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I didn't feel
much pressure the night before the game, when the manager told me that even if
Guidry went only a third of an inning I'd be the next guy out there. But I felt
the pressure when I actually came into the game. More pressure than I've ever
felt. Even in my personal life.
In the kitchen in upper Manhattan, Luis Tiant appeared to be in charge of the Red Sox' 162nd game of the year. Boston had widened a small lead over Toronto to five runs, and Tiant's impeccable control compelled even the restless woman roaming through the apartment to stop at the kitchen door and admire his performance, as one would admire an exquisitely bound volume of dense theological writing in another language.
The woman was restless because her quiet Sunday afternoon was being assaulted by the babble of baseball and by what she perceived as yet another increase in my furious tension. She had retreated to the living room to sit sullenly among the Sunday editions of Newsday, The Washington Post and two interim New York papers born of a strike that was now in its eighth week. She had been told that this was positively it; that there was no chance that the Red Sox would advance past this Sunday afternoon; that the baseball season would be over by sundown. She had been told that there would never be a repetition of my impulsive flight to Los Angeles after the Yankees' four-game Fenway Park sweep three weeks before. I had simply up and left the house during the seventh inning of the last humiliating defeat. I had taken nothing with me but a Visa card and $50. I had called home from Ontario, Calif., having pulled my Avis Dodge off the road leading to the desert, though I realized it was well after midnight in New York. "I am filled with regret," I said from a phone booth without a door. "Over what?" I was asked.
Her question meant this: Was I filled with regret because the Red Sox had lost four consecutive games, or was I filled with regret because I had up and left without explanation and had not bothered to call until the middle of the night—and if you want this relationship to work you're going to have to work at it?
I replied above the roar of traffic from the San Bernardino Freeway that I was regretful about leaving, and about my insensitivity and my inability to put baseball in perspective. "A trip of this kind," I said severely, "will never happen again."
The truth: I was regretful because the Red Sox had lost four consecutive games, had blown an enormous lead and had handed the championship of the Eastern Division of the American League to the Yankees.
Three weeks later, the phone rang for an hour after the Sunday games were over. Congratulations! From California—Palm Springs, Brentwood, San Francisco. From Stamford, Conn. and Bridgehampton, N.Y. From 73rd Street and 10th Street in Manhattan. Congratulations!
Returning from oblivion, the Red Sox had tied for first place on the last day of the season, forcing a playoff game in Boston the next afternoon. Somehow this development had moved people to seek me out with warm feelings, as if my control had been as superb as Tiant's and had contributed to the unexpected Red Sox comeback. My control, of course, had vanished after Labor Day, leaving me infuriated and melancholy. And yet I accepted congratulations that Sunday afternoon as if my behavior during September had been exemplary. In fact, I had wept and raged. I had participated in two fistfights, had terminated a close friendship and had gone out in search of a neighborhood 15-year-old who had written RED SOX STINK in orange crayon on the back window of my car. I had set out after him with vicious intent, only to return home in a minute or so, mortified. The psychiatrist, whom I immediately sought out, said to me, "This is not what a 40-year-old should be doing with his time. Comprenez-vous?"
On the triumphant Sunday evening, I drank Scotch and talked long distance. I was asked, "Are you thrilled?" I was thrilled. "Can they do it?" I doubted they could. "Are you going to the game?" Well, maybe.