In their robust — if oft-maddening — history, your Boston Red Sox have produced exactly one team that could play with the big boys of baseball’s pantheon of top squads. Last year’s bunch was as inspiring as any; the ’07 edition may well go down as this region’s most underrated champions; the ’46 Ted Williams iteration was a Ted Williams-led wagon; the ’67 Impossible Dreamers need no introduction, and the ’78 All-Star pack was a classic woulda-shoulda-coulda conglomerate. But it’s the beloved ’04 faith redeemers who could have waxed them all. And now they have the first important book to document their achievement, efficacy, and, really, folklore.
Baseball is well suited to the talking head approach to literature, with composite voices crafting a narrative that seems peopled with the very spirits — past and present — that make the game the most rewarding of our sports to discuss. In that regard, “Don’t Let Us Win Tonight” by Allan Wood and Bill Nowlin is a modern-day, single-team cousin to the classic 1966 omnibus work “The Glory of Their Times,” the key literary effort of the first half of baseball’s history. Wood is a Red Sox blogger and Nowlin the author of seventeen Red Sox books.
Just about everyone who had anything to do with the ’04 “Idiots” is flown into the verbal mix here: players, of course, but bat boys, owners, wives, doctors, coaches, faltering oppositions, journalists.
Read this book in some downtown café, then pop out onto the street and encounter a couple of Yankees fans coming your way and you’re apt to lower your shoulder and think, “Let’s do this!” The sports brigade will be suitably “pumped,” in the vernacular, and more than a little surprised. Reading along to testimony of one sports miracle after another, you become dubious that all of this actually could have happened.
The title comes from a line chirped by Kevin Millar prior to Game 4 of the ALCS, as recounted in the book’s foreword. The Red Sox were trailing the Yankees 3-0 in the series, and having been smashed by the Curse-suggestive score — we’re talking 1918, after all — 19-8 the evening before. The thinking was, if the Sox could get one victory, the pitching rotation would set up such that a Game 7 could become a reality, and once the Sox got to a Game 7, it was house money — and winning — time.
The archival stuff is a delight. Asked if the Sox needed to win Game 3 of that aforesaid ALCS, Curt Schilling replies, “Great [expletive] question. You [expletive] me?” But if history cannot be rewritten, expectations can, and what one believes one has the capacity to accomplish.
Yes, it’s sports, and sports are not life, but sports do, at their best, course with the intangibles of life, and offer up instructive primers of their own. We read the account of little-remembered reliever Curtis Leskanic, a guy with nothing left, pitching his final innings in the epic Game 4, doing his bit to prolong a kind of sports-based mortality against historical odds.
Regarding the larger and more obvious heroics, there is David Ortiz and his witty and learned — with street cred intact — assessment of his own achievements. His words are like a mash-up of Pascal musings and Ted Williams’s “The Science of Hitting” in describing his extra-winnings blast in Game 4: “With the pitch coming at you, your instinct is to back away a little, to move off the plate. But the ball would change direction and catch the inside corner, so you had to stay in the batter’s box as long as possible and wait for the ball to break.” After which Ortiz adds, “I smoked it, bro.”
There are some ticky-tack issues — about a dozen exclamation points that undercut the narrative in favor of Pink Hat-ism — but you’ll scarcely notice them. What you will note is that for all of the talent the ’04 Sox sported — they had four Hall of Fame-level players — there was an Everyman element to their achievement. Dave Roberts’s steal in Game 4 is one of the three or four greatest plays in Boston sports history, and it looms even larger here when you realize Roberts hadn’t played in 10 days. Go get in the game, steal a base in the ninth, and help us keep our season going another day. Sure thing, boss.
But, of course, he did it, and they did it. Don’t lower the shoulder and pop the Yankees fans after reading this one, but that impulse will now probably be stoked, ditto your capacity for sports-based wonder.
Colin Fleming is the author of the forthcoming “The Anglerfish Comedy Troupe: Stories from the Abyss.”