BOSTON — A bit after 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, the streets around Fenway Park already were abuzz. There were people everywhere, dressed in all manners of red and blue, wearing beards both real and fake, and ready for baseball. There were still 2½ hours until first pitch, and the gates had barely opened to fans, but they were ready.
Ready for baseball ... and for a party 95 years in the making.
The positivity was palpable, as if the 38,447 who crammed into Updike's lyric little bandbox never considered the possibility that they might not see the history promised as the Red Sox tried to win the World Series by beating the Cardinals. Some of them had paid upwards of $2,000 based on that promise. And, judging by the level of enthusiasm, most of them did so without a second thought.
The energy carried through the pre-game ceremonies, through the national anthem and through the first couple of innings. There was one section of Cardinals fans seated in Section 16 of the pavilion level in left field, and they feverishly wave their white towels when something favored St. Louis, but otherwise the entire place was a nuclear reactor building toward an explosion.
It came in the bottom of the third.
The rally itself began modestly. Single. Groundout. Intentional walk. Strikeout. Hit by pitch to load the bases.
But the slow build only amped up the anticipation, so when Shane Victorino watched consecutive pitches miss the plate, the roar was remarkable. It might have been the loudest reaction a 2-and-0 count in a third inning has ever received.
Mind you, Victorino had to this point been 0-for-10 in the series, 2-for-27 dating back to Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, and he'd missed the previous two games because of an ailing back. But, again, on this night there never seemed to be a doubt that he or his team would deliver.
And two pitches into the at-bat, he did. Crushing a 93-mph fastball off the left-field wall, he emptied the bases with a double and pounded his chest after taking third on the throw. It was 3-0 Red Sox, and after three weeks of nip-and-tuck pitchers duels, that felt like enough.
Three more runs in the fourth — on a home run by Stephen Drew, of all people, and RBI singles by Mike Napoli and Victorino — made a celebration inevitable.
But for a brief moment in the seventh when Sox starter John Lackey talked manager John Farrell into leaving him in the game with two on and one run in, the final five innings basically were a pre-party. After Lackey's admirable outing ended with a walk to Matt Holliday and a tip of his cap to the now-adoring Fenway crowd, the bullpen did its job, and soon enough there was Budweiser and bubbly being flung all over the clubhouse.
Jacoby Ellsbury seemed particularly intent on making sure nobody stayed dry. Yale product Ryan Lavarnway proved that Ivy Leaguers know how to party. And, this time, Mike Napoli's shirt stayed on as he and his teammates repeatedly soaked each other in suds before inevitably getting to the bottom of the bottle and sharing a bear hug.
When briefly pausing the party to talk with reporters, they praised their teammates and their town. Lackey labeled Jon Lester a "big-time ace." David Ross described Boston as so feverish a baseball city that even he, "as a backup catcher," gets recognized on the street. Jake Peavy talked about the way he felt welcomed after coming over from Chicago in late July. And to a man they insisted they believed this was possible from the early days of this season.
It took the fans a while longer to arrive at that belief, but by Wednesday evening the buzz around the ballpark suggested the Nation had bought in. And by late Wednesday night, with a 6-1 lead and the lights-out Koji Uehara coming in, all doubt was erased.
At that point, I headed from my place in the auxiliary press area to the bleachers, where my parents were standing in Section 41. Undeterred by beer, chicken or shades of Bobby Valentine, they had become season-ticket holders for the first time this year, and I wanted to be with them for this moment.
After all, it had been five years short of a full century since a mother, father and son could stand together at Fenway Park and witness the Red Sox winning the World Series. So I stood between them, and as Matt Carpenter missed Uehara's ultimate splitter, my mom turned and gave me a kiss. Then my dad turned and gave me a hug, squeezing harder and holding me longer than I can ever remember him doing.
It was a moment I'll remember forever — a moment that reaffirmed that the joy, happiness, and satisfaction that sports can bring to people is as real as the rings the Red Sox will be wearing come April. It was a moment that reminded me of what baseball has meant within our relationship since I was kid. It was a moment to which many a father and son could probably relate.
And it was a moment most of those with us at Fenway on Wednesday night were ready to experience from the minute they arrived.