It happened once before, a long time ago.
In the summer of 1966, the Red Sox were a bad team. They finished in ninth place with 72 wins and 90 losses, 26 games behind Baltimore, who won the AL pennant and then swept the Dodgers in the Series.
The following year, as many will recall, was the so-called “Impossible Dream” season. With new manager Dick Williams barking orders and Carl Yastrzemski playing out of his mind, the Red Sox were 92-70, won the AL pennant, and took the Cards to seven games in the World Series.
The pennant race came down to the last day, Oct. 1. The Red Sox, Tigers, and Twins all had a shot at the title, but the Red Sox defeated the Twins at Fenway, 5-3 (Yaz went 4-4), and a couple of hours later the Tigers lost to the Angels, and victory was ours.
I, however, missed it. Missed the whole ’67 season, just about. Didn’t see a single game. I was preoccupied with other things, hard as that is to believe.
Less than a week after I graduated from Middlebury College in the spring of 1967, I was 2,000 miles away, spending my summer at scenic Fort Polk, Louisiana, at Basic Training in the Army, and after that, medics’ “school” in San Antonio at Fort Sam Houston.
Forty-six years later, the Red Sox again are in the midst of an Impossible Dream season (OK, if not “impossible,” how about “improbable,” or “wicked surprising” at least).
A season after finishing dead last in their Division, the AL East, with a miserable 69-93 record, here they are with the best record in all of baseball, headed for the play-offs.
And I’m missing this one too, 5,700 miles from Boston, here in Cameroon, Africa, where there is no Red Sox frenzy that I can detect. “Bazeball? Qu-est-ce que c’est?”
I must admit that I have felt liberated at times from my Red Sox obligations. At home in Vermont, I am required to watch the game itself every night, three or four hours, plus another hour of the post-game show if they win.
Then, the next morning I must stand in front of Sama’s in town, coffee in hand, talking to other fans about the Sox for another couple of hours, all this before sitting in my car for an hour reading the Boston Globe sports page.
Being a Red Sox fan can be nearly a full-time job.
Here in Yaounde, I go to bed before the games are played (five hour time-difference) and get up in the morning and check the score and read the recap on-line.
I can probably listen to the games on the computer if I stay up through the early morning hours and the Internet connection is strong enough, and perhaps it will come to that.
What a magical season it has been for the Red Sox and their fans.
Last winter, our hopes were so modest: just be respectable, don’t embarrass us.
Red Sox General Manager Ben Cherington said he had a plan: Hire John Farrell as manager to get the pitching squared away, and eschew the shiny high-priced free agents; instead pay top dollar in the short-term for “character” guys, players who play hard and are otherwise low maintenance.
How’s that worked out?
Well, Victorino, the Flyin’ Hawaiian, is the toast of Boston, playing with a verve not seen here since early Nomar; Napoli and Gomes may look like refugees from a bikers’ bar, but they pop the ball over the wall at the most opportune times; Mike Carp hits a grand slam to win a big game; Canadian Ryan Dempster pitches reliably and has a good sense of humor; Stephen Drew makes all the plays at short and wins games with timely hits.
But the best stories of all are the redemption of John Lackey — never a more reviled player than he two years ago — and the emergence of the unhittable 38-year-old slender Asian, Koji Uehara.
Koji resembles not in the least the Shrek-like “closer” stereotype — Goose Gossage, Lee Smith, Dick Radatz.
He comes in with the game on the line and throws nothing but strikes, (99 strikeouts, nine walks this season, through Sunday). Good hitters swing at and miss his 88 mph fastball in the strike zone. His best pitch is an old Satchel Paige “bat dodger.”
And he performs with the same animation and love of competition of the dear departed Bird, Mark Fidrych.
My old friend and travel companion, Jon, a Boston-boy, who had drifted away from the game but is back now, wrote to me in an e-mail this week: “Buchholz is untouchable. Lester shines. Ortiz is regal. I want him to be president.
“So many of the total unknowns to guys like me are stepping up. I thought the Sox had destroyed themselves after last season. Four or five grand slams have won games recently — all by different players.
“It’s beautiful. You walk through Walmart and everybody in the store is smiling and you know why. What a hold the Sox have on our psyche!”
Vraiment. Even in Cameroon.