron Boone hit an extra-innings homer off a Tim Wakefield pitch, the first one he saw, to dash the Sox' hopes in a Game 7 playoff match against the Yankees. A win would have sent the Sox into the World Series, and would have given the team the chance to exorcise its 85-year-old demons.
I was sick to my stomach. To this day, I think of Grady Little NOT GIVING PEDRO MARTINEZ THE HOOK! The bullpen had been on FIRE! What's wrong with you, Grady? I went to school the next day and, as a sort of pall to go along with my funeral dirge of a hoarse voice, put on a Red Sox T-shirt.
What has changed in these eight short years? The collapse this year was just as bad — perhaps worse, given the magnitude and the longevity.
I've gotten older, sure. And I live in Yankee Country, where I'm insulated from the day-to-day ups and downs of a 162-game season.
But I've also gotten spoiled. The Red Sox have won it all, twice, since that night. The Celtics have been perennial contenders, winning it all once and coming oh-so-close once more. The Patriots have been football's dominant team for the past decade. Even the Boston Bruins — in the 70s, my dad told me, the B's were bigger than the Sox — took home the Stanley Cup to parade it around the streets of Boston.
Fast forward to today, and I'm not doing too bad. It sounds like apostasy for a die-hard, but it's true. I woke up from a restful sleep, then re-remembered what happened. "Crap," I said a variation of. "I can't believe that happened."
And then I went along with my day. I went on a run on the Black River Trail in Watertown, commiserated with a woman wearing a Sox hat, and then got ready for work.
Before I left, I put on my Red Sox cap, just like I did after that awful Aaron Boone night when I was 15. (Side note: It really is pretty pathetic to see the invective of Yankees fans. The Scum Sox had it coming, I've heard. Some serious gloating on Twitter. Let's class it up, folks.)
I will argue, too, that the Sox collapse was the second-worst in history. The worst was the Yankees blowing a three-game lead, in a seven-game series, to the Red Sox, who went on to win their first title since 1918. That was worse. I'm telling myself this repeatedly today.
I called my dad, too, to do some more commiseration. He lives in Somerville, Mass. He's only been recently spoiled by Boston sports domination. He saw the ball go through Billy Buckner's legs in 1986, before I was born. And before anyone said Aaron Bleeping Boone, he was saying, Bucky Bleeping Dent.
"Forget it. Stupid bums," he said. "I wrote them off two weeks ago."
My dad is famous in the family for honing his laser-like anger on one player, usually the one with the worst batting average. No matter that any replacement player would be even worse; he wants that player gone, cut, see ya later. His hatred for Jose Offerman was particularly epic. I believe Jason Varitek has been a recent target. But a new man is earning his ire.
"They should fire that [manager Terry] Francona, for sure," he said.
Who should they replace him with, I asked?
"I don't care," he said. "Mickey the Dunce."
But he seemed to be taking it pretty well, considering the circumstances. He said he'll avoid sports television stations for a few days. It's hard, though. This collapse was so bad, it's even made national headlines. "Ridiculous," he declares.
I asked him if it was any better now than it was before.
"Probably," he said. "They won two World Series. It's not the end of the world."
Indeed. So, Yankees fans, if you see a tall blond guy walking the streets of Watertown, muttering those last seven words to himself, wearing an out-of-place Sox cap with khakis and a polo, give him a hello, or just leave him alone. He's not in the worst of moods, but he is well rested. Well rested enough to say, with a smile: "It's not as bad for me as it was for you in 2004."