Fenway Park had long since been vacated by 12:50 a.m., the people drastically outnumbered by the garbage bags that marked where a game had been played. But there were a few people left in the hidden recesses of Fenway Park to react when Rangers first baseman Hank Blalock struck out looking to conclude Texas’ 5-2 loss to the Angels.
And with that, it was official. A bit more than two hours after their fifth straight defeat, this one an 8-7 decision to the Blue Jays, the Red Sox were left to celebrate. Never mind the recent losing streak. With a 91-66 record, the Sox had clinched the American League Wild Card, marking the team’s sixth trip to the playoffs in the span of seven years, a remarkable run of success that only one other team (the Yankees) can claim in that timeframe.
And so, the Sox celebrated. Behind the closed doors of the clubhouse, the muffled sounds were of players hollering and, as manager Terry Francona had suggested just a couple days earlier, grown men behaving like little boys. Because the ballpark was empty save for team employees and the couple dozen remaining members of the media, there were no snapshots of a celebration: no Riverdance, no opportunity to spray the fans with champagne, no occasion to storm nearby watering holes and pour drinks for the celebrating fans.
The clubhouse was never opened to the media, instead a steady drip of six bubbly- and beer-soaked players (Mike Lowell, Dustin Pedroia, Jason Bay, Tim Wakefield, Takashi Saito and Junichi Tazawa) making their way into the concourse just outside of the clubhouse to offer their reactions to the accomplishment. The exchanges were a bit awkward, as the players left the thumping bass of the clubhouse for the silence of the empty ballpark, but the enthusiasm, sense of achievement and anticipation for another October run nevertheless came through.
Some of the postgame reactions:
‘It’s up there, man. We play from the first day of spring training, this is the goal. I know it wasn’t the ideal thing and you’d probably much rather do it on the field after a victory but you know, we battled hard all year to get to this point. I don’t care how it comes. We deserve to celebrate just like the other teams that have made the playoffs. We’re excited to be here. This is hopefully step one. I think we’ve got our team where we want it to be and we’re excited.’
‘It’s wet. No, guys I think just feel the ultimate satisfaction of starting out in spring training, you have this goal. The season always brings ups and downs but you fight through it collectively and you enjoy the good times. Like I say, we deserve to enjoy this time. Not every team gets to go to the playoffs and I know my first five years in the big leagues, I was home right after the last day of the season so any time I have to celebrate a great team accomplishment, I think we should.’
‘I think, you know, there’s a decent core of us that have now reached the postseason three years in a row. That consistency is something that we’re really proud of. I think there’s a lot of expectations playing in this market that you have to reach the postseason. To meet those expectations, I think you feel very satisfied but with that being said, I don’t think we want to be complacent just reaching the postseason. We want to go deep.’
(How many guys are in the clubhouse?) ‘I’m saying 90 percent. Some guys live kind of far away. They’ve got families. Everyone’s got their own situation. I’d say a big handful of us. Everyone was kind of asking around, what happens if we don’t win? Do we stick around. I think the overwhelming response was absolutely. We came into this together and we should celebrate together.’
Different feeling? ‘It’s a little different because we didn’t do it on the field but I don’t think that takes away the joy we have. It’s still a great accomplishment for us.’
What about the fans? ‘I think you can notice today, we were down 8-2 and they’re all on their feet looking for a rally. They get us going. They’re a big part of why we succeed here at Fenway and they’re a big part of why we have such great support across the country.’
What about Papelbon? ‘He’s probably in a thong right now with goggles and drinking Budweiser. Anheuser Busch.’
Any time you make the playoffs, it’s a great accomplishment. It’s a good season. Now we just have to go out there, play well and win a championship.
It doesn’t matter how you do it as long as you’re in.
I went home, put my son to sleep and came back. We all watched the game.
(What were you doing upon the Rangers’ final out?) We were all yelling at each other. That was pretty much it.
We like our chances. We have a great pitching staff. It’d be nice to have some momentum. We’ve lost a few games in a row. But when playoff time comes, a lot of guys have been through it. That’s a positive thing.
[Where’s the celebration?] Just in the clubhouse.
[Weird to clinch while not winning?] Got swept in New York, lost the first two games against Toronto, so we definitely wanted to get in. We’ve got some guys banged up, guys that can take a couple days off, get rested and ready to go. We’re excited.
[Would you like to be on a roll] We’d like to have played better.
The last few games haven’t been good. But we’ll be alright. I don’t think anybody is [excited] over the last couple losses, but we’re excited to be in the playoffs and make a run at everything.
‘It’s a little different waiting around for another game to end but at the same time, any time you get to the playoffs, ultimately that’s where you want to be. I don’t see how this would ever get old.’
‘I think it was maybe a little more subdued than walking off the field but at the same time, like you said earlier, when you’ve got Pap on your team, it definitely isn’t boring.’
“I left for a little bit, but I was following the GameCast on my phone and got back before the end of the game.”
[Is it weird to celebrate despite the team’s recent struggles?] “I don’t think so. I feel like three in a row in the New York series and now this, a couple tough games, but this was something we just wanted, I don’t want to say get over with, but it was something on the horizon that we wanted to put it behind us and look forward now that it’s locked up.”
“You play an entire season, spring training included, to get to this point. One night, you get to throw champagne around, and have a little bit of fun.
I think that everyone is entitled to that.”
[How many players are in there?] “I don’t have a head count, per se. I’d say ‘ we’ve got a lot of guys, probably about 85, 90 percent of the guys. I don’t know exactly how many. But I would say most of them, for sure.”
“I was on a team where this would have been a luxury, going to the playoffs.”
“You construct a team, you put it a certain way, a lot of things still have to go right. Four teams from each league get to go to the playoffs. That’s the big thing ‘ everyone’s pulling in the same direction.”
A lot of people expect good things, big things.
They deserve it.
It’s kind of like that reward at the end. You get to go to the playoffs. That’s what you wanted to do. Not ultimately: there’s still a lot more to do.
[When do you start thinking about the Angels?] Probably in the next couple days. I’ll admit that a couple people probably already have, especially since we played them a couple weeks ago. It’s pretty fresh in our minds.
There’s some history in this wild card and what have you, so it shouldn’t be a dull one. No question. But I think right now, enjoy it and we’ve got a week to get ready.
“It’s always good to get in the postseaon. I’ve been a part of a lot of these and I’m happy to be going again.”
[Weird the way it happened?]
No because we watched NY lose to Baltimore that one year  we won the East. That was I can’t remember ‘¦ two years ago? I’ve been here too long. My years are running together. We’d have like to have won tonight and celebrated on the field, but we’ll take it any way we can get it.
[ever get old?]
Never. Never. There’s so much work that goes on from the offseason into spring training with one goal in mind and that’s to get to the postseason and win the World Series. It doesn’t matter how you get in as long as you get in.
[what makes this team special?]
It’s a different group of guys than what we started the year with. That’s what makes this special. The organization did a great job of picking up guys like Victor and Wags and putting pieces together when we were struggling for a little while and we came through tonight to get in the postseason.
[what’s it say about guys sticking around?]
That says a lot about our team that we really care aobut where we’re going. Most of the team is here, 99 percent. It says a lot about the character of this team.