The essence of this World Series for me came down to Jonny Gomes’ at-bat in Game 4. Not the at-bat, the three-run home run that effectively won the game and arguably turned the Series’ tide. I mean instead Gomes’ previous, forgotten at-bat, which was pure Boston.
Amid the joy of the last few days, it is hard to remember how vulnerable we felt going into the fifth inning of Game 4, how grumpy we were becoming with the bottom half of our line-up. St. Louis had won two in a row, the second on an umpire’s call. We were down two games to one and St. Louis could win the Series at home, where they had lost only once in the playoffs. Clay Buchholz’s arm was mush, the unremarkable Lance Lynn was making it look easy, and the Sox had fallen behind by a run — a
minuscule deficit, yes, but one that had proved surprisingly decisive in recent days. Only David Ortiz had a hit through four innings, and, when he led off the fifth inning with a double and attempted to rouse the dugout from second base, it was not obvious that the rest of the team would answer the call. Gomes, a late addition to the lineup, looked uncomfortable and watched as two strikes sped by.
But then, behind in the count, Gomes summoned the stubborn irrepressibility that had become the hallmark of Boston in 2013, and he refused to fold. He fouled off the 0-2 pitch, the 1-2 pitch, the 2-2 pitch, and the 3-2 pitch. In the end, he forced 10 pitches and earned a walk, rattling Lynn, who then walked Xander Bogaerts, setting up Stephen Drew for the sacrifice fly that tied the game — a tie Gomes would obliterate his next time up.
In the wake of the April bombing, we heard a lot about the grit and determination of Boston and of those injured who vowed to run again. So perhaps it was inevitable that we would ascribe the fearlessness and ferocious resiliency of this particular Red Sox team to “Boston” traits, or take the features of “Boston” we have long loved — hard-working, unpretentious, all-in — and superimpose them on the team.
In doing so, we ignored the fact that Boston Red Sox players are not in fact from New England. Many of the off-season additions are itinerants, and even our “home”-grown stalwarts (such as Lester, Buchholz, Ellsbury, Pedroia) didn’t grow up in the area. But what shone through this season and this World Series is that the Boylston Street bombing produced a result exceedingly rare in modern sports — it tied professional athletes in a deep and emotional way to the town they represented. The attack occurred where the players had walked and shopped; it took the lives and limbs of their fans. Even those Red Sox who had told us again and again that they would never get attached because “baseball is a business” couldn’t help themselves.
We have tremendous highlights in Red Sox lore — Yaz carrying an entire team on his back; Fisk waving a ball fair; Roberts restoring life with a steal; Torii Hunter’s flip turning an entire postseason right side up; and a future Hall-of-Famer hitting nearly .700 in a World Series. But the primal bond between city and team — a bond we projected onto every gritty at bat — may well be the most precious of all.