The Closer

Yesterday’s heavy rain (the mid-day sky turned end-of-the-world black at 3:30 and 6:00 PM) caused the Red Sox to postpone last night’s game versus Detroit to today, creating a day-night doubleheader. I had no classes, exams, grades to submit, committee meetings, or other academic responsibilities and attended the game with one of my sons. The game featured strong pitching from both teams, moving at a good pace (love those ground ball outs) and resulting less than three hours later in a 2-1 Sox win. Julian Tavarez allowed the one run in his seven innings and Hideki Okajima pitched a one-two-three 8th, setting up a save opportunity in the 9th.

Jonathan Papelbon’s save was the highlight. The Fenway atmosphere turns electric before Papelbon shows his face, as cheers of anticipation grow and the crowd gets to its feet. Fans in the bleachers who can see into the Sox bullpen cheer louder as they see Papelbon approach and open the bullpen gate. He steps onto the warning track, bumps fists with the on-duty cop, and then pauses for a moment just outside the bullpen, head down, as Wild Thing blasts from the speakers. The crowd goes nuts. After the pause he methodically steps across the warning track until he touches the outfield. When his feet hit the grass he jogs to the mound. This ritual is becoming as familiar as Larry Bird wiping his hands on the soles of his sneakers or Nomar compulsively adjusting his batting gloves between pitches. Papelbon’s serious, almost solemn approach to each step enhances the effect, as if each one layers him with another piece of mental armor. As he warms up the announcer intones “Now pitching for the Boston Red Sox, Jonathan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Papelbon!” and the roars, cheers, and applause climax. With everyone continuing to stand Papelbon finishes warming up, grips the ball as the batter stands in, peers intently under his visor at the catcher (Mirabelli this afternoon), winds up, and throws a strike. More cheers. Every strike sends a jolt through the crowd. 13 pitches (11 strikes), two swinging strikeouts, and a 5-3 ground ball out later Papelbon pumps his fist and the opening chords of Dirty Water signal the Sox victory as the crowd, smiling as one, leave the Park. It’s a quintessential Boston experience.

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