We’ll Always Have Pedro…

Yes, that hurt.

I mean, I shelled out the necessary cabbage to get the MLB ticket so I could catch as many Red Sox games as I desired.

How could I not? It was, after all, going to be a historic season.

Little did I know; little did anyone know (how could anyone know?) it would be historic all right, for all the wrong reasons.

Watching this group of overpaid, under-motivated, oddly heartless and more than a little soulless athletes (never forget: these are grown men playing a little boy’s game and getting paid handsomely, and in the case of Carl Crawford –who might face the indignity of being known henceforth as Carl Crawfraud in New England– paid extravagantly) stumble and lurch toward the inevitable these past 30 days has been many things. Maddening, inexplicable, comical, cringeworthy, embarrassing, futile and more than a few times bordering on masochistic. Why would someone endure such mediocrity night after excruciating night? Because that is what fans do. Because the people who jump ship never understand what it’s like to experience the joys and pains of loyalty. Certainly with the Sox there has been more pain than joy for the better part of a century, but this past decade has done much to make amends for the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune so celebrated in the media (Curse of the Bambino, anyone?). And I know there are few who would (or could bring themselves to) admit it, but even the die-hard folks who jumped ship after Game 3 in 2004 will never understand how truly miraculous and redemptory it was to experience the greatest comeback in all of sports history.

See, nothing will ever be the same after 2004 (not to mention the amazing digestif of 2007). Younger or incredibly myopic fans comparing last night (and this past month) to 2003, or 1986 or 1978 or 1975 have no idea how devastating those not-so-grand finales were, each in their own way. Books could be written and books in fact have been written about it. (Just like books will be written about what we witnessed last night across both leagues in a night that was as close to genuinely surreal as any in baseball history.) To lose in ’86 and then again in ’03 wasn’t just the pain of losing (itself unbearable under the circumstances of each scenario), it was the continuation of a seemingly preordained ritual: all the injustice and awful karma of the universe –athletically speaking, because only the most ill-adjusted fanatics will ever compare sports woes to real life tragedies– seemed aligned against this long-suffering, often pathetic franchise. There were several amazing players who helped change this, but the one man who forever changed the atmosphere in Boston is Pedro Martinez, arguably the dominant pitcher of his generation. Even when he played on mediocre teams (and it was his misfortune to do so when he was at the very height of his inhuman powers circa ’99-’01), he brought the air of possibility to Fenway. Anything could happen. Along with Manny, Schilling and a core group of “idiots” the impossible did happen.

So, what that beloved team accomplished (and the squads in ’04 and ’07 were definitely easy to love, just like the ’03 and, for the most part, ’86 teams) forever provided perspective for real Red Sox fans.

Let’s not kid ourselves: last night was an epic collapse and more than slightly surreal the way it unfolded. Worse, it brought back pre-’04 memories of the sinking feeling, the gradual acknowledgement of the inevitable: We’re going to blow this. And it hurts; it never doesn’t hurt. But not like it did; this past month, without the hindsight of the recent titles, would have been an apocalypse of sorts for all but the bravest or most impregnable Sox aficionados.

(And sidenote: the Sox practically begged the Rays to steal the wild-card slot; the way they played this past month and especially this past week, they not only had no right to assume things would go their way, the more grounded fans understood that even if the Sox were lucky enough to make it to October, their exit was likely to be quick and ugly. Then again, you never know what’s going to happen, in any sport, once the playoffs begin. And speaking of the Rays…it’s pretty hard to dislike a squad that has about one-fourth the Sox payroll, gets little media attention and can’t even come close to selling out its shithole of a stadium, yet still plays as if their fates depended upon it. Even after being down 7-0 in the 8th inning, they kept coming. They were, in many regards, the anti-Sox. If the Boston front office is wise, they will take copious notes.)

Simply put: although it was anything but pleasant to see the Sox sent meekly into the night (and the long, cold winter of Beantown’s discontent), the events of last evening did not make me hate the team or the sport. In fact, last night made me love baseball even more than I already did. This is what you watch for and this is what you hope for: win or lose, something memorable will happen. Just because Sox fans won’t soon forget this recent disgrace, Rays fans, including the ones who didn’t actually exit the stadium during the earlier innings, will remember that comeback for the rest of their lives. And the memory of Longoria hitting his second home run of the night to keep the dream alive will perhaps be invoked as comfort down the road if/when the Rays see a season come to too-early of an end.

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