On my third day in Boston, the Red Sox and the Yankees faced off in Game Three of the American League Championship Series. It was Pedro Martinez vs. Roger Clemens. Boston vs. New York. Good vs. Evil. Expensive ringers vs. More moderately-priced ringers. Ben & J. Lo vs. Rudy & That Irish Guy Who Sings The Extra Verse To "God Bless America".
Where we watched the game, a modest apartment in the middle of Boston's working-class "Southie" district, it was Joe vs. Brian. Joe, a young man with a shaved head prone to anxious chain-smoking, was a lifelong and thus long-suffering Sox fan. Brian, an Irish-American wiseacre with a fondness for whiskey, had grown up in Southie, but against all odds, remained a Yankee fan. That Brian was currently crashing on Joe's couch only heightened the drama of the afternoon's contest.
It didn't take me long to identify why Brian and Monica were friends. Like me, Brian is a slightly overweight, somewhat insecure Irish guy with an excellent-if-self-deprecating sense of humor. This is a prototype for male friends of Miss Fitzpadrick, also exemplified by professional funnyman Jimmy of New York City. In fact, when pint-sized Fitzpadrick friend Amanda first met me, she quickly dubbed me Monica's "West Coast Jimmy". Ludacris has hos in different area codes; Miss Fitzpadrick has comedic collegians in different geographic regions. I am the San Francisco/Berkeley version, Brian's the Boston model. It gives me great comfort to believe that somewhere in each of our nation's great metropolises, there's an Irish-American with a mild weight problem and a killer Christopher Walken imitation just waiting for Monica.
My comedic bonding/rivalry with Brian happened right away. After some half-hearted jibes about Derek Jeter's defense and Johnny Damon's hair went back and forth, I struck comedic gold with my supposition that, due to The Great Gatsby, there ain't no party like the West Egg party ('cause the West Egg party don't stop). A flurry of F. Scott Fitzgerald/hip-hop quips followed, including proposed ass-hugging flapper pants called "Daisy Buch's" and a heartfelt, sustained shout of "West Eggggg!"
Also, we are both unnaturally fond of former Yankees third baseman Mike Pagliarulo. It's fate, really.
The playoff game was incredibly hyped. Not only were these teams squaring off for the right to go to the World Series, but it was the last start for Clemens at Fenway Park, possibly his last start ever. His opponent, Martinez, had been the best pitcher in the league for the past five years. The game lived up to the hype, though not for the reasons everyone expected.
The first hint of madness came after Boston had taken a 2-0 first inning lead. Manny Ramirez attempted to steal second base in the first inning, and was thrown out by roughly 40 feet. Joe insisted it was important that the Red Sox remain "unpredictable". The Yankees slowly clawed their way back into the game, while Brian shook his head at Monica's gushing over Red Sox first baseman Kevin Millar. He's become famous for bringing the ridiculous "Cowboy Up" slogan to Boston, along with his memorable karaoke version of "Born in the USA". Monica likes him because he hugs the other players. A lot.
The real madness began in the fourth inning, after the Yankees had taken a 3-2 lead. Pedro Martinez hit Karim Garcia in the back with a fastball, nearly missing his head. Garcia screamed, as did many Yankees on the bench, including 72-year-old semi-human Don Zimmer. Garcia took immediate revenge with a hard slide into second on a double play. He and second baseman Todd Walker pushed each other, the benches emptied, Clemes charged onto the field, and Pedro seemed to indicate that he'd hit each and every one of the Yankee players in the head if he so chose. In Southie, we were stunned and wildly excited. The baseball playoffs had lurched into WWF territory.
In the next inning, it only got crazier. On a pitch that barely missed the inside corner, Manny Ramirez exploded in anger, walking toward the mound and screaming at Clemens. Embarrased by the totally unjustified outburst, the Red Sox begrudgingly left the dugout, as the Yankees came out to defend the pitcher. Pedro was the last man out. It appeared that there would be no actual violence, just yelling, as neither Ramirez nor Clemens appeared eager to trade blows. Then, the unthinkable happened.
Semi-human coach Don Zimmer and his eleven chins came around the edge of the infield and charged Pedro. He lunged forward, swinging with his left fist, before Pedro grabbed his head and threw him to the ground. The best pitcher in baseball had just beat up a 72 year-old man in the middle of the biggest playoff game of the year, and I was getting drunk in Southie, right in the middle of it.
Joe insisted that Pedro had no choice. "Is he supposed to let Zimmer just attack him?" he asked. Brian reminded us for the first of what would be 20+ times that Don Zimmer is "SEVENTY-TWO YEARS OLD." Joe wanted Manny to get back in the box and stop embarrassing himself. Brian wanted the umpires to kick everyone out: Pedro, Clemens, Zimmer, Manny, Garcia, and both managers. "Let's see (Jeff) Weaver and (Bronson) Arroyo battle it out", he said. It took fifteen minutes and three beers for each of us before the game started up again. Manny struck out on an outside pitch while bailing out of the batter's box, while Brian asked if anyone wanted some whiskey. We were in business.
Lost in all the furor about inside pitching and beanballs was this: it worked. After the incidents, both pitchers were practically unhittable. Clemens got five strikeouts and surrendered only one hit in his last three innings. Pedro threw four perfect innings (no baserunners) after drilling Garcia. Pitching inside is controversial because batters get angry, but it's also fairly effective.
The rest of the game was a blur of chicken wings, pizza, Bud Light, and Joe Torre's loss of faith in any of his relievers not named Rivera or Contreras. Brian explained the difference in socio-economic backgrounds between Joey McIntyre and the other New Kids on the Block, using a comical walk. By the time Karim Garcia and reliever Jeff Nelson beat up a Red Sox groundskeeper in the Yankee bullpen during the ninth inning, it was almost expected. The Red Sox lost by a run, and Joe was quietly devastated.
I asked Brian if Red Sox fans in the area would be crushed by today's loss. He said, "Are you kidding? This is Southie. These people have no hope remaining." Joe was sad about the loss, but he still had hope. Most importantly, he had a karaoke machine. I don't think any of you need me to tell you that the best way to remove the sting of a painful baseball loss is to duet with your roommate on "The Gambler" by Kenny Rogers. And then "Love Will Keep Us Together" by the Captain and Tenille. Joe didn't even let it get him down during his tour de force rendition of "That's Life", when Brian snuck in a lyric about the game: "I say that's life/ And as funny as it may seem/ Some people get their kicks/ Throwing at Karim".
After this, Monica and I had an engagement at a pinko bar in Cambridge, so we had to bid farewell to the boys. I snuck in a rendition of Extreme's "More Than Words", and we were gone. On the walk back ot the T station, a drunken Sox fan shouted something unintelligible to us. I cocked my ear back to try and catch what he said, but all I could hear was the sound of broken dreams and the echo of Don Zimmer's body crashing to the Fenway turf.
That, and the intro to "Mack the Knife", still emanating from Joe's apartment.