When the sports world ducked into undetermined hiatus last week after infected Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert inadvertently made it clear that the COVID-19 pandemic must be confronted immediately, I knew there was so much we would miss while sports were away doing the right thing.
Anyone among us that cares about sports, that savors the fan experience and welcomes the athletes and the games as part of our lives, knew the same. But more than lamenting a chance to see Xander Bogaerts dig into the batter’s box on Opening Day, or the next steps in Celtic Jayson Tatum’s ascent to true stardom, or the annual shining moments in March Madness, I mostly lamented the loss of suspense.
The best thing about sports is that at the beginning, you never know truly how something ends. We can watch all the “Hardwood Classics” on NBA TV that are offered up to salve our desperation, but the endings only surprise if you have just a vague recollection of the game in the first place. The jostling of a memory that you never noticed losing is not that thrilling.
But in attempting to find the most satisfying sports fix in our current status, one approach has worked quite well:
Seeking out and watching the best games our Boston sports teams have ever played.
Yes, of course, any suspense there is well-worn, since we’ll always store and savor the sweet details of the biggest thrills. But you know what lasts, and in full effect? The tension.
Even if you’ve seen the outcome of what you consider the best Celtics, Red Sox, Patriots or Bruins game between 1,976 and 2,014 times, even if you pay homage to the outcome with memorabilia in your home, watching the legitimate best-ofs play out again remains a nerve-tormenting thrill.
I know. Oh, do I know. Because over the last several days, I ranked the five best games in the history of the four most established Boston sports franchises — with some weight given to ones we can find on YouTube or streaming now, since many of us have some programming time to fill at home right now.
After ranking them, I rewatched in full what I considered the best game each for the Celtics, Red Sox, Patriots, and Bruins.
Maybe it’s not the best idea to watch these nailbiters at a time when we shouldn’t be touching our faces, but I’m glad I did. The suspense wasn’t there, but the tension was palpable and welcome, even in a rewatch.
Consider Dave Roberts’s steal in Game 4 of the 2004 American League Championship Series. It is arguably — heck, maybe not arguably — the most pivotal on-field moment in the history of the Red Sox, and it comes in the most compelling, meaningful, and therefore best game they have ever played.
We know he was safe, and that Bill Mueller drove him in, and that David Ortiz homered to drive in the winning run in extra innings, then drove in the winning run in extra innings the next night, and then the Sox won two more on the Yankee Stadium turf and all ghosts scurried back to the afterworld, never to be seen again.
We know. But when you watch that steal now — and again and again — the tension wallops you as savvy Derek Jeter nearly sweep-tags his way into stealing an out, and you can only exhale when Joe West casually declares him safe.
When Ortiz’s winning home run landed in the Fenway bullpen at 1:22 a.m. and Joe Buck delightfully tweaked a famous call of his dad’s by telling us, “We’ll see you later tonight,” the seemingly impossible comeback had begun. It is so satisfying, even now, to see how it all came to be again.
That was the night Red Sox history changed.
Chad Finn’s top five Red Sox games to watch
October 12, 1986
If you want to put Game 6 of the 1986 World Series here, go ahead, weirdo. I’ll take the game in which a Dave Henderson homer brought relatively lasting joy.
October 1, 1967
Triple Crown king Yaz goes 4 for 4 and the Impossible Dreamers clinch the pennant on the season’s final day.
October 21, 1976
“There it goes! A long drive! If it stays fair …” Spoiler: It stayed fair.
October 20, 2004
All pinstriped ghosts, exorcised.
October 17, 2004
Just when it looked like all was lost in humiliating fashion, history changed forever. Thank you, Dave Roberts. And Bill Mueller. And …