Sox odyssey sweetened by oddities
Soggy Bottom Boys stun Yankees, rack up another stranger-than-fiction win
NEW YORK -- This is the week the Red Sox crossed over the threshold from rational to irrational, from fact to fiction, from things that can be explained to things that go bump in the night.
Our humble suggestion: Just accept this as a baseball odyssey like very few others, and grab on with both hands for the ride. And if you're able to grow a beard -- or a single whisker, which was about all that separated Mike Napoli's game-tying grand slam from being just another fly ball to right field in Yankee Stadium Friday night -- so much the better.
As the great Ned Martin said in a broadcast long ago during another wildly improbable saga, words that surely echoed in the memories of longtime Sox fans: "If you've just turned your radio on, it's happened again."
A franchise that began the year bent on winning back New England hearts and minds can not only declare mission accomplished, but can lay claim to reviving a message that once inflamed the imagination of an entire generation of Sox fans.
Did you say impossible? Tell that to Yaz and Rico and Gentleman Jim, then try slipping that by the Soggy Bottom Boys of Napoli and Gomes, Victorino and Ross, Carp and Pedroia. Good luck with that.
A night after blowing a 7-2, seventh-inning lead to the Yankees, the Sox rallied from an 8-3 deficit to tie the score on Napoli's slam that hit the top of the right-field wall, just 335 feet away from home plate and clearing Ichiro Suzuki's glove by the length of his beard. Shane Victorino, the accidental right-handed slugger who won Thursday night's game with a 10th-inning single, then broke the tie with a two-run home run in the eighth, and the Sox tacked on another two runs to win 12-8.
It was all witnessed by a crowd of 44,117, a gathering that surely preferred those days when the Yankees were the ones inflicting constant sorrow on their visitors, rather than being on the receiving end of misery from a team that's now just 19 games away from a finish line that looks increasingly like a welcome mat to October.
Nine runs in the span of two innings Friday night. A game-tying, broken-bat hit off The Great Rivera when they were one out away from defeat the night before. A record-tying eight home runs the night before that in Fenway Park. A grinding 2-1 win over a pitcher who came into the game 19-1 the night before that.
Mind-bending feats compressed into four consecutive nights, when they easily could have filled a season's worth of highlight reels. Four nights unlike any Sox pitcher Craig Breslow said he has ever experienced. Blurring the lines between real and unreal?
"It certainly seems that way, right, at least anecdotally," said Breslow, whose Yale education has seldom faced a challenge as great as offering a brief dissertation on the whys and wherefores of this remarkable run by the Sox, winners of seven of their last eight, 11 of their last 13 and 13 of their last 17.
"It's kind of one of those things where, how closely correlated are these things breeding upon themselves? You do it once, does that make it easier to do again?
"The thing is, we're the same team every night. If we're down 10-0, there are probably guys keeping it loose in the dugout. If we're up 10-0, guys are keeping it loose. One-one in the ninth, the same. That makes it easier for guys to be themselves on the field, and then you get the results that at times seem inexplicable."
These guys are real -- just ask crestfallen Yankee manager Joe Girardi -- but they have a knack for summoning ghosts, too.
"That's pretty cool," said Napoli, who has reached base safely in his last eight at-bats here. "I get in that situation; guys seem to be on base all the time when I'm up. I've had a lot of opportunities with the bases loaded this year. I'm just trying to drive the ball somewhere, and good things can happen."
Witches can be right, giants can be good, curses can become blessings.
"Is this about the whole Halley's Comet thing coming up?" said pitcher Ryan Dempster, who demonstrated his own brand of fearlessness when he took the No. 4 subway to Yankee Stadium Friday afternoon, just days after Yankees fans demanded his head for hitting their A-Rod with a pitch.
It helped, Dempster said, that he pretty much went unrecognized, despite the presence of a TV camera crew. "They thought I was the third-place winner in the Publishers Clearing House," he said.
You get the idea: These guys don't take themselves too seriously, except when faced with the task at hand. Then they respond like pinch hitter Mike Carp, who came off the bench cold in the seventh inning, quickly fell behind 0-2 to reliever Phil Hughes, then worked a walk out of a nine-pitch at-bat.
"That was the at-bat that made the whole inning," Dustin Pedroia said. "That set up getting the guys we wanted to the plate."
If that was the at-bat that made the inning, Pedroia's sprint to first on a slow grounder to third was the dash that made it, Pedroia crossing the bag just as Rodriguez's throw bounced in low to first.
"I try to run that hard every time," he said. "Depends on how you hit the ball. I hit it out front, so I was able to get going. Lucked out that I was safe."
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Call it luck if he must, but most folks know better.
"We just focus on every game," Dempster said. "We don't get ahead of ourselves. Every time we have success and are able to deal with adversity and come back from that makes you believe you can come back from any situation. That's not always going to be the case but at least that belief is in the back of your mind.
"I don't know if it's rational or irrational. As long as there are outs left, there's a chance."
The Sox are 29 games over .500. Their magic number was trimmed to 14 with Friday's victory combined with Tampa Bay's loss in Seattle. Pedro Martinez, a clubhouse visitor before the game, was telling reporters that this team compares very favorably to the 2004 World Series winners. But the Idiots who won in '04 had come within a game of going to the Series the year before. The Soggy Bottom Boys started from less than zero, or at least in that neighborhood. That's as good a reason as any to hand over your hearts.
"It's a great team for fans to support," Breslow said. "It's got personality, it's got identity, it's got grit, and it's had success."