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It was a perfect fall night, following a perfect day. The temperature was sixty degrees and falling; fifty degrees was the predicted game time temperature. Mike and Jerry walked along Yawkey Way, the smells of sausage, green peppers, onions, and pretzels overtaking them. They finally reached Gate A and walked into Fenway Park. Mike bought a Red Sox program. Walking up the ramp to their seats, both men sensed a feeling of excitement, stemming from the importance of the game. It was October third, the last day of the regular season, and as usual, the Old Towne Team was playing it down to the wire. The Red Sox had been battling the Yankees all season for first place atop the American League East, and it had come down to this final day where each team's fate would be decided. The question was, who would be travelling to Oakland on October 6th to face the A's?
Mike and Jerry pushed through the crowd, up the ramp. When they finally reached the top, it was 7: 33 p.m. and the game was about to start. Mike called to an usher and showed him the tickets. Box 9, Row G, seats one and two, right behind the Red Sox dugout. The usher escorted them to their row, took out a dingy gray rag and brushed the peanut shells from the seats. "Enjoy the game," he muttered.
Jerry looked up at the 600 Club and saw the reflection of the Citgo sign. He looked at the Green Monster (the left field wall) and at the centerfield scoreboard. He hadn't been to Fenway in so long; so much had changed since his last trip here.
The Red Sox took the field. The applause drowned out the boos, but they were still audible. Obviously many New Yorkers had made the trip to see their Bronx Bombers in action. The age-old rivalry between these two teams was still very much alive. Hank Green, the announcer, presented Diane Jackson, a world-renowned opera singer who would sing the National Anthem. Everyone rose, and she sang beautifully.
The Red Sox ace, southpaw Willie O'Brien, took the mound. He threw some warm-ups and the game began. The Yankees' right fielder, Buzz Williams, led off the first inning, and after three pitches, he was gone. The crowd went wild, and Mike put a "K" next to his name in the scorebook. O'Brien quickly got the next two batters with fly balls. Between half innings, Mike went down and got them each a beer. He came back just in time to see the third Red Sox batter in a row get a base hit, and the Sox were now on the board, drawing first blood.
Mike and Jerry sipped their watered down beers and silently watched the game progress for three innings. During the fourth inning, after the Red Sox' left fielder hit a solo home run to add to their 2-0 lead, Mike tried to get a conversation going. "Wow, that ball went 410 feet! It was gone the minute his bat touched the ball, huh, Jerry?"
"What?...Oh yeah, totally gone." Jerry gave his answer with a confused look on his face. Mike thought it was strange that Jerry didn't seem to be excited, considering the importance of the game, but maybe he had something on his mind.
In the top of the fifth, O'Brien struck out Williams for the third straight time on a wicked curve, retiring the side.
"O'Brien's really got Williams' number tonight! He couldn't hit that pitch with forty bats," Mike remarked.
"Yeah, un-huh," Jerry replied. Now Mike really began to wonder. What is going on with Jerry? He noticed that Jerry was just sitting there with a glazed look in his eyes, obviously not paying attention to what was going on before him. Mike had noticed earlier that when he had asked Jerry to the game, he was hesitant in accepting the invitation. He had asked Jerry for a number of reasons. The people at work all had noticed that Jerry kept to himself and always seemed sad or burdened. Mike didn't really know him because Jerry had just started working at the company, but he wanted to get to know him. He was a big guy, and Mike thought he probably enjoyed sporting events, especially one with the magnitude of this game. Mike had now tried twice to get a conversation going and Jerry hadn't responded, but Mike didn't say anything, he just concentrated on the game.
The top of the seventh inning rolled around and the top of the order was due up for the Yanks. Up strolled Williams. Bam! He ripped a double off the left field wall, only the second Yankee hit. Next was New York's second baseman, Dave Donahue. The pitch: single up the first base line. "Your attention, please, Joe Smith will be hitting in Bryan Bink's spot." The crowd was silent. Joe Smith was the normal starting first baseman, but had not started tonight because of a muscle spasm in his lower back. He was six feet, two inches tall and 220 pounds, known as the Yankee power hitter, and rightfully so. He had belted out twenty-nine home runs and was hungrily looking for his thirtieth. Smith crouched and lifted his bat over his head. He was now set in his unique stance.
"Look at that guy! He's huge. His stance is so weird, I've never seen anything like it," Mike commented. This time Jerry looked up.
"Who is he?"
"His name's Joe Smith, Jerry. He's the first baseman and he spent eight years in the minors. He's twenty-eight, kind of old for a rookie, but extremely dangerous. He could do a lot of damage. We'd better cross our fingers."
Jerry looked curiously at Smith. He was immediately struck with a vision of his son, Tim, whom he had lost fourteen years ago. The truth is, Jerry had been thinking about Tim all night. Tim had loved baseball more than life, and ever since that day fourteen years ago, baseball had always reminded Jerry of Tim. He had been really close to Tim and had practiced ball with him every night after dinner.
Joe Smith took one mighty swing and hit a long, towering fly ball over the left field wall into the net, tying the game. A hush fell over the crowd as they watched Smith circle the bases while the Yankee fans cheered boisterously. "What a shot!" Jerry exclaimed. Mike couldn't believe Jerry actually volunteered something.
"Yeah, sure was. The Sox have got to get some more runs." The bottom of the seventh finally came. The Yankees led 4-3 after picking up another run in the top of the seventh. Joe Smith had remained in the game at first. The Sox didn't score, and in the eighth inning the Yanks were shut down by the Red Sox's ace reliever, Wally Foster. The bottom of the eighth was equally quiet, as the fans watched their team go down in order on three weak ground outs. The crowd waited anxiously for the bottom of the ninth, the Sox's last chance to be A.L. East Champs.
The top of the ninth was a nail-biting inning. The crowd watched in horror as Joe Smith led off the inning with a solid single to right, but were relieved when the Yankees failed to score. Finally, the Red Sox came up. The fans roared as they watched the scoreboard flash who was due up: the meat of the order. The first two men flew out to center, the fans booed unforgivingly, but there was still a glimmer of hope, for the next batter was the left fielder who had hit a home run earlier. He took the first pitch, a strike on the outside corner. The second pitch was right down the middle; he swung and missed. The crowd couldn't believe it! Was this season going to end with a strike-out? The batter backed out of the box, calming himself down. He stepped back in and looked at the pitcher. The pitch...a pop-up near the Red Sox dugout, in foul ground, an easy play for Joe Smith. Suddenly a breeze came up. The ball was carried right near the first base bag, back in fair territory. Smith chased it down and then Jerry saw his face. This was the same face he had last seen fourteen years ago. This was the face of the boy who had run away fourteen years ago. Jerry heard himself yell, "Tim! Tim!" Smith looked up, caught the ball, and then dropped it. The runner from third scored, and the next batter hit a double and the Red Sox won. All because Joe Smith had looked up to see his father. n