In the end, Game 6 of the World Series turned out to be a game in only the strictest sense of the word. History will record that on Wednesday, the Boston Red Sox defeated the St. Louis Cardinals, 6-1, becoming this first major league team this millennium to win three World Series.
But those in attendance at Fenway Park – and perhaps those who watched it on TV – will know different. They will know that for some three hours and 15 minutes on a chill October night in Boston, Fenway Park was a party.
In this season of renewal for the Red Sox, in which new players and a new manager brought a new attitude to the Beantown Nine, the final act, it turned out, was stolen by the oldest member of the team: the stadium itself.
To say that Boston had the home-field advantage would be severest understatement. At times, Fenway Park felt like a living thing, at once joyous and menacing. Whenever Cardinals starting pitcher Michael Wacha faltered (and that was often in his 3-2/3 innings of work), the voices of Fenway seemed to rise from the steel girders of the stadium itself, pulsing in the prodigy's ears in sickening stereo: "Waaa-cha, Waaa-cha."
This, it was said, was a celebration 95 years in the making; Boston had not won a World Series in Boston since 1918. Perhaps that was true. But it felt more like a celebration nine years in the making. For all the catharsis that washed over this town in 2004, when the Red Sox won their first World Series since 1918, the closure was not complete. Boston had celebrated in 2004, yes. It had held a parade. And a raucous one at that. But that moment – the instant when generations of heartache had at last been dispelled – had not happened here.
In another city, that might not be so important. But Fenway is New England's communal hearth. A banner outside the stadium reads "America's Most Beloved Ballpark." Perhaps it is, perhaps it isn't. But the sentiment speaks volumes about New Englanders' affection for the place. The stadium, with its Green Monster, outfield Triangle, and right field Pesky Pole, is as iconic as the Old Man of the Mountains and as intimate and boisterous as a New England town meeting.
On Marathon Mondays, the Sox schedule a morning game so Fenway fans can walk to Boylston Street afterward to watch winners cross the finish line. It is a New England rite to match the turning of the leaves in New Hampshire or the rising of the tides along the North Shore. Perhaps more than any other sports arena in America, Fenway is interwoven with New England's sense of itself.
And what New England most wanted Wednesday night was a chance to party like it was 2004.
Fenway duly obliged.
As sporting drama, the game was essentially over by the end of the fourth inning, when the Red Sox led, 6-0.
The Cardinals game plan, it appears, was to tell the Red Sox: Someone other than David Ortiz is going to have to beat us. Coming into the game, Ortiz was hitting over .700, and the rest of the team combined was hitting a smidgen over .100. So the Cardinals walked Ortiz four times, three intentionally.
The problem was, someone else did beat them. That was Shane Victorino, who golfed a double off the Green Monster with the bases loaded in the third inning to give the Sox a 3-0 lead, then singled the next inning to drive in Boston's sixth and final run. Every time he stepped to the plate, the PA system in Fenway blared reggae legend Bob Marley singing, "every little thing is gonna be alright." And it was.
At one point, Ortiz caught Victorino's eye and rubbed his fingers together: money.
To be honest, this was hardly the best series of baseball. Entertaining? Absolutely. But more than a little ragged. The fielding was, at times, dreadful, and batters for both sides mostly looked as if they were being sent to the plate as punishment for putting tacks on the manager's seat.
But then there was Ortiz, who managed to scare not only opposing pitchers with his bat but also his own teammates with his mouth. Before the sixth inning of Game 4, with the score tied, 1-1, and the Sox down in the series, 2-1, Ortiz gathered his teammates together and delivered a message: "This is our f---ing series."
The tirade was not fit for Fox audio, but it was fit for Jonny Gomes, the Red Sox outfielder of limited talent but boundless heart, the man who loves baseball so much that he goes to World Series games even if his team isn't playing, the man who regularly wears a combat helmet before games because, well, that's just the way he plays. Out he came to bat in the sixth inning, and the rest is now Red Sox lore. He hit a three-run home run to put the Sox up, 4-1.
They would not trail again in the series.
Earlier in the year, in the days after the marathon bombing, Ortiz had also stood up – this time on the Fenway grass to address a grieving city. The message had been the same: "This is our f---ing city."
And the result was the same.
And it begins to become apparent that this was the perfect team for this city at this time. The players called themselves a band of brothers – a group defined more by their character and love for one another than by their skill – and they were. And all Boston was, too. For a few tragic weeks in the spring, and for a few glorious hours in October.
The Red Sox fought, they struggled, and they overcame – and in so doing they became the perfect likeness of the city that thronged Fenway to see them Wednesday.
And there, as the season that few imagined possible wound toward its unlikely ending, was Koji Uehara on the mound for the Red Sox – the journeyman who, amid a spate of season-ending injuries to Boston's star relievers, had somehow managed to put together one of the most spectacular seasons in baseball history. With one out remaining, smartphone cameras around the stadium lit up to record that moment.
For a minute, Fenway was lit like a constellation, and in that moment of imminent resolution – of the lingering pangs of 2004, of some small fraction of the marathon tragedy, of a baseball season that had exceeded all expectations – the stadium seemed suspended in a living memory, not yet past but already indelible.
For the first time in 95 years, America's "most beloved ballpark" again knew what it was like to win the World Series.