BOSTON – On top of the Lansdowne Garage, about 50 feet past the Green Monster, a dozen people huddled around a television when they heard the roar. The delay on their TV was 10 seconds, 10 agonizing seconds during which they only could imagine what would cause Fenway Park to break into spontaneous hysteria. For seven months, these Boston Red Sox had exceeded expectations internal and external, forged a bond with a city in need of a distraction, typified best they could the Boston Strong ideal. And here, in the sixth game of the World Series, something had just unfolded, something special, and the guys in the parking lot couldn't wait to see it.
"What happened?" asked Lee Gregory, a 53-year-old from Plano, Texas, the ringleader of the crew. This was his rental Jeep, his Samsung TV, his Sony speaker, his RCA digital antenna, his Apple radio receiver, his entire setup. He downloaded a radio-delay app on his computer so he could sync the WEEI broadcast with the television feed, because nobody in Boston wants to hear history seen through the eyes of outsiders. Boston is the Red Sox, and the Red Sox are Boston, and that is that.
For every important baseball game in Boston over the last decade, from the Dave Roberts steal to the first two of the World Series titles in 2004 and 2007, Gregory has set up shop here, in the century-old lot that's the graveyard for home runs that fly over the Monster. He and his younger brother, Chris, grew up in Toronto before the Blue Jays existed, and Gregory started watching baseball in 1967, when the Impossible Dream Red Sox made the World Series. Since then, passion has given way to obsession, and he has found a home in the parking structure, where he knows the attendants by name and can call their cell phones to tell them he needs a spot that night. They reserve one with a cone, he throws down $40 for it and the next-best thing to being inside Fenway is his.
Actually, Gregory prefers it this way. One of sports' great beauties is that nobody defines the ways in which someone can love them. Someone paid $12,000 for a ticket to Game 6. Others stood outside Fenway begging and groveling. Lee Gregory unpacked his car, filled five of the six plugs in his power strip and invited anyone and everyone to come and watch, even if they had to wait 10 seconds.
Because what's 10 seconds when you're about to see something that hasn't happened in 95 years?
About two minutes after the hit that won the Boston Red Sox the World Series, dozens of Boston police officers started streaming off two buses hard by Lansdowne Street. The Red Sox were going to win a championship in front of a home crowd for the first time since 1918, and a hundred more buses full of cops weren't going to be enough to contain the beer-drinking, car-flipping, out-and-out revelry that gripped Boston deep into the night.
The long, desperate 10 seconds Gregory and friends slogged through materialized with 1080 pixels of sheer beauty: Red Sox outfielder Shane Victorino necessitating the police presence with a bases-clearing double off the Green Monster. Between his heroics and John Lackey emerging victorious in a title-clinching game for the second time, the Red Sox sent Fenway, the greater Boston area and all of New England into a tizzy with a 6-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday night that delivered their eighth championship.
Two years after the beer-and-chicken collapse, one year after a 69-win season that left Red Sox Nation despondent, Boston retooled its roster and rode series MVP David Ortiz and his beyond-words .688/.760/1.188 line to a convincing victory in a back-and-forth battle between the best teams from the American and National Leagues. Though Boston won the series final three games with a flurry of great pitching, its bats came alive in Game 6 and throttled the best starter this postseason.
Michael Wacha, all of 22, had navigated his way through four postseason games with a 1.00 earned-run average. In 3 2/3 innings Wednesday, he allowed six runs, twice as many as in his previous 27 postseason innings, none bigger than the first three that came on one third-inning swing.
After a single, a walk and a hit-by-pitch, Victorino, whose grand slam in the ALCS sent the Red Sox to the World Series, came up with perhaps an even bigger bases-loaded hit: He belted a 2-1 fastball from Wacha more than halfway up the Monster, plating Jacoby Ellsbury, Ortiz and Jonny Gomes. As Gomes slid around a tag from Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, Ellsbury, Ortiz and the on-deck hitter, Xander Bogaerts, all thrust their hands outward to signal safe. So did home-plate umpire Jim Joyce, and Fenway shook. Victorino, out of Games 4 and 5 with back stiffness, played hero once again, the embodiment of an offseason in which Boston signed him, Gomes, Stephen Drew, David Ross and Mike Napoli, all of whom started Game 6.
