October 16, 2013

Steve Solloway: Red Sox atonement continues

Long memories hinder fans’ embrace.

Brett Shain no longer tastes the bitterness of a love affair gone bad. For nearly two years he all but ignored the Red Sox for what happened in September 2011, when the Great Collapse shook all fans.

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Boston Red Sox’s Koji Uehara (19) celebrates with Jonny Gomes and Mike Napoli, right, after the Red Sox defeated the Detroit Tigers 1-0 in Game 3 of the American League baseball championship series Tuesday in Detroit. They play Game 4 tonight.

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Shain has found himself paying attention to the American League playoffs. You can hear a bit of surprise when he says so.

“They did a number on my head two years ago. I really didn’t care how they did.”

He lives in my small city of Hallowell but you can find him in your town. He’s your uncle, he’s your co-worker. He’s everyman. He took what happened to the team and its out-the-door manager, Terry Francona, personally. Which defines most serious fans.

Shain wasn’t disappointed when the Red Sox of 2011 quit on Francona and themselves. He was angry. Who wasn’t? It’s one thing to turn your scorn on the owner, John Henry. It’s quite another to learn that players in the clubhouse undermined the manager who led them to two World Series titles. “I lost all respect for (Dustin) Pedroia,” said Shain a year ago and again Friday night during a chance meeting. “He was more than a player. He was supposed to be Francona’s friend.”

Yes, big-time sports is big business. Personal relationships take a back seat to personnel decisions. It’s the one concept fans struggle to understand, although the purge of Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford in the trade to the Dodgers last summer was recognized by some for what it was: The Red Sox were remaking their team. Three fewer malcontents to deal with. When were Pedroia and David Oritz and John Lackey leaving?

Early this summer our paths crossed and Shain said he would look at the American League standings. The Red Sox were winning but Shain wasn’t watching. He found other things to do on game nights. He’s 50-something, a former youth sports coach, and someone who peeled back the layers to appreciate the traditions and culture of baseball, and he was still tuning out his team.

Atonement is a big word. As September ended there were stories of Red Sox players using phrases that said the same thing. Those who wore the uniform in 2011 wanted to make amends, undo what really was a nightmare ending to that season. The 2011 Red Sox had again become the Red Flops, tumbling out of first and in the last game, out of the playoffs.

Hey, Red Sox fans are known for long memories. It took some 20 years before Bill Buckner felt he was welcome at Fenway Park following the 1986 World Series, when the grounder rolled through his legs at first base, giving the Mets new life and eventually, the World Series win.

Nomar Garciaparra, the popular star shortstop of his generation, left under a cloud of discontent in 2004, before the run to that World Series victory. He was deemed selfish and suddenly a poor fit for that clubhouse. He has since returned to loud ovations, including Sunday night when he threw out the first pitch.

That Francona found a new home in Cleveland and took the Indians to the American League wild-card playoffs helped September 2011 recede into fans’ memories. It has for Shain, at least. He watched Sunday’s Game 2 of the American League Championship Series with the Tigers. Faced with an early-morning wake-up for Monday’s work day, he turned the television off after the fifth inning.

He missed the Tigers’ premature celebrating when starting pitcher Max Scherzer left after seven innings with a 5-1 lead. Didn’t the Tigers know a game isn’t over until the fat lady sings? Or in Sunday’s case, until the fat man swings?

Ortiz reprised his heroics of 2004 with the grand slam that tied the game at 5-5. The Red Sox took advantage of the rattled Tigers to score the winning run in the bottom of the ninth while Shain slept.

“I found out the next morning. “I was shocked and thrilled. I tip my hat to Ortiz. I still can’t say I like him again.”

He likes the team, the sum of its parts. It’s time to cheer again.

Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or atssolloway@pressherald.comTwitter: SteveSolloway
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