I’m old enough to have seen the Red Sox hit the postseason 13 times in my life. Three of those playoff runs ended majestically. The other 10 did not.
My first experience with a Red Sox postseason was 1986. When that ball went through Buckner’s legs, I didn’t cry. I didn’t slam myself headlong into the wall. Didn’t threaten any hobos or burn down the local donut shop. Instead, I just collapsed quietly in a corner, staring at the TV in disbelief, watching the Mets playing grabass on the field, immediately knowing how it was all going to end.
Just moments earlier, I was King of Prussia and All Surrounding Territories, waving a towel like a fucking lunatic while my friends Pete and Rich high-fived and played air guitar and did all the things we imagined we’d do if the Red Sox ever won the goddam World Series. And here they were, just one strike away from winning the goddam World Series and it was really happening before our eyes.
Then it all fell apart, melted away like the spires of a snowflake, piece by agonizing piece, so that even before The Error happened, you could see it coming. Boiling to the top. An unstoppable freight-train of failure that was coming to drag us all back to reality. A reality in which the Red Sox never won. Never got the breaks. Never tasted ticker-tape and choice hookers and sweet champagne. It was a barrel of horse shit tossed on your birthday cake, the fat kid sitting on your sack lunch, the quarterback stuffing you in your locker, your dream girl telling you she really just wants to be friends, and your best friend leaving you and your ghetto Atari for the kid down the street with the sweet ColecoVision hook-up.
In an instant, it was gone. That feeling of raiseyourhandsandshoutyeah that you convinced yourself you’d never experience in your lifetime. Fuck Game Seven, I knew it was over, just like Reggie Jackson knew it was over for the Angels when Dave Henderson took Donnie Moore over the wall. Suddenly, everything your dad told you was true. Some women are worth fighting for. The best thing you can teach yourself is how to change a spare tire. And the Red Sox are going to break your heart.
It took days. Weeks. Months before I’d be over it. Until Dad talked me off the ledge. “They’ve gone home to their teenage wives and million-dollar mansions,” he said. “And you’re the one getting an ulcer.” And it made sense. Because Dad knew. Because there was more heartache to come. Quick playoff exits at the hands of Oakland. Clemens and Terry Cooney and the Ninja Turtles shoelaces. The drubbing that was the 1999 ALCS. The madness that was the 2003 ALCS.
But 2004 wiped it all away. Suddenly sunshine and banjos and Scarlett Johansson and Jennifer Lawrence arguing over who’s gonna take me to the dance. Free beer and hamburgers for all. And the feeling that you’re not gonna have to go to bed shaking and angry and cursing the Gods.
Since then, we’ve been twice more to the Promised Land, giving me three more World Series parades than I thought I’d ever see. And it’s all given me important perspective.
Today, assuming the game isn’t rained out, the Red Sox will find themselves in the uncomfortable position of trying to stave off yet another postseason elimination. Force a game five, and anything can happen. Slip up, and it’s Patriots talk and NBA betting picks all day. While I don’t quite get a world beater vibe from the 2016 team that I felt in, say, 2007 or 2013, I certainly think they deserve a better fate than the 09/05/90/88 teams that were bounced out of the playoffs without one stinkin’ win to their names.
The Red Sox have more than once shown me that when their backs are against the wall, they do some of their best work. And the desire to give David Ortiz one last crack at October glory is no doubt a powerful motivator. Not to mention a storyline in which Clay Buchholz succeeds where Price and Porcello failed. Me and my beer and the fifteen hookers I like to have on hand for celebratory purposes will be hoping for a win. But if we don’t, I’ll just look to 2017 and what type of magic this young core of players can bring in their second year together. Cuz that’s what we do.