At a house party in the Fenway last night, guests tried to repeat every move they had made on Saturday and Sunday.
"After every good play, we do a high five, and then I hold up this," said Patrick Labadia, pointing to a Red Sox sign on the coffee table.
Some might call it behavior bordering on obsessive-compulsive, but, across the region last night, little rituals and big anxieties took hold, as fans seemed to hang their entire sense of identity on the team's fortunes.
Sure, other teams have rabid fans and a history of rollercoaster rides. But in Boston, something deeper, a whole city's psychological state seemed to teeter on the outcome. It's not just that the ball club now has a shot at greatness, fans said. So does the city, and so do its citizens.
"It's kind of hard to describe," Labadia said after Derek Lowe struck out the final batter to clinch the win. "Life is different. It's great. We're making history right here. There's no way I can sleep."
Steps away from the party, fans' emotions spilled out into the streets around Fenway Park, sometimes violently. Cars were overturned, and the streets jammed with revelers, many releasing the tensions pent up during the past week's series.
In the run-up to the game last night, Framingham resident Jeff McCallister said the Sox playoff performance had already changed his life.
"I like my job better," said the 22-year-old, who works at a travel agency in South Boston. "It's easier to get up in the morning."
In exchange for a Sox victory last night, he was prepared to do his neighbors' laundry for a week. "If the Sox went all the way, I think Boston would be a different city," he said. "It would be heaven on earth." The fantasizing, the rituals, the hope: It's all part of the profound mental connection between diehard fans and the Sox.
Billerica resident Joe Fantasia, 34, had to mentally prepare for the game hours ahead of time. A 2-mile run was about the only thing he said would calm him down.
"It affects my health. I get too emotional," said Fantasia, who was at Fenway Park in 1986 when a fateful grounder rolled between Bill Buckner's legs, costing the team the championship. "It's an emotional roller coaster for a fan."
When the Red Sox lost to Oakland in Game 1 on Wednesday, Fantasia was so annoyed that he lay awake until 4 a.m. He spent the next day bleary-eyed and sad, glued to sports radio as he drove his sales route selling gourmet foods. Saturday night, when Trot Nixon's home run gave the Red Sox the victory that kept them in the playoffs, Fantasia nearly swerved off the road with joy. He was headed home from a wedding, with his girlfriend holding a portable television in the car, so he could glance over from behind the wheel.
Across the city yesterday, in offices, in bars, in hospitals, on the streets, fans reflected on the same psychological tumult and tried to explain it.
"It's like you're caught in the continuous loop. You can't fully experience the joy of the last two games because to do so would endanger the next one. So you get into this endless cycle of doubting yourself," said Edward Crossette, 39, a Greenfield, Mass., native who now works as a Web page designer in Charlottesville, Va., but still religiously maintains a Web diary called Bambino's Curse.
Even victory would only open the door to more gnawing thought, he said. He tried to crush the thought, but it kept returning: "If they win tonight, what will the next step be, and will the pain be even worse?" Crossette said. "Each win makes it worse, the pain you will eventually feel. I don't even know what it would be like if they did just continue on. I don't even want to fantasize about it. It's far too dangerous."
Psychologists say Sox fans may be acting out the primal human urge to forge an identity by joining a group. They suffer the consequences when their team loses, often sending their self-esteem into nosedives. It's no small thing; studies have shown that fans of losing teams perform worse on motor and mental tests than fans of winning teams. Jeffrey Brown, a sports psychologist at McLean Hospital, says that as a fan he tries to practice what he preaches to athletes he counsels: Focus on the positive and don't dwell on the last bad thing that happened. "That's a waste of energy you could use for the next pitch."
But for other fans, escaping the cycle is easier said than done. Take Kevin Hickey, 31, of Charlestown, a driver for Deano's Pastacia.
"I was happy last night," said Hickey, wearing a Red Sox cap as he dropped off two boxes of raviolis at Skipjack's in Copley Square yesterday. "This morning I woke up still happy. Then I listened to the radio all day and started getting nervous."
But the intense ups and downs seem worth it to loyal followers. And Fantasia said a lifetime of fandom has brought him more joy than pain, especially the bonding with his father, Cosimo, who died recently.
"It would be a little bittersweet, to see them do it without him being around," he said. "But I think in some way he may be watching."
Then there are the fans who fear victory in the World Series would irrevocably change their identity, like Fantasia's friend Joe Celeste, who went with him to Fenway on Sept. 25 to see the Sox clinch their playoff berth.
"The city would be lost," said Celeste, a construction worker laboring at Trinity Church.
One Beacon Hill resident compared his Sox fanaticism to a stormy love affair, where devotion grows with each successive heartbreak.
"You always want what you can't get," said 29-year-old David Lord, who hosted about a dozen people at his apartment for last night's game. "We are so disappointed every year, and every year we want it more."
Like the group gathering in the Fenway, he and his guests took extra pains to re-create the exact conditions in his apartment during Games 3 and 4. They grilled the same kind of sausage and drank the same beer. Then they began poking each other with forks. After a frustrating setback during Game 3 on Saturday, Lord said, one of his guests picked up a fork and jabbed another guest in the arm. "Then, before you know it, the Sox got a run," Lord exclaimed. So all the guests started doing it, and before long, the Sox won.
Last night, he had lots of Band-Aids on hand, and he planned to buy more before the next game.
"It's like you want them to win so badly," he said, "you'll do almost anything to get it."
Donovan Slack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Anne Barnard can be reached at email@example.com. Ellen Barry contributed to this report.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.