I knew something special was happening in Florida when I tuned in to ESPN and the camera was focused on shattered glass lying in the turf. Did some lunatic chuck a bottle on the field? Broken window in the press box? Had J.D. Drew traded in his lumber for a lighter bat made of glass in an unorthodox attempt to break out of his season long funk? No, nope, and unh-uh. Second baseman Sean Rodriguez had just blasted a towering pop up into the roof of Tropicana Field and broken a few lights a la Roy Hobbs in "The Natural." That just doesn't happen every day, you know?
Last night on "baseball's biggest stage" (no, not the World Series; ESPN Sunday night baseball) the Red Sox and Rays battled though 15 scoreless innings before Dustin Pedroia roped an RBI single, his third hit of the night, to right field in the top of the 16th to give Boston a 1-0 lead (by comparison, the entire Rays team managed three hits, all singles, in 50 at bats against the stingy Sox staff). Then Papelbon shut the door on Tampa Bay, setting down the bottom of their lineup 1-2-3 for his 21st save and rubber game triumph. The marathon ended just before two in the morning on the East coast, five hours and 44 minutes after the game kicked off.
It was a frustrating victory for the Bosox, who stranded 17 runners during the game and failed to score with the bases loaded and nobody out in the top of the eleventh. Other than Pedroia, the vaunted Red Sox offense managed a pair of singles in 45 trips to the plate for a sub .050 average. The box score (one run, one double and seven singles from both teams combined) makes the game seem like an insufferable midseason pitcher's duel played in front of another weak crowd at the Trop, but in reality it was a nail-biter that supplied plenty of thrills. Both teams flashed the leather, belted long fly balls that died on the warning track and gutted their way out of jams. Tampa's skipper Joe Maddon and bench coach Dave Martinez were both ejected, and by the end of the night they had burned through the entire roster except for one bench player and one reliever.
I mention this because I was right there at the end, lying down on my basement couch, fighting to keep my eyes open for the game's conclusion. I could and should have gone to bed a few hours earlier, but sacrificed some sleep because your team gets to play in a game like this only so often, and I didn't want to miss out. So I jumped around during commercial breaks to keep the blood flowing, took multiple bathroom breaks and ran for the kitchen during the bottom of the eleventh for a midnight snack. Seeing the highlights on Sportscenter the following morning wouldn't suffice; I was watching this thing to the better end, even if I had to stay up all night. My reasoning was this; if the Sox won, great, and if they lost then at least they had put up a fight and taken me on an exciting ride. But as a die-hard fan, I don't need a good reason to be watching baseball a couple hours before sunrise, right? Isn't that what any true fan would do?
Maybe not, but at 1:54 A.M. my faith was rewarded, which is all a fan can ever really ask for.