Monday, August 25, 2008

Watching History Unawares

I was in the gym this morning, pounding away at one of the elliptical machines, when a TV broadcasting one of YES's classic games caught my eye: Boston versus New York, clearly at Fenway. A date flash across the 22-inch screen; from 15 feet away, I thought I saw June, 1972. The score read 5 to 3 in favor of New York. 'Odd choice for a classic game,' I thought, but settled in to watch as someone (Fisk, as it turns out) hit a single that sent Yaz to second. I knew the Red Sox would end up losing this game - it's YES, after all - but it seemed like a good piece of diversionary history: intellectually interesting, but ultimately unimportant.

Not long after, Fred Lynn knocked in Yaz with a single to left. Hobson flew out to right for the second out and with runners on first and second, George Scott came to the plate. I knew Scott was a big part of the '67 team (something I used to help write off my growing confusion about why I knew the names of so many of the players on a team that supposedly played a good 15 years before I started watching baseball); I'd learned more about him after digging up his card from a box of baseball cards I'd gotten from my grandfather. 'Boomer,' I thought. 'Right-handed power-hitter in the classic slugger mold. Let's see what he can do.'

Not much, as it turns out. Watching Boomer swing was a bit like watching someone built like David Ortiz swing like Dustin Pedroia: monster cuts with a backswing so fierce it spun him out of the batters box, with none of Pedroia's twitch to help him catch up to the ball. Gossage nailed him to the wall in three pitches and the game cut to commercial.

YES skipped the top of the ninth; the Yankees singled, but couldn't put anything together against Andy Hassler. Rubbing a little forshadowing salt in the wound, one of the commercials was for the replay of Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS; the TV broadcast the Aaron Boone homerun and I suffered a chest spasm. Five years and two championships later and that game still rubs a little raw.

Dwight Evans started out the bottom of the ninth with a flyout to left; Rick Burleson walked. Jerry Remy came to the plate and all of the sudden, the thought that had been lurking in the back of my mind, the realization that - as those of you who followed the Sox in the 70s have no doubt figured out by now - this game didn't take place in 1972. I was pretty sure Jerry Remy wasn't playing in the majors in 1972 and even if he was, he was out in California, not in Boston. Remy singled, Jim Rice came to the plate with the tying run on second, and YES flashed the game date on the screen again. Straining my eyes, I finally saw what had eluded me for the past 15 minutes through the blindness of distance and - perhaps - a willfull decision not to see. The date on the screen was October 2, 1978.

You know the rest, of course: Rice sac-flied Burleson to third for the second out and Yastrzemski, in what must have seemed like a microcosm of the whole season, popped up to third, ending the game and stranding the Sox in second place. Bucky Dent would go on to become a byword for Red Sox futility by virtue of having homered the winning runs in the seventh; the Sox didn't see the top side of third place until 1986 and have yet to match their 99 win total in the thirty years since. As the Yankees celebrated around home plate, I climbed off the elliptical machine. The historical significance of this supposedly unimportant game had suddenly hit a little too close to home.