Standing on third after the throw home, Victorino beat his chest and threw a double shaka in the air. Over the next half-hour, the Red Sox would score three more runs. One came around on the most unlikely hit of the postseason, a home run from Drew, who was 4 for 51 this postseason. Ellsbury doubled, Ortiz was intentionally walked and both came around on singles off reliever Lance Lynn.
And suddenly, with the score 6-0, with Boston's third championship in a decade 15 outs away, with the 38,447 in attendance sensing the same thing that brought the cops out in droves, the Red Sox tried to maintain their composure in a moment that would've swallowed many whole.
"You just live for that," Victorino said. "Whatever moment you feel, magnify it by 10, standing in the middle of the field, or magnify it by whatever number you want to think, how fun it is to be out there."
The fun for this Boston team started in spring training. All of the misery of the previous season absconded with their former manager, Bobby Valentine. General manager Ben Cherington remade this team in his image as well as that of the new manager, John Farrell. They wanted guys who ate, drank, slept, breathed and chewed baseball. It was novel, this idea of the nerdy, stat-driven Red Sox embracing chemistry. It also wasn't entirely true. Cherington and Farrell didn't just go after personae. They brought in good players.
The Red Sox's embrace of the city following the Boston Marathon bombings – nobody here ever will forget Ortiz yelling, defiantly and truthfully, "This is our [bleeping] city!" – was returned in kind, and when they kept winning, the bond grew. Fans adored this team. They loved the disgusting beards players grew and the way this team tried not to take itself too seriously.
After one tough road trip, starter Jake Peavy, a midseason acquisition, found himself walking along the streets of San Francisco. Inside a cigar shop, a wooden Indian statue caught his eye. He walked inside and bartered with the man who owned the shop. Since then, Chief, as Peavy named him, has acquired a U.S. Air Force hat and layers of Red Sox shirts.
Oh, and apparently Peavy talks with Chief.
"You know what you do when you win a World Series?" Peavy said. "You drink cold beer and you smoke cigars. How about this? So Chief told me, 'Cigars? You want to win a World Series, I've got World Series cigars right here. That's what I'm about. I'm about winning. I'm your people.'
"So I took it to the boys. We were a little bit down on our luck at that time. We had lost a few. Had some trouble. Took him into the boys. Here ya go. We've got a Boston Strong [shirt]. Look. Jacoby Ellsbury comes back from a foot injury. You know what I mean? We get him back. Taking his jersey off. We had Jacoby Ellsbury's jersey right here. Because he's an Indian. He needed Chief's healing powers. Chief's been hurting himself. We had to put Chief back together. A little duct tape down here.
"This guy is a champ. He's a World Series champ. Chief, I'm taking you to the people, because that's what we're about."
Peavy turned around.
"That was a terrible story," he said.
No. It was quite wonderful, actually. Because it personified these Red Sox. They've got a little of the '04 Idiots in them, a little of the juggernaut '07 champions and a lot of their own style. If they want to believe in Chief, and if they want to listen to Ryan Dempster playing a motivational character named Jack Hammer, and if they want to grow facial hair, so be it.
They won a World Series. It was Dempster's first. Peavy's, too. And when Peavy ascended the dugout steps with Chief and held him in the air, thousands of people remaining more than an hour after the game screamed until they went hoarse.
Around the same time, Carlos Beltran left the Cardinals' clubhouse and strolled toward the exit. He held his wife Jessica's hand and talked with her while security guards walked in front of him and behind him. They weren't necessary. Nobody still in Fenway recognized him. As he went past the sign for Box 90-92, then Grandstands 4-6, dozens of people didn't even blink as one of the best postseason players ever left the building where he believed he would finally win a championship.
For 16 seasons, Beltran plied his trade with grace and style and efficacy. This was his first World Series, and for it to end like this pained him so. He only has a few years left, a couple chances, at most, to reach another World Series. All of the joy on the field found its counterbalance in the concourse. Beltran dropped his head as he passed the Jimmy Fund boxes, the kettle corn popper, the BBQ joint and the kosher-food stand.
Finally, someone recognized him and said hello. Beltran tried to smile. Then he walked toward the exit. Above his head, a sign noted the area into which he strode:
The Champions Club.
