They own healthy outlook
Two more weeks? Red Sox fans are going to have to live like this for another 16 days?
Today marks the 60th consecutive day that the Sox have been in first place. They have led the American League East for 84 of the last 85 days. What the Sox did to the Yankees in 2004 should be enough to keep panic at a minimum around here. But the idea that the ancient rivals may be playing a winner-take-all series here on the final weekend is suddenly very real.
The weight of the wait was painful last night. First, Sox fans had to wait an hour and 37 minutes before the tarp came off and Tim Wakefield threw the first pitch. Then they had to watch the painful numbers on the big board in left -- seeing the Yankees fall behind Toronto, 3-1, then take an 11-3 lead, before finally hanging on for an 11-10 win.
Then they had to wait 10 innings over 3 hours 7 minutes before seeing the Franconamen win in the most unconventional manner of all: the walkoff hit batsman.
No kidding. The Sox beat the Oakland A's, 3-2, in the 10th when the immortal Keiichi Yabu plunked Manny Ramirez with a 1-and-1 pitch with the bases loaded, forcing Alejandro Machado home with the winning run. This came on a night when the Sox went 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position. They are 1 for 17 with runners in scoring position in the first two games against Oakland, 1 for 24 over their last three games at Fenway.
The locals were allowed to play extra innings because Wakefield continues his amazing second-half run (can he just throw every inning for the rest of the season?) and David Ortiz hit yet another home run in his bid to fulfill his destiny as the reincarnation of Carl Yastrzemski, circa '67.
''Wake went out and just pitched his rear end off," said Terry Francona.
Regarding the winning rally, the manager said, ''What a crazy inning. The way it ended, I think it stunned everyone. Like, 'It's over.' When you're home, if they make a mistake, we go home winners."
The stress of September has risen to the highest levels of Sox management, though the holy trinity of Sox executives said before the game that there is no reason to panic.
''I'm looking forward to the second half of September," said principal owner John Henry. ''How could you not want to be in a pennant race with the Yankees?"
Tom Werner added, ''Obviously, this is better than seeing the Yankees in the standings above us. This is where great players have to step up and be at their best."
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''Not that I'm going to admit," said CEO Larry Lucchino. ''Once again, we're going down to the wire. We anticipated this. But that's all I want to say. I learned a long time ago that you can only get into trouble when you talk to the media during rain delays."
As they sat and waited, the numbers started to change on the big scoreboard on the left-field wall. Just as the trio was sitting down to eat, the board showed the Yankees leading the Blue Jays, 1-0. Then it changed. Suddenly the Jays were up, 3-1.
''Things just got a lot more jovial in here," said Henry.
''No!" warned Lucchino. ''Don't even think about that. Just worry about Fenway Park. I don't even look at that until late in the night."
Falling back on the old ''what if on Opening Day someone told you" theme, Henry asked, ''If someone told you that both Keith Foulke and Curt Schilling would have ERAs about 6.50 and with 16 games to go you'd still be a game and a half ahead of the Yankees, you'd have felt good about that, right?"
If you say so, John.
So how do you guys feel about your position? Are you as nervous as some of your fans?
''We're almost as nervous as when we were down, 0-3, in the ALCS last year," Henry said.
After dinner, they heard applause from the stands, and looked out to see the tarp coming off the field. That's about the same time Lucchino's cellphone rang. He took the call, then announced, ''For those of you who follow this sort of thing, Randy Johnson just got ejected in Toronto."
This news sent Henry scurrying to his computer to investigate events at the Rogers Centre. It also sent yours truly back to the press box -- replete with seats suddenly populated by representatives of the New York Times and New York Daily News (hmmm, wonder why those guys are here?).
By the time the Sox finally took the field, the numbers on the big board were downright frightening. The Yankees led the Jays, 11-3, in the fourth. Good thing Lucky Lucchino wasn't scoreboard watching.
The Red Sox took a 1-0 lead in the second, thanks to a Jason Kendall passed ball. Then the A's went ahead with two runs on four hits off Wakefield in the fourth. Ortiz's blast tied things in the sixth and Boston battled a bunch of excellent Oakland relievers before finally pushing another run across just before midnight.
''It doesn't affect us at all," said Francona. ''We need to take care of what we're doing. When we win, we're fine. We put ourselves in that position."
The Red Sox' position was a lot more comfortable a few days ago. Now they have put themselves in a position of stress. And the Nation can't sleep until all the nightly results have been tabulated.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is email@example.com.