World Series Game 2: Learning something about myself

Red Sox 6, Cardinals 2

How can Boston not win the Series? This Curt Schilling story is a tale of athletic heroism straight out of Hollywood. It’s like Roy Hobbs rounding the bases as his jersey gets bloodier with every step, only without the sexy circumstances causing the injury. These postseason starts on his bum ankle clearly make the start of the 2005 season a target date for Schilling’s return from surgery, but will he be able to make it? Major surgery on one of the most important parts of a right-handed pitcher’s body seems like it would need more than five months (the time from November 1, the first day after a potential Game 7, to April 1, just days before Opening Day) to make a full recovery including rehab and rebuilding strength and stamina to be able to take the ball to start a game. It means I’ll have some big decisions to make when deciding my fantasy baseball keepers, is all. But we’re not there yet.

Last night, Schilling became Greg Maddux. His stuff wasn’t vintage Schilling, it wasn’t as powerful as it usually is. He won, as Peter Gammons pointed out, by controling his location and never throwing the same pitch in the same situations to the Cardinals hitters. In two games, the Red Sox have committed eight errors and left 21 men on base. Those numbers would usually mean an 0-2 deficit, not a 2-0 lead. But Boston’s ahead because, in Game 1, they overcame those errors at the plate, scoring 11 runs. In Game 2, they won because they bore down and got the outs despite the miscues. Look at Bill Mueller — two outs, he commits an error, then Mark Bellhorn does on the next play, but then the next batter hits a shot to third that Mueller fields cleanly and takes to the bag for the final forceout. Perseverance. Determination. Execution. That’s what’s carrying these Red Sox.

Today is the 18th anniversary of Mookie Wilson’s ground ball through the legs of Bill Buckner. I was 10 at the time, and in bed when I heard my father’s screams from downstairs. I missed the actual play, but I was out of bed and down the stairs in time to see the countless replays. What a lot of people forget — or never knew in the first place — is that the play, while it lost the game for the Red Sox, didn’t blow a lead. That had already happened; the game was tied when Mookie came to bat. Second, Bob Stanley wasn’t covering first base and part of the reason Buckner missed the ball is because he was already moving toward first, hoping to beat the fleet Mookie to the bag — which was also unlikely. And, of course, just like the Cubs against the Marlins last year, Boston still had Game 7 it could have won. Just as Steve Bartman didn’t lose the NLCS for Chicago last year, Buckner didn’t lose the World Series for the Red Sox in 1986. Buckner may have cost them Game 6 (and Bartman, at most, cost the Cubs one lone, single out in an inning), but he didn’t cost them three other games. In fact, he had two hits in Game 7.

Those were the early days of my interest in baseball and the Mets. They’re still the only team I root for, from Opening Day through their final game, with an excitement and passion that rivals my feelings for Notre Dame. For me, nothing tops my allegiance to the Irish, because I spent four years there living the experience. But only the Mets come close. I follow the Devils but take only a passing interest during the season; the playoffs, as everyone knows, are when the NHL gets exciting. I have no NFL ties nearly as strong and I loathe the NBA. I rooted for the Nets out of New Jersey pride more than anything. Now that Bruce Rattner has bought the team and is scuttling it to make some money before he moves them to Brooklyn and loses a ton, I hope it all blows up in his face. I haven’t been to a game or supported the NBA in any way in nine or 10 years, and I don’t intend to start anytime soon.

But I’ve discovered something this postseason: I have an American League team. I have friends who purport to back a second team in addition to their primary squad, usually choosing one from the opposite league to call his NL or AL team, depending on which applies. While I was hoping any of the three AL playoff participants not from New York this season would reach the World Series, and I was prepared to root for any of them in that quest, but it has occurred to me, particularly as I’ve watched these two games against the Cardinals, that I am a Red Sox fan. This isn’t simply a World Series choice; it’s bigger. While I’ll root for the Mets in any potential Boston-Queens matchups, in all other instances, I’m an immigrant to Red Sox Nation.

If the Red Sox come through with these last two victories, I won’t celebrate like a long-suffering fan. I haven’t lived through the losses the way New Englanders have. But I’ll appreciate the championship as a fan of baseball and of history (and baseball history) and of a different game in 1918 — before the Black Sox, before the Babe became a slugger and rewrote the record book and the way the game is perceived and played. And, most of all, I’ll be happy for all those Red Sox fans.

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