'Our Red Sox,' Still?

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Heading, finally for the exit, we noticed a guy signing an autograph beneath the stands. It was Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd, of all people, one of the team's all-time great flakes. He couldn't have been nicer, signed some stuff for our kids, and I gave him a book. Before I did I thought hard, and recalled that the only mention of Oil Can was a positive one about how my dad always enjoyed the team's "characters"—Spaceman, the Can, Hawk Harrelson.

We bought some souvenirs at the Twins' store, then headed for the Common Garage and back out to Wellesley, where Mr. Bachman had whiskey sours waiting. Next morning we headed back to New York at the first glimmer, listening to Callahan and Dennis parse the marvelous doings at Fenway on their morning show on 'EEI—till they faded out near Hartford, letting us know we were back in the Evil Empire's sphere of influence.

I watched the Wednesday and Thursday games from home. I've no idea why Schilling returned for the 6th in an April game. What was Francona thinking? The big guy was done. And, then, Thursday night: bombs off Johnson, the blown lead, the bad umping, Varitek's triple, the fan and Sheffield, 53 pitches by Foulke, bases jammed in the ninth, 'Tek's great catch to end it. Is this April?

These teams are just unbelievable: six games together, 3-3, three of the games thrillers and two of them crowd-satisfying wins in the home opener. Now, since '03's beginning, they've hooked up 58 times, each game a playoff-intensity fray, and the Sox lead 30-28. Each team has a seven-game ALCS title to its credit. And, oh yes, I almost forgot: We have a World Championship.

They don't meet again till Memorial Day weekend, and the players are happy about that. "I'm tried of us beating up each other," an exhausted Embree said last night. "It's time to play the rest of the season."

Right you are, Alan, and off we go.

Or, rather, here they come—our favorite punching bags, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, with the old genius Lou Pinella grousing about how we have good hitters because we pay them, and t'ain't fair!. Hard cheese, Lou. You have my deepest and sincerest sympathies. Now if your bargain-basement club will just oblige by laying down on Friday (which they did), do so again on Saturday (ditto) and then succumb to the mastery of Mr. Wakefield on Sunday (he was nothing short of magnificent from frames three through six in Sunday's 3-1 win)—that'll do just fine and we can call this thing a proper streak. Which it was and which we did.

A quick note, before summing up, about Wakefield: I read, on the morning after he beat the Yanks in the opener, a fascinating piece in the Times about how, last October, Mr. Torre, after dropping Game Seven, did not call his wife or Steinbrenner or anyone else but, glum as could be, punched the four digits for the Visiting Clubhouse at Yankee Stadium and asked to speak to Wake. "I'm not happy," he told him, "but I'm happy for you." Some might simply take this as sympathy for the guy who had given up the climactic 2003 homer to Aaron Boone after, as Torre admitted, doing nothing but beating the Yanks throughout the entire series. But there's even more to it than that. I remembered filing away, mentally, an earlier anecdote from the '03 set-to. Pedro had shoved Zimmer to the ground during the famous melee in Fenway and, later that evening, Zim had been released from the hospital and was dining at a nice Boston restaurant with his wife and the Torres. Suddenly, a bottle of wine appeared, sent over from Table X. There sat Wakefield, who gave a small hi-sign as if to say, "Sorry—from the Sox." A class-act, an old-schooler, a charitable guy, and now with three solid outings in the new campaign and more career strikeouts for the Red Sox, after Sunday's game, than even Cy Young (only Clemens and Pedro are ahead of him on the all-time team list). Tim, 38 now, said he was honored to have been with the club long enough to achieve such a milestone.

Wake: This fan hopes Theo re-ups you, and you're with us much longer.

While the Sox were starting to soar, New York was getting bounced around Baltimore like Yanks in Bucs' clothing. I think George started working on his now-famous five-sentence email about how deeply disappointed he was in his hyper-well-paid underachievers, oh, maybe around the third inning—when the exorbitant Kevin Brown, he who lost Game Seven to the Sox in the Stadium by giving up many early runs, had done it again and trailed the birds, already, 6-0. The Boss' explosion was expected and expectedly ripe; he really can get his point across, when he has six innings to craft a press release for quick release by mouthpiece Rubenstein. If you were a Bosox fan, few things could be as satisfying as Sunday night's SportsCenter.

Unless it was Monday.

Patriots Day is New England's greatest day, year-in and year-out. The region must share Christmas and Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July with all sorts of other Americans, but it absolutely owns Patriots Day: The battles in Lexington and Concord (it was on April 19, 1775, that the shot heard 'round the world signaled gametime for the Minutemen), the Boston Marathon, the whole mishigas. Now, then: There are many ways to "do" Patriots Day in Massachusetts. You can do the battle reenactments or the parade. You can really do the marathon or simply watch the marathon. You can do 18 holes or you can just do a cookout, Samuel Adams the requisite ale.

You can, of course, do the Bosox game—special starting time of 11:05 a.m. so the fans can subsequently pour out into Kenmore Square and cheer on the runners, who started at noon and are then just a mile from the finish line.

I, who grew up a mere musket shot from Concord and a short march from Lexington, have done the day in all of these ways, even unto running from Hopkinton-to-the-Pru one year as a bandit. I must've seen ten Pats-day Sox games from the bleachers in the 1970s and '80d; it seemed our wacky Bill Lee was always losing on Patriots Day, and repairing to the Eliot Lounge way in advance of cocktail hour.

My point is: Never did I feel more a New Englander than I did on Patriots Day, outside in the sunshine, each and every year. And so there it was Monday: guns cracklin' in the eerie pink dawn in Lexington, Curt Schilling finishing his pancakes and driving into town from Medfield in the SUV, even as his wife, Shonda, headed up to Hopkinton to run the race and raise $50,000 for their charity; fans heading every which way—Concord, the sidewalk on Heartbreak Hill, the Fens; the game getting under way; Manny hitting another monster homer (third in three games) to stake Curt to a 5-0 lead; Francona leaving the big guy in for 117 pitches (it's April, Terry!); Manny dropping two in the outfield then flashing that big smile when the crowd mocked him a la A-Rod (he's out new Bill Lee); Manny adding a disputed homer (a classically wacky Pats' Day game, for sure); Catherina Ndereba cruising to her fourth marathon win, first-ever female to do that in Boston, and Hailu Negussie winning the 109th men's race; tributes all over the place to local legend Johnny Kelley, who died last October at age 97, who won Boston twice, was second seven times and, more important still, ran this darned thing 61 times. (I ran alongside him for a mile, back when.)

When the smoke had cleared, the Bosox had won 12-7, the laurel wreaths were in place on the champion runners' crowns, the musketeers were hard by the bar at the Colonial Inn in Concord, and I had had a crucial question answered for me. The Sox are still New England's Team. Even if others choose to adopt them, they cannot appropriate them. They are so much a part of the intricate weave of New England that to separate them would be to destroy them, and a part of the region's fabric, too. They cannot grow "bigger" than the foot race or April 19 or the Swan Boats or the tides that wash against the Great Beach on the Cape's seaside shore. If they ever did, they wouldn't be what they are. They wouldn't be Our Red Sox.

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