‘I’m never going to forget it’: Steve Pearce and the game of a lifetime
The first one, a solo shot, landed in the Green Monster seats.
The second one, a three-run blast, cleared those seats on the way to Lansdowne Street.
And the third one?
Well that one eclipsed them both, a two-run homer that bounced off the upper portion of a Fenway Park light tower.
That last one, Steve Pearce’s final home run ball of the night, would come back to earth somewhere in the leftfield grass, not far from whiplashed Yankee outfielder Brett Gardner. But for the man who hit it, the heady ride into Red Sox lore isn’t likely to touch down so soon.
“A feeling I’ll never forget,” he said.
Three home runs, including the one that would erase an early four-run deficit for good in what would turn into a 15-7 laugher over the rival Yankees, is a hell of a way to integrate yourself into the best rivalry in baseball.
Pearce did that and more on Thursday, changing a narrative that opened in favor of a Yankee team desperate to start this pivotal four-game series with a win. Behind the veteran CC Sabathia and against Chris Sale replacement Brian Johnson, the Yankees had to believe they could take a convincing first bite out of the 5½ game lead the Red Sox held as play began. And staking themselves to a 4-0 second-inning lead against a jittery Johnson might have been enough, had it been against a lesser team.
Or a lesser man.
Pearce decided to write his own stirring tale instead, about the journeyman player who’d made a career out of playing in the American League East, but finally made his indelible mark by playing for the Red Sox, stealing the spotlight in a way he, nor the lucky fans in attendance this steamy Thursday night, will soon forget. Three home runs, six RBIs, one full-body stretch on the receiving end of an Ian Kinsler web gem, and a full-throated chant of his name that is sure to reverberate in his memory forever.
“I’ll remember the whole night,” he said, the parade of back slaps, high fives and hugs from a group of teammates simultaneously appreciative and amazed at what he had done finally over. “It was exciting from start to finish. To start off down and we did what we needed to do, we battled back and just to have a big win, to have everybody involved, what a great feeling. And to do what I did tonight at the plate?
“I’m never going to forget it.”
Isn’t this sports at its best? The crucible of Yankees-Red Sox has tamed many a Hall of Fame caliber player. One look ahead to Sunday night’s series finale is reminder of that, when ace David Price will once again try to break his personal Yankee hex. But so too does the intensity of a longstanding rivalry like this open the door for temporary heroes, for players new to the fold to make a mark in their own important way. There was the new second baseman Kinsler belting three hits, scoring two runs, driving in two, stealing a base and making a beautiful diving stop with an over-the-shoulder throw to retire Gleyber Torres in the seventh inning. And there was the sub starter Johnson shaking off those early nerves to complete five innings, striking out 11 batters to earn the win.
But mostly, there was Pearce, proving a late June trade can be just as valuable as one pulled off at the July 31 deadline, pushing the controversial memory of Hanley Ramirez’ release a little bit further into the background, living testament to the importance of finding the right pieces to a larger puzzle.
“We’ve been talking about it for a month now,” Sox manager Alex Cora said. “I know July 31 is a big day in baseball because of the trades and everything that goes on, but we made a good baseball move early in the season. He’s been great for us. We’re happy to have him.
“I’m proud of him. It’s not easy, his role. But he understands where he’s at, why we brought him here. He gives me options throughout the game, when he doesn’t start, when he starts. He makes plays at first base, we can put him at second, in the outfield. He’s been around the league a while and you don’t survive in this league without being a good player. He’s one of those guys that has been grinding all his career.”
From junior college to the University of South Carolina to a slow, oft-interrupted path to the majors. From Pittsburgh to the East Coast, in Baltimore, in a short 2012 stint with the Yankees, up to Toronto and now with Boston, Pearce has steadfastly kept at it, believing in his talent, patient for his chance. And from that first day he entered the Fenway clubhouse, when familiar faces from years of competition welcomed him like they’d been waiting for him, he’d found a baseball home.
Thursday night, he moved in for good.
“What was I going to do? Quit? That’ wasn’t an option,” he said. “I knew I could play at this level. I just needed the opportunity. I waited a long time for that opportunity and took advantage of it. It’s been a grind my whole career, to get where I am today, and then you look back on it and was it worth it? You bet your butt it was worth it, especially on a night like this.”