If we're being honest, the Boston Red Sox really didn't have to win on Saturday.
It was good enough that Fenway Park was full and that the Olde Towne Team was back on the field again. The scene signified that a horrible nightmare was over; things were going back to normal just a few days after two explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon killed three, wounded close to 200 and rocked one of America's toughest cities to its core.
But sometimes things just have to happen a certain way.
Those who only venture to look at the box score will see that the Red Sox beat the Kansas City Royals by a final of 4-3. Nothing significant there.
Those who actually saw what happened know that the Red Sox beat the Royals in a manner perfectly befitting the city of Boston. It was a comeback victory characterized by an underdog effort and capped off by a three-run home run by the biggest underdog on the team.
The Red Sox trailed 2-1 with two out and two on in the eighth when Daniel Nava—a guy who wasn't even good enough to make the Chico Outlaws of the Golden Baseball League once upon a time—stepped to the plate to face flame-throwing right-hander Kelvin Herrera.
With the mood in Fenway still somewhat subdued following a crucial double play by returning hero David Ortiz, Nava sent 'em to their feet when he cracked a 1-1 pitch into Boston's bullpen.
Cue over 35,000 roaring fans and a perfect call from NESN announcer Don Orsillo: "Boston, this is for you!"
Nava's homer gave permission for everyone to let it all out.
The afternoon began with a moving pregame ceremony that hit all the right notes, allowing tribute to be paid to the people and to the resiliency that had allowed the city to overcome Monday's tragedy.
Leading off was a slideshow tribute to the marathon bombing victims and first responders. Set to Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah," it inspired somber gazes and sustained applause in equal measure.
That done, it was time for Fenway Park public address announcer Henry Mahegan to take the microphone. Courtesy of Rob Bradford of WEEI.com:
Today, we gather as one. And we affirm to ourselves and to each other that we are one—one community, one nation, one world, full of love, full of compassion, and full of generosity. Those feelings, powerful all of them, fuel us with passion. To never quit. To persevere. To prevail.
Mahegan then added: "We will run another marathon—one bigger and better than ever. We are one. We are Boston. We are strong. We are Boston strong."
Needless to say, the crowd approved of every word.
A moment of silence came to honor the victims of the marathon bombings, and then it was time to meet the three guests chosen to throw out first pitches.
Matt Patterson, an off-duty firefighter who unexpectedly found himself saving lives on Monday afternoon.
Steven Byrne, a native of Lowell wounded by one of the explosions.
And then 72-year-old Dick Hoyt, who has pushed his son Rick in his wheelchair across the finish line of the Boston Marathon 31 times. Mahegan dubbed him a "symbol of resilience if ever there was one."
Then came Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and a whole row of Boston police and law enforcement officials, who were rightfully cheered for the astonishing work they did to apprehend the two alleged perpetrators of the marathon bombing.
After that came the first pitches, and then Big Papi, a fan favorite in Boston for a decade now, took the field with a microphone in hand.
"This jersey that we wear today," said Ortiz, via MLB.com, "it doesn't say Red Sox. It says Boston."
Once again, the crowd approved of every word.
You can watch what Ortiz said next in the video below, but be warned that if strong language upsets you, I recommend skipping right to the censored text below.
NSFW language in video
"This is our f---ing city," said Big Papi, in a way that only Big Papi could, drawing cheers like only Big Papi could. He then added, "Nobody is going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong."
Ortiz chose that one word boldly. But in doing so, he demonstrated that, yeah, he has a pretty good grasp on the pulse of the city he's called home for many years. Surely something like 95 percent of adult Bostonians would have said the exact same thing in that precise moment.
It was oddly eloquent, and totally appropriate for the situation.
After Ortiz got everyone riled up, it was finally time to play ball.
It would have made for a decent story had the Red Sox piled on old AL East foe James Shields early and often, but it was quickly clear that wouldn't happen. Shields and Clay Buchholz found themselves locked in a pitcher's duel, and the momentum the Red Sox finally earned with a game-tying run in the sixth was quickly erased when the Royals scored in their half of the seventh.
That was when it started looking like the two late-inning musical performances would be what sent the fans home happy. The crowd joined Massachusetts state trooper Kathryn Downey in the singing of "God Bless America" in between frames in the seventh, and Neil Diamond himself appeared to lead the crowd in "Sweet Caroline" in between frames in the eighth.
But then came the bottom of the eighth and the homer that simply had to be. Following that was a high-wire act by Andrew Bailey that felt like a microcosm of the week itself: a bang off the bat of Lorenzo Cain, paranoia as Bailey battled to make things right and, finally, a sigh of relief when he got Alex Gordon to ground out to shortstop to end the threat.
It was the completion of a perfectly written script, the performance of which will not be forgotten by the people of Boston anytime soon.
It was a horrible week. But on Saturday afternoon at Fenway Park, good times never seemed so good.
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