By Les Carpenter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 7, 2005
BOSTON, Oct. 6 -- They are almost too tranquil without their regular torment. A World Series banner hangs on the side of Fenway Park and for the first time in 86 years, a postseason can happen in these parts without the usual wails of anguish on city streets and terse conversations in the home side's clubhouse.
In the fifth inning on Wednesday night a Red Sox second baseman named Tony Graffanino let a slow ground ball roll under his legs, turning a likely double play into a second life for the Chicago White Sox. The extra at-bat turned out to be a game-winning home run by Chicago's Tadahito Iguchi. And yet a mob was not waiting, ready to lynch Graffanino when the team arrived home early Thursday morning. He turned on his phone, to not the spitfire of hate, but a cheerful message box filled with old friends and ex-teammates calling to say everything would be fine.
By the end of the team's optional workout Thursday afternoon, it seemed every member of the Red Sox had come by to shake his hand and slap him on the back.
"It's just been a lot of people calling to say they are praying for me, people calling to tell me to keep my chin up," Graffanino said. "I even had a nice comment from someone in the media saying they appreciated the way I stood up and answered all the questions. They are kind words at a time when you would like to hear them."
Words Bill Buckner is probably still waiting to hear.
What happened to the old Red Sox? Those Red Sox certain the sky was falling and demons were waiting on the doorstep? Apparently they disappeared with the curse. For the third year in a row, they are standing on the edge of the abyss, down 0-2 to Chicago and on the brink of elimination. Apparently, having been in exactly this same situation the previous two years only to survive has taken the edge off the most skittish franchise in the game.
Players said their flight home from Chicago was not gloomy. Instead it was an early welcome home. Graffanino talked about how thrilled he was when his two young sons ran up and hugged him as he left the clubhouse in Chicago Wednesday night. "They probably knew [about the error] but I was still their dad," he said. Others spent the flight talking to their wives or playing with their children.
"It was a lot worse when we came back from Oakland in '03 down 0-2," pitcher Bronson Arroyo said. "Back then it was like, 'Geez, we can't believe this is happening.' Now we have been through this so we just say 'We've got to buckle down and get to business.' "
There was an eerie calm around the Red Sox on Thursday, but it was hard to tell whether it was from a team too hung over from its 2004 run and subsequent 12-month party to muster much enthusiasm or if the players had become so complacent from recent comebacks down 0-2 and 0-3 that they just assume they will win their next three.
But after the previous fretful years, is there such a thing as being too calm?
"There can be," Arroyo said. "I think there's an overall calm here, these guys have been in these games before. Everyone knows it's crunch time. We'll come out with intensity I'm sure."
Then he laughed.
"If there's a ball in the gap, Manny Ramirez will run 110 percent after it," Arroyo said.
As opposed to?
"The 90 percent like he sometimes does," Arroyo replied.
So with the end perhaps only hours away and the clock about to start on a new era of Boston lament, the objects of New England's compulsion treated Thursday as if it was another off-day in the middle of May. Graffanino smiled at his fortune of not having been Bucknerized, while David Wells, the direct victim of Graffanino's muff sat in a corner of the clubhouse and asked that no one judge the second baseman too harshly.
"Blame me for giving up the home run," Wells said. "Errors are going to happen. You can't dwell on it. Leave the guy alone. Point the finger at me. Call me the dumb [expletive]."
On this day -- for maybe the first time in recent Boston history -- it seemed nobody would.