Posted by: Mike Cornelius | October 31, 2013

At Long Last, Before Their Very Eyes

Ninety-five years is a long time. Back then, in 1918, the little bandbox at 24 Jersey Street was just seven years old. It had hosted the 1912 World Series in its inaugural season, and the home fans saw their Red Sox claim the team’s second title with a 3-2 victory over the New York Giants in Game Eight. Yes, Game Eight, necessitated because the second game of the 1912 Series was called due to darkness after 11 innings, with the scored tied at 6-6. The Red Sox won the World Series again in both 1915 and 1916, with the deciding game of the latter also in Boston. But both times the franchise’s ownership opted to play their home games further out Commonwealth Avenue at Braves Field, which had a larger seating capacity. Thus it was not until Game Six of that 1918 Series that Fenway Park, named by then Red Sox owner John Taylor for the neighborhood in which he built it, was once again the site of the final contest of the Great Game’s championship round.

The world was at war while that Series was being played, and the attention of many fans was on matters other than baseball. Attendance was light for all six games, with scarcely more than 15,000 half-filling Fenway on the afternoon of September 11th. The Red Sox plated a pair of runs in the bottom of the 3rd, thanks to an error by Chicago outfielder Max Flack. While the Cubs rallied for a single score in the following frame, they could come no closer. Babe Ruth entered the game as a late inning defensive replacement in left field, having already recorded two wins on the mound while posting a 1.06 ERA. The taut, low-scoring game was reflective of the entire Series. Boston won four games to two while scoring just seven runs, but in the end that was enough; and the crowd, even if small, was able to celebrate their team winning a championship at home.

With five championships overall and four in a span of just seven years, no one could have imagined that the box seats, grandstands, and bleachers would not again be populated by fans sharing that grand moment of pure joy for nearly a century. Yet after that glorious victory on a September afternoon in 1918, the Red Sox fell into mediocrity, finishing in the lower half of the American League for 15 consecutive years. Boston next played in the Series in 1946, when they lost to the Cardinals, the final game played in St. Louis.

As the drought grew longer frustrated fans gave increasing credence to the Curse of the Bambino, pointing to the sale of Ruth to that hated rival in the Bronx just one year after the 1918 championship. The fact that the Red Sox returned to the World Series and played a Game Seven at home in both 1967 and 1975, only to confront bitter defeat to first the Cardinals and then the Reds only strengthened the belief that this franchise was jinxed. Mookie Wilson’s 10th inning ground ball down the first base line at Shea Stadium in Game Six of the 1986 Series made Curse converts of the few remaining doubters.

That all finally changed in 2004, though new, deep-pocketed ownership and a commitment to the use of modern analytics for measuring talent doubtless had more to do with the Red Sox finally winning another championship than did any voodoo. Still that remarkable season-ending run of eight straight wins in the ALCS and World Series ended with victory on the road. Three years later Boston was again triumphant, but once again the final out was recorded with the Red Sox wearing their road grays.

So it was ninety-five years and counting when this year’s team, picked by most analysts back in Spring Training to finish third or fourth in the AL East, took the field Wednesday night for another World Series Game Six, leading St. Louis three games to two. Much had changed over the decades. The section of Jersey Street fronting the park had been renamed Yawkey Way. The John Henry-led ownership group had modernized Fenway as much as they could without altering its fundamental character, and added seating in every possible location, from the right field roof to the top of the Green Monster in left. And unlike that long ago September afternoon, on Wednesday night the old ball yard was filled to overflowing, with standing room tickets going for more than $1,000 each on the Internet in the hours leading up to the game.

It was not the most artistic of championships. In six games the Red Sox committed eight errors. It was not a triumph of offensive power. Save for David Ortiz, Boston hitters combined for a .169 average, striking out 59 times in the Series. In 16 playoff contests Red Sox batters fanned 165 times, breaking the mark set by the 2010 Giants for the most postseason strikeouts. And while Ortiz was appropriately named the Series MVP after hitting .688 with a .760 on base percentage, 2 home runs, 6 RBIs and 7 runs scored, he was walked four times on Wednesday night.

In the end, none of that mattered. When Shane Victorino broke a scoreless tie, clearing the loaded bases with a towering drive off the Green Monster in the bottom of the 3rd, the Cardinals lost any hope of taking the raucous Fenway Park crowd out of the game. After that it was just a matter of time before the Red Sox and their remade roster would complete their remarkable comeback from the disaster that was 2012. Nothing that St. Louis manager Mike Matheny was going to do would change the inevitable outcome. With a fourth run in and two men on in the 4th, Lance Lynn relived Michael Wacha, faced three batters, and failed to get an out. By the time Matheny returned to the mound the score was 6-0 and the celebration in the stands was fully underway.

It was approaching half past 11 when Matt Carpenter swung and missed at an off-speed offering from Koji Uehara for the final out of sports’ longest season. The roar from the Fenway faithful was surely loud enough to be heard all across New England, awakening any fair weather followers who had dared to retire early. After ninety-five years, the Red Sox were finally able to give their fans the ultimate prize, a championship won at home. Now maybe they can shave those god-awful beards.

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Responses

  1. That’s a long time for a fan-base to wait to celebrate a Championship on their home turf. Makes it all the sweeter. So, are we looking at a new dynasty here (three Titles in ten years?) Or is that an overstatement? What do you think?
    Cheers,
    Bill

    • Hi Bill,

      I’m not sure I’d go with dynasty. I’m scarcely neutral of course, but when I think of dynasty I think of the 96-00 Yankees and four titles in five years. But without question the Red Sox have become on of the very small handful of truly elite teams. The fact that over the ten years they’ve had three managers, two GMs, and countless players contributing to the three titles says a lot about a consistent approach from ownership. For that matter, the team the beat is another elite franchise, at least in my book. A pair of titles and four WS appearances in the same ten years for St. Louis is also pretty impressive.

      Thanks for reading, and commenting, as alway,
      Mike


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