As the ball came down in Rico Petrocelli’s glove for the last-and-final out, the town went up in the air like a beautiful balloon. Perhaps it will never come down: Red Sox euphoria is a gas that can keep you higher than helium. Or pot.
For an instant Petrocelli looked at the baseball. Then he began to run as though he were Chiang Kaishek in Peking because he could hear the shrieking mob behind him.
It was the Red Sox Guard charging across the Fenway playing field Sunday afternoon, and the old ball park suddenly became a newsreel from Hong Kong: the Red Guard storming the British embassy. These were the zealots, thousands of them from the congregation of 35,770 at Fenway Park, which was packed tighter than the Black Hole of Calcutta.
They leaped the fences and streamed onto the field, screaming the Red Sox Guard oath -- “We’re No. 1!” -- and displaying their banners.
They made Mao Tse-tung’s gang look like peace marchers, yet this was a frenzy of love, not hate.
Respectable people who had left their homes placidly, if nervously, to attend the pennant-deciding rites indulged in by Our Old Town team had become fanatics celebrating a holy war triumph.
“Is Yaz God?” asked one of the banners.
It was an interesting theological question in light of the miracles achieved by Carl Yastrzemski. Certainly he and his fellows are the children of the gods in this year of 1967.
Karl Marx, who said religion is the opiate of the people, would have revised himself had he watched the Red Sox unite to throw off their ninth place chains. The Red Sox are the opiate right now, Karl, baby, although you might classify them as a religion.
“Just like ‘46!” proclaimed another banner. “Next stop St. Louis!” “Spirit of ‘67!” “Go Sox!” “Wipe out Cardinals!”
The banners were waving and the mob advanced, and pitcher Jim Lonborg stood on the mount savoring it all, ready to be hailed as a conquering hero.
“Then it became a mania -- and I was scared to death” Lonborg recalled. He didn’t mind being raised to the sky by admirers -- but not by 5,000 of them, each wanting a piece of him as a relic of their religious experience. He was sucked into the crowd as though it were a whirlpool, grabbed, mauled, patted, petted, pounded and kissed.
“This made Roxbury look like a picnic,” said patrolman John Ryan, a riot veteran who was one of Lonborg’s rescuers. “Jim could have been hurt bad. We barely got him out of there.”
Lonborg emerged nearly in tatters. His buttons were gone, and though his uniform shirt was still on his back his undershirt had disappeared. Nevertheless his right arm still dangled from the shoulder and his fingers were intact. He would pitch and win again, although his 5-3 decision over Minnesota seemed enough forever at that moment.
Growing more fervent, the crowd split into platoons. One attacked the scoreboard, ripping down signs and everything else that could be lifted for souvenirs. Others looks elsewhere for loot. The fervor had begun to degenerate into the ugliness of vandalism. And the fever in some became a mood of recklessness that endangered. Twenty or so kids climbed the screen behind the plate like monkeys. Several nearly fell to the concrete 40 feet below. The screen sagged ominously beneath their weight as the people in the seats below looked up helplessly.
Nobody seemed to want to leave the park. A few firecrackers went off, and horns blew endlessly. On the field, most of the Red Sox Guard had settled into a milling pattern, wandering about the diamond, dazed at the wonder of it all, ecstatic to be treading the hallowed ground.
Joe Tierney led a group of ushers who stood on the mound, protecting that rise from the human bulldozers. A man named Ray Copeland from Wellesley stooped at the edge of the mound, scooped up a palmful of the dirt and poured it into a small box. “Going to take this back to England,” he said. “I’ve been working in Boston for a year, become a Red Sox fan, but when I go back some of the soil of Fenway goes with me to London.”
Kris Becker, a college girl from Worcester, plucked a handful of grass from along the third baseline. “Not sure what I’ll do with it yet. Maybe frame it,” she said.
Only the cops prevented the mob from removing the left field wall.
Last year on the last day of the season the Red Sox choked: they won and blew 10th place by a half-game. Sunday it as altogether something else. “You respond differently when you’re in first place than when you’re in ninth,” said Yastrzemski.
Lonborg set the faithful to chanting and clapping with his bunt single that opened the sixth. The Red Sox, behind 2-0, devoted 24 minutes to their half of the inning and the Minnesotans began to feel the mysterious power of Our Old Town Team. They threw to the wrong base, made wild pitches, an error, and put the ball over the plate to Yastrzemski. It meant five runs for Boston, the team that is today’s American Dream. The inning ended with John Kiley, the Fenway organist, playing “The Night They Invented Champagne.” It was a hymn to the day, and to the evening to come when Uncle Tom Yawkey poured for Our Old Town Team.
The drank champage the way people drink it when it is free, and many of them probably have heads resembling the Goodyear blimp today.
The players will sober up by Wednesday, but it will take the town much longer to get over its Red Sox high.
And now, on this day of revelation, we knew what Billy Joe and his chick were throwing off the Tallahatchie Bridge: World Series tickets printed in Detroit, Minneapolis and Chicago.