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The Boston Globe

Sports

From the archives | 2011

Perfectly happy to sit through entire 16-inning game

I hung in till the end. There was no excuse to do otherwise.

Didn’t have to get up too early for work. Wasn’t really tired, anyway.

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So why wouldn’t I hang in till a little before 2 a.m. yesterday to see how that weird and wonderful Red Sox-Rays game came out? That’s what a real sports fan does.

It really aggravates me when people denigrate the regular season of any sport. The cynics among us maintain that all that matters is the postseason, meaning that we have all wasted our time paying any attention to the games that determine who gets into the postseason and how the teams are to be slotted. These people probably would prefer to have teams ranked on paper at the beginning of a season and then plopped into an immediate playoff format.

Yet there is so much to be savored, and even so much to be learned, during the isolated goings-on of any regular-season competition. During the playoffs the context is paramount. We all understand the stakes. But during the regular season it is less clear, especially in a sport such as baseball, in which there are 162 games.

Baseball is the ultimate long-view sport. The best regular-season team in history, the 1906 Cubs, lost 23 percent of its games. Even a team that has won the milestone total of 100 has lost 62 games. The idea that you need one of those can’t-get-too-high-can’t-too-low temperaments in order to survive in baseball is the gospel truth. You can’t either gloat or freak out over the outcome of one game.

Every once in a while, however, something special materializes out of nowhere. When one of these games occurs, context becomes irrelevant. It reverts back to basics: Sport for sport’s sake. As that game stretched from Sunday night into Monday morning, neither the Red Sox nor the Rays were thinking about standings ramifications or any big picture. They were all wrapped up in trying to win that game, because they instinctively knew this was a game they would be referencing the rest of their lives and they wanted to do so from the vantage point of a proud victor, not a noble loser.

Now in the interest of full disclosure I must confess that the only way to get through a five hour, forty-four minute game while watching on television is to multitask. I love baseball more than most people, but I need something to help me get through a televised game. Quite often it is “Baseball Prospectus.” It’s fun and enlightening to see what those gentlemen have to say about the participants.

And I did go right to my ever-ready “Baseball Prospectus” to check out Tampa Bay reliever Jake McGee. But that was in the midst of other reading. For during the course of this marathon affair I also perused (perusing is perusing, it doesn’t mean I read every word) the entire Sunday Globe; the entire Sunday Times; an issue of Vanity Fair containing an absolute must-read piece by Christopher Hitchens on the rather bizarre relationship between the USA and Pakistan; two issues of The Atlantic, one of which had a very interesting what-if slant on Sarah Palin, who willingly consorted with Democrats as governor of Alaska; and, finally, the SLAM magazine with Allen Iverson on the cover.

All without missing anything going on down there at The Trop. Thank God for replay? Well, of course!

The truth is I did see it all. I saw the Josh Beckett-Jeff Niemann duel that highlighted innings 1-8. I saw Dustin Pedroia go behind second base to make that sensational play on Reid Brignac. I saw the highlight-film Josh Reddick catch on Justin Ruggiano. I saw the B.J. Upton grab on Pedroia. I saw Sean Rodriguez shatter the light bulb. I saw the Red Sox strand those eight guys in one three-inning stretch, including a failure to score on a bases-loaded, no-out circumstance.

I saw Tampa Bay’s Joe Maddon and bench coach Dave Martinez given the old heave-ho by plate umpire Chad Fairchild for complaining about a Jacoby Ellsbury checked swing. (Check that, we were all informed about the ejections after the fact). I saw a frustrated Marco Scutaro slam down his bat in disgust and almost have it hit Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach.

I heard ESPN commentators Orel Hershiser and Bobby Valentine almost have the mutual Big One on the air when Adrian Gonzalez, of all people, flied out on a first-pitch Kyle Farnsworth offering after Pedroia had doubled to lead off the ninth. I saw Alfredo Aceves, having just retired seven men with contemptuous ease, hit Evan Longoria (0 and 2) and Casey Kotchman on successive pitches before getting out of the self-created jam in the 15th. I saw the Red Sox bench with the rally caps and Big Papi trying to put the hex on Brandon Gomes and Adam Russell in the 15th and 16th.

The rally caps are always a final clue that the players have recognized the game as being officially different than all other games. When you see the rally caps, you know this is no longer just another regular-season game.

I saw Josh Reddick draw a walk to lead off the 16th; Jason Varitek, in the midst of catching 16 innings at age 39, get down a professional sacrifice bunt; and Scutaro reach base on a chopper over the mound. And then, with two away, I saw Pedroia rip a hard one-hopper that landed in front of right fielder Ben Zobrist, scoring Reddick with the game’s only run, at which point Valentine said, “A lot of these guys might be tired, but that little guy could go all night long. He’ll be back at the ballpark tomorrow at 11:30, ready to do it again.”

I saw Jonathan Papelbon, held back by manager Terry Francona even as Maddon was rolling through eight pitchers after his starter departed, get through a 1-2-3 inning for the save, the last out a smash by Brignac artfully plucked by Gonzalez, who then flipped to a covering Papelbon to end a game all are going to remember, not just for the rest of this year, but for decades.

Yup, I hung in there. Pretty good decision, even if I do say so myself.

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