Forever, these Red Sox will be champions. It will not matter that Ortiz batted .688 and that none of his teammates could muster an OPS above .599 in the series nor that they lost Game 3 on that crazy obstruction call. Drew's one home run erases those previous 51 at-bats, and Victorino's bases-loaded mastery absolve him for all of the other bad plate appearances, and John Lackey, one of the faces of the pitching staff that guzzled beer and gobbled fried chicken in the clubhouse during the Red Sox's 2011 meltdown, is now the guy who won Boston a World Series.
The 35-year-old, in his first season back from Tommy John surgery, had been in this position before. As a rookie 11 years ago, he threw five innings on three days' rest to win Game 7 against the San Francisco Giants. A little more grizzled and a lot more ornery, Lackey lasted 6 2/3 innings in Game 6, scattering nine hits and weathering even more hard-hit balls to escape with just one run allowed.
"My dad reminded me today, I was getting ready for surgery around this time two years ago," Lackey said. "It's pretty awesome to be right here. This was so far away. But these are the kinds of things that motivate you. These are the things that keep you moving forward. I wanted to end this thing in a positive light."
As easy as it was in past season to demonize Lackey, his shortcomings became points of amusement instead of preambles to 100-page threads on Sons of Sam Horn bemoaning his existence. In the seventh inning, with runners on first and third after Beltran singled home Daniel Descalso, Farrell emerged from the dugout for a mound visit.
"This is my guy!" Lackey yelled as Farrell approached, making sure then to cover his mouth with his glove to avoid breaking any FCC laws and spawning hundreds of amusing animated GIFs. Farrell allayed his concerns by letting him pitch to Matt Holliday, who drew a walk to load the bases. Junichi Tazawa relieved Lackey, retired Allen Craig on a seed to first base and the Red Sox escaped trouble and readied for Koji Uehara to close out the game, which he did by striking out Matt Carpenter on a patented splitter.
There was redemption in these Red Sox. Not the manufactured sort that comes from teams inventing adversity for the sake of motivation. Between the personal stories and the attacks, the team and city found in one another kindred spirits. Sure, Boston is the Red Sox and the Red Sox are Boston, but this year that felt just a little true, just a little more sincere.
"As the year went along, I think the fans really recognized and appreciated the way we played the game," Farrell said. "They saw there was a connection between each and every guy in our uniform, and I think they identified with that. I know our players thrive on the energy they create. And to have it culminate like this is very special."
Four times this postseason, Lee Gregory took a flight from DFW to BOS. And four times he rented a car, drove to 40 Lansdowne St. and watched the game in the only place he knows, where 10 seconds separate him from reality.
It's a blissful 10 seconds, actually, because he first gets to savor the noise, that thunderclap emanating from one of baseball's jewels, and then he gets to appreciate the moment itself, which is like a scoop of ice cream on top of his brownie.
"My boss texted me the other day and said, 'Where is your seat?' " Gregory said. "I sent him a picture of this setup. And he said, 'You're an idiot.'
"I could get a ticket, but I can go to every game like this. I could go to only a few games inside, and I'd end up being standing-room or something. I love it out here. Can't you tell?"
On top of the Jeep was a handmade sign. One side read "Happily It's Napoli," the other "Going, Going … Gomes," and he'd flip it over depending on who was at the plate. Gregory threw on a glove when all of the right-handed power hitters were up, hoping just maybe he could catch a World Series home run ball. He wore a Red Sox hat and a Red Sox letterman jacket and look of bemusement at what was happening inside.
The crowd delighted in each of Lackey's five strikeouts, cheered for all the catches on line drives and caterwauled when, in the fifth inning, Ellsbury got picked off first base and, after a rundown that included five throws, slid back to first safely. It was the Cardinals' night in a nutshell, and the Red Sox's season, too. For seven months, teams have chased Boston, and in the end, nobody, not even the great Cardinals, could catch them.
Gregory hatched this plan before Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS, when he told his wife, "I've gotta be there." She understood. Being a fan – a real fan – is irrational and stupid and the sort of thing that leads you to spending nights in a parking lot 50 feet from the actual thing you're watching. It also put Gregory here for an event not seen since the days when Babe Ruth was with the Red Sox.
"I don't think anything can beat '04," he said. "But this is next best. It's a fun team. In '07, it was a great team, but it was workmanlike. You knew it was great, and it delivered, which is fabulous. But this team is special."
He walked back toward his TV, his speaker and the chair next to his brother, and Lee Gregory plopped down. This team – his team – was about to win the World Series, and there was nowhere else he'd rather be.