“These are the days of miracles and wonder,” Paul Simon once sang. He also has said, subsequently, that he was being ironic. But as the big Big Apple sports fan that he was and is, he must be feeling precisely, non-ironically that way just now. And why is that? Because on a nightly basis the Yankees are being ushered to the postseason that only yesterday was a distant dream by the Boston Red Sox, their new Best Friends Forever. My daughter says there’s an acronym for that, but I don’t toy with the modern acronyms anymore; I spent two recent years assuming LOL meant Lots of Love, and I thereby made a fool of myself. So says my daughter.
Believe me, Paul, it’s miracles-and-wonder on both sides of the aisle just now. I am a fierce Sox partisan, have been since weaned. And I’ve been gobsmacking myself on a near-daily basis for the better part of a month now, not knowing who to root for, at times finding myself pulling for the Yanks as the Yanks’ fans are now pulling for us. Not too very long ago, before the Rays’ offense evaporated in the Florida humidity, it was darned close between us and the Tampa Bay boys for the division lead, and when we were out west on what’s called “a swing,” I would put the proper-time-zone games on in the background, and find myself hoping that anyone, up to and including the Yankees, might knock off the Rays. My world, at least, had been dislodged from its axis.
Then something started happening: The Sox, facing the most daunting near-term schedule in baseball, started playing like world-beaters—all facets of the game. In a warm-up, we took a series from lately meek Giants, but hey: They were the world champs just last year, and it was played by the Bay. That counts. Then we took a series from the super-red-hot, suntanned, Hollywood-sexy Dodgers. Then, with home cooking, we beat Detroit among other Midwesterners. Then we had to hit the road again, and of course, being a Sox supporter for a half century now, I assumed the Yankees might derail everything during a four-game set at the Stadium. While we had been on the left coast, they had been showing signs of life. Surely they would mess everything up.
But in the first three games, as fans know, it was the 1976 Boston Massacre at the Fens in reverse. Pitchers were pummeled left and right, balls soared out to left or popped onto that absurdly short right-field porch (the wimpy Mike Napoli slam must have been particularly galling to Yanks fans; a pill, at last, after the designers had, in the first few years of the Great Mall in the Bronx, made an Ortizian slugger out of Nick Swisher). I went to the Saturday game with my son, and it was a fine one for Sox fans: huge early lead to quiet the crowd, a bit of tantalizing failure on the mound that let the Yankees believe, then the thwack of the nail in the coffin. Those three games must have been brutal for New Yorkers: just the way we like ‘em. Yes, in Game Four the pinstripes salvaged one after Mariano had blown his second straight save to the Sox in the top of the ninth, but it was only one game. Wasn’t it?
Now, just a few days on, I’m no longer so sure. We’re down in Tampa Bay beating the Rays in extra innings with grand slams by one or another of our bearded wonders, this one named after a fish. The Yankees are certainly lingering in the clubhouse after their own latest win over the also-in-it O’s, pulling mightily for the Sox to come through.
Maybe that one game, the last one against the Sox this year in New York, will represent the ultimate difference? The Yankees (who, let’s face it, are better off without the hobbled Derek Jeter at short this month, no matter who replaces him) are right on the Rays’ heels. Being cosmically inclined, at least when it comes to sports, I figure they’re going to get there, they’re going to succeed to that awful new one-game play-in playoff. I figure they’re going to scratch and claw their way to the Sox again in the postseason, too, and that set-to will come down to the last game. And how do I feel about this? Again: weirdly conflicted. It worries me, because as inferior as this year’s edition of the Yankees is to our bashers, they could be the ones who have the whole mishigas of what it “means”—what Boston-v-NY means, that could lead to a silly, unjustified outcome.
Then again, we could win it all on the last blown save of Mo’s glorious career.
If you had asked me in 2002, I might have said I would prefer it if we did not meet the Yankees in seven-game series in both the 2003 and 2004 postseasons, no matter the outcomes. Like Scrooge to Marley’s ghost: I think I’d rather not.
But if you asked me in that benevolent Christmas season of ’04 if I was happy about the events of the last two autumns as they had transpired, I would have said, “But of course.” My sporting life is an elevated thing because of those series, and the glory of the second one is not nearly so glorious without the first.
So bring them on.
When that inevitable series does begin, all of the current psychological confusion will be forgotten and each pep squad will be back at the barricades. But I imagine the scene after the players are introduced along the sidelines when these new Best Friends Forever (Proper Acronym Here) take a brief moment before returning to the dugouts, and engage in a communal hug. Dempster and A-Rod, embracing, and the PED-pal saying earnestly, or as earnestly as is possible for that man, “Thanks, buddy—thanks for all your help. Thanks for all you’ve done for us. Appreciated. Really.”
Days of miracle and wonder indeed.
—- Robert Sullivan, Managing Editor of LIFE Books and an occasional contributor to this blog, is author of the memoirs “Our Red Sox” and “A Child’s Christmas in New England,” the latter of which will be published next month.