Sixty Perfect Seconds

I can distinctly remember the greatest moment in sports history. I said greatest, sure, and I am not backing down on this one. I’m from Boston, we don’t back down. Ever. Even when we are down three games to none, bottom of the ninth, one batter away from elimination against the Evil Empire, and Darth Vader…er, Derek Jeter…is smiling in anticipation of yet another trip to the World Series. Not even then. That run to tie the game, and then the homerun in extra innings, and the next three games taken from the Yanks, at Yankee Stadium: none of these are the best sports moments ever.

That moment came a short time later. Remember it: game four of the World Series, in St. Louis, bottom of the ninth inning, two outs, a batter no one remembers is at the plate. The minute starts, Foulke pitches. The batter, who was actually Edgar Renteria, hits the ball back to the pitcher, Keith Foulke, an easy bouncing grounder. Ten seconds in. Keith Foulke scoops it up and tosses it-underhand-to Doug Mientkiewicz at first. The runner pounds up the baseline. Another five seconds pass. The indrawn breath of six million people in Massachusetts, and countless millions outside it, waiting. Pausing. Hearts don’t dare to beat, Renteria is frozen in mid-stride, heading toward first with everything he’s got, nothing in the entire world moves except that ball, up in a gentle arch, holding for a moment at the apex, and then arching down, toward the open glove. Even the ball pauses, in midair, two milimeters from history. One long second. Then, it plops down into the glove. He catches it, an easy play. Out three. The faces of Foulke, and Mientkiewicz, expressionless for a split second on my TV screen before breaking out of the pause with incredulous joy.

I jumped up and down, my husband screaming silently (the baby was sleeping) beside me. Three seconds pass. On the TV, Foulke wraps Mientkiewicz in a bear hug. Five more seconds. Varitek rushes in from the plate. Ten more seconds. The infield and then the outfield swarm Mientkiewicz, still holding the ball in a death grip. Twenty seconds pass. Johnny Damon and Gabe Keppler embrace, the numbers 1918 on their backs, no doubt planned, flash across the TV set. Five more seconds tick by. Millions of fans around the country let their breath out in screams of joy. Some cry. Old men fall to their knees, sobbing in relief, thanking whichever god will listen that they have lived to see this. Joe Buck, announcing, stunned, the now famous “Back to Foulke. Red Sox fans have longed to hear it: The Boston Red Sox are World Champions!”

And it’s done, it’s over. The Red Sox have smashed an 86-year stretch without a Series win. The Boston Red Sox have won the World Series. Somewhere, Babe Ruth rolls in his grave. Yankees fans mutter in disgust and turn off their TV sets. Icicles adorn the passages in Hell. The mood around the country is one of disbelief.

Oh, and there was a total lunar eclipse that night. I couldn’t make this stuff up.

I will freely admit, I expected Mientkiewicz to drop it. I could see that ball, rolling past him to the dugout, the runner gaining first, the winning run scoring. Honestly, I think everyone did. Certainly, the stunned face of Renteria proves he thought so too.

They won? The Red Sox won the World Series? Really? Something, surely, will go wrong. But nothing does.

Sixty perfect seconds.

I expected the world to look different the next day. I broke every school rule and wore my Red Sox jersey to work. No one noticed, except a co-worker who asked me if that was my favorite basketball team. Seriously. How was it possible? This was a new world, wasn’t it? Why was everything still the same? In Jacksonville, Florida, life continued at its slow, humid pace, no one really realizing that everything was different.

To be sure, Boston and all of New England looked a whole lot different after the Red Sox won. Flags flew, players toured the streets in Duck Boats, signs went up everywhere. But, beyond the physical, something changed that October day. Boston got its pride back in that minute. Red Sox had broken the curse. Suddenly, we all had faith again. The impossible had happened. If the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy had showed up wearing Sox hats, I would not have questioned it. Everyone believed in magic for those few seconds, and in Boston, the seconds stretched to days, weeks, months, seasons.

For years, everyone could hold their heads up. The Red Sox were no longer the biggest joke of the century, but the real thing. Sox hats and shirts filled the classrooms, the streets. The Sox logo sprouted up in many places it had been abandoned, tattoos and license plates, dog collars and pacifiers. Boston was back!

Now, after the worst September in Sox history, we are questioning that feeling again. We did it in 2004, we did it again in 2007. 2011 should have been our year. Instead, the Sox curled up and died, giving up their last chance in the bottom of the ninth. Suddenly, people are hiding the shirts again, turning a deaf ear to playoff news, rooting on Detroit just because they are playing the Yankees.
Take heart, Red Sox Nation. If a bunch of idiots, to quote Kevin Millar, can win the World Series, there is hope yet. Next year is our year. For the Red Sox, isn’t it always? And until next year, whenever that might be, we have those sixty perfect seconds, the best minute in sports history, when all the forces in the universe aligned to give us the victory, to keep us going.

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