Like any “enthusiastic” fan of any sports team, I get emotionally invested in the outcome of every game. I also tend to drink a lot while I watch the games. This is a pretty tough combination. If the game goes bad, I may punt a few beers out the window. Shout a few obscenities at the TV. Depending on the game’s outcome, it typically spells the difference between showing up at my office the next morning clean shaven and showered or crawling out of the elevator on all fours looking like I’d just burrowed through an elephant.
As a Red Sox fan, I’d say I’ve had my share of emotional outbursts and near-breakdowns during games. Most of these came in the pre-2004 era. Crazy as it may seem to fans of a certain age who have only known the Red Sox as a team that pops bottles and duckboats down Boylston on the regular, there was a time when the Red Sox sucked. Like, really, really sucked. And I don’t mean sucked as in they were a shitty team (although mine eyes have seen the glory of many shitty Sox teams in my lifetime), I mean sucked as in they spent almost a century bringing their fans thisclose to euphoria only to slam the door on their nuts, often in the most painful ways.
If you asked me to point to the angriest I’ve ever been after a specific Red Sox game, I’d probably have to sit down and think about it. You’re talking years of self-inflicted (and some Jon Wasdin-inflicted) torment to sift through.
But if you asked my family and loved ones which single Red Sox game made me the angriest, they’d answer without hesitation: Tuesday, August 29, 2000. The night the Red Sox and Devil Rays brawled in Tampa Bay, and Pedro Martinez lost a no hitter in the ninth.
Few can argue that Pedro Martinez was the definition of bad-assery. His starts weren’t just games; they were events. We slapped on the Yoda masks and printed up the K cards and waited to see batters dispatched with extreme prejudice. After the 1999 season — in which Lil’ Petey went a staggering 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA, put on a show at the All-Star Game at Fenway and orchestrated the Sox’ only win in the ALCS — he entered that elite club of folks who should never have to pay for a beer in this town again.
Of course, Pedro was never afraid to go up and in on an opposing batter. And during that fateful August 2000 game, he plunked lead-off batter Gerald Williams on the hand, inciting a brawl for the ages. Petey really didn’t acquit himself well in the donnybrook — he looked kinda like a rag doll swatting at flies — but Jason Varitek reaffirmed his value to the team with a magnificent take-down, protecting his pitcher and, at the time, the Sox’ most valuable asset.
What the Rays didn’t know was that you can’t kill Pedro, you can only piss him off. And for the balance of the game, he tore into them mercilessly, carrying a no-hitter into the ninth. The no-no was broken up, tragically might I add, by former Sox catcher John Flaherty.
The moment that Flaherty connected and the ball landed gently in the outfield, I immediately lost my shit. It was the unfortunate convergence of a half-case of Bud Lights, a heart that hadn’t stopped pounding since Williams charged the mound, and a brain that so desperately wanted to see something good come of this team (the previous year’s team was embarrassed in the 1999 ALCS and there was a gnawing feeling in my bones that we were squandering Pedro’s best years). This was supposed to be Pedro’s revenge. His finest hour in a Red Sox uni. We were four games out of first place and destined to finished second in the East behind the Yankees and all I wanted in the world was for Pedro to have this one thing. All I wanted for me was to have this one thing.
But, no. Like so many other times in that rough 80s/90s period, the Red Sox once again came close to something great but couldn’t close it.
The first thing I did was throw a beer can at the TV. But the can didn’t shatter the screen or clang with authority. It made a sort of tinny, wet fart sound and dropped to the floor.
Then I put my fist through the wall. Just like in the movies. I remember pulling it out of the hole I’d just punched, looking at my bloody knuckles. I remember my family staring at me, mouths agape, not knowing whether to shit or wind their watches. I remember taking another beer from the fridge with my good hand, opening it, and chugging it down. I then remember heading out the door and into the night.
I spent the next three hours pacing the neighborhood, wandering aimlessly, working off my aggression by shouting at trees, squirrels, cars, the moon. I was ready to wrestle a fucking bear or, at the very least, a large roast beef sandwich. I was drunk and hungover and raging and bleeding and convulsing and a god damn baseball game did it to me — a game we won at that.
It was another reminder to me and my loved ones that the Red Sox were “a problem” I had… and I often wonder where it all might have taken me if they’d never won the 2004 World Series. Would I be dead? In prison? On the lam in some Mexican fishing village, sporting a fake beard and answering to “Candido”? The mind reels.
Anyway, here’s the fight. As for the hole in the wall? Let’s just say it’s long since plastered over. Just like my heart.