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The sun suddenly appeared as Dwight Evans walked to the plate in the bottom of the 10th inning. The afternoon had been muggy and dead earlier in the Boston Red Sox's game against the Baltimore Orioles last Saturday, but a hole now opened in the low, gray clouds, and Fenway Park looked the way it does in the picture postcards. Evans noticed.
"I don't know about omens, but I knew something had changed," the 38-year-old Red Sox designated hitter said later. "Everything was brighter. I remember thinking that I didn't want to step out of the batter's box very much. I was afraid the sun would disappear."
In the stormy Boston baseball year of 1989, in which the Red Sox finished a dull third, a tornado probably would have arrived at this moment, whipping dust into Evans's eyes as he looked at the pitching of the Orioles' speedball reliever Gregg Olson. A flock of vultures would have descended to peck on the back of Evans's blue plastic batting helmet. A shoestring would have become untied and he would have tripped as he swung at Olson's 2-2 pitch. But in this far different year, the conditions were perfect, and he connected with Olson's high fastball and followed teammate Randy Kutcher around the bases to a celebration at home plate that was as joyous as anything you would ever see in a light-beer commercial. The come-from-behind Red Sox had struck again, winning 4-3 with their most dramatic comeback in what would be a three-game sweep of the Orioles.
The sun was indeed shining on this curious baseball team. The first-place Toronto Blue Jays were only a half game ahead of the Sox in the American League East and were coming to town for a four-game series to begin on Monday. A pennant-race summer seemed to be a solid possibility.
"I was excited, but to tell the truth, I would have been just as excited if anyone else on our team had done what I did to win the game," said Evans, who also homered in the eighth inning to tie the game and homered again on Sunday in a 2-0 Sox win. "I really mean that. Winning is all that matters. We might not have the most talented team in baseball, but we have a lot of character. This was a show of character."
Huh? Character? The Red Sox?
For almost as long as baseball has been played inside the antique, green stadium off Kenmore Square, the knock against this team has been that it is loaded with talent and lacking in certain intestinal virtues. Character? The Red Sox's history has been filled with fat wallets and fatter heads. Twenty-five cabs for 25 ballplayers. The traditional Red Sox ball club has had a couple of marquee stars and a long list of inside-baseball weaknesses. The big stars were fussed over. Everyone else was around to run to the delicatessen for late-night tuna fish sandwiches.
The legacy of disappointment, passed on from generation to generation in New England, is so well publicized it has become a cliché. Through the eras of Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Rice, more was always expected of the Red Sox. Much more. The idea that the Sox could be a plucky bunch of rascals, outhustling and outscrapping opponents, has been as foreign as the idea that the British government could put a tax on tea.