It ended just before dusk with the magnitude of Mo, a grand slam that may rank as the greatest closing act ever seen in a Fenway opener, seven runs from seven batters in the bottom of the ninth inning of a 9-7 win win over the Seattle Mariners.
``I was on the runway after the game chatting with [Seattle pitcher] Randy Johnson,’’ said Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette, ``and about 25 fans started chanting, `Sign Mo now! Sign Mo now!’ I left my wife and kids to deal with that and came into the clubhouse. For some reason, they stopped when I left.’’
But there would have been no high drama from Mo Vaughn -- or low humor from the Duke -- without an unending series of meaningful moments from the Red Sox repertory cast yesterday.
``I wouldn’t want to have to make a living doing this every day,’’ said manager Jimy Williams after the Red Sox wiped out a five-run deficit and erased the stigma of three errors, two by John Valentin, with a rally for the ages.
``To open the season in Boston with a game like that . . . I hope a lot of people enjoyed listening to it on the radio on their way home,’’ Williams said.
It began with a broken-bat single by a guy who had just three hours’ sleep after witnessing the birth of his first son, Trey. ``A lucky hit, to be honest with you,’’ said Troy O’Leary, who wasn’t even in the starting lineup after taking a red-eye flight back from Arizona but delivered a pinch-hit single to open the ninth.
It continued with a walk by a guy who had spent exactly one night in Boston, enough time to buy his first souvenir, a Boston University Terriers cap.
``I was wondering when anyone would notice -- pretty smart of me, huh?’’ said second baseman Mark Lemke, the newest member of the Red Sox, who fouled off three pitches before drawing a full-count walk from Heathcliff Slocumb, the human angioplasty who had been summoned by Seattle manager Lou Piniella to protect a 7-2 lead for Johnson.
The Big Unit was done after eight, having struck out 15 batters while allowing just two hits, one a two-run home run by Damon Buford in the fourth that gave Boston a 2-0 lead. Those in the sellout crowd of 32,805 who elected to stay had booed when ex-Boston closer Slocumb entered the game. He gave them reason to cheer before he left.
``When we started the rally, I started calculating ahead -- `If we get this guy on, get that guy on, and we get to Mo, we’ve got a pretty good chance,’ ‘’ said Lemke, who barely had time to introduce himself to his new teammates before joining in his first celebration with them.
``If they’re all like this,’’ he said of his debut, barely 24 hours after arriving, ``this will be pretty awesome.’’
Darren Bragg, who on an earlier at-bat didn’t blink when a 98-mile-an-hour fastball from Johnson came perilously close to his head, followed Lemke by lashing a double into the right-field corner.
``As soon as those first couple of guys got on base,’’ Bragg said, ``I knew something was going on. Nobody wanted to make an out, and nobody did.’’
Williams sent Scott Hatteberg to the plate to hit for Darren Lewis. Piniella signaled for a lefty, Tony Fossas. Williams countered with Mike ``Viva Las Vegas’’ Benjamin. Benjamin, who had gone down swinging against Troy Percival to end the Sox’ loss in Anaheim that concluded a 3-5 season-opening West Coast trip, drew a full-count walk. Love me tender.
Bases loaded, Nomar Garciaparra coming to the plate as the tying run in a 7-3 game. Out came Piniella again, waving this time for Mike Timlin, a righthander.
``You come up,’’ Garciaparra said, ``and you see the hitters before you have great at-bats, you want to keep the momentum going with a good at-bat.
``I realized there I’ve got to keep the inning alive. I wasn’t there to finish it, I was there to keep the inning alive. That’s what I tried to do.’’
Garciaparra fought off a couple of tough pitches, then lined a 1-and-2 delivery to center field for a single that scored Lemke, making it 7-4.
The next batter was Valentin, whose day had begun with promise, a first-inning double off the Unit, but turned ugly with two throwing errors, the second more off target than the first.
Valentin’s bat broke when he lined a foul into the third base seats. ``He wanted to throw me a good inside pitch; he probably was looking to crack my bat and he did,’’ Valentin said. ``I knew he was going to pitch me there again, and he just happened to hit me.
``Other guys kept getting hits and walks. I got hit. It was a very good collective effort. Then the big guy came up.’’
Once more, Piniella popped out of the dugout to retrieve one last arm from the Seattle bullpen, lefthander Paul Spoljaric.
``I told [Scott] Hatteberg, `We got these guys,’ ‘’ Bragg said. ``You could see the pitchers out there were scared, and here comes Mo.
``I don’t think anybody has a bigger heart than him. This day shows it better than any. He was 0 for 3, three strikeouts, but when there is a baseball game on the line, I want him up there every time, over anybody.’’
Williams was standing on the steps at the end of the dugout closest to home plate when Vaughn connected. Bragg leaped out of the dugout, pumping his fist. Back in the clubhouse, rookie Brian Rose, who had pitched so well for five innings but had been looking at a loss after Seattle’s three-run sixth, whooped in front of the TV. At home plate, Valentin waited to embrace his close friend with a host of teammates, while Olde Fenway shook with raw passion, almost all of it joy.
``It felt,’’ said winning pitcher Rich Garces, ``like the World Series.’’
It was only the home opener. But until there is another October for the Olde Towne team, this will do.