RED SOX INSIDER

Tomase: To understand magic of Tuesday at Fenway, start with Dalbec (really!)

RED SOX INSIDER

After going 0 for 4 with a pair of strikeouts, Bobby Dalbec might seem like a weird place to start when telling the story of Tuesday's wild card game.

But there's really no better place to begin than with Boston's hulking first baseman, who was born in Seattle, played high school baseball in Colorado, and spent more than one afternoon watching, "Four Days in October," the ESPN documentary about Boston's run to the 2004 World Series title.

What the doc captured so masterfully was the hunger and crazed desperation Red Sox fans felt to rid themselves of 1918, and re-watching it puts you back in a space that seemed gone forever, Fenway Park shaking to its foundation, the fans as integral a part of the journey as the players.

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When the Red Sox drafted Dalbec in 2016, he hoped he'd one day experience a similarly electric atmosphere in Fenway Park. It was a physical impossibility when he debuted last year in an empty stadium. And even if 2021 brought its moments, especially in a couple of series against the Yankees, nothing approached 2004 levels of pandemonium.

And then he stepped into the box on Tuesday night vs. Yankees All-Star Gerrit Cole, and the word that thundered repeatedly from the stands was so loud, clear, and unmistakable, it broke his concentration.

BOBBY! BOBBY! BOBBY!

Was a Bruins legend by the name of Orr in the building? What's going on?

BOBBY! BOBBY! BOBBY!

No, that was for the No. 8 hitter in the lineup, with one out in the freaking second inning.

 

BOBBY! BOBBY! BOBBY!

This was the moment he had dreamed about. Red Sox-Yankees, Fenway Park, complete and utter bedlam.

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"It's crazy," Dalbec said. "I don't know what I did to deserve that. In my head I was like, 'Damn, this is cool.' That's literally what went through my head. Tonight was like nothing I've ever seen before. It started with the anthem and then right after the anthem it got super loud and it was like 'Whoa, this is cool.'"

Dalbec swung through a slider and fastball before striking out looking -- "I tried to tune it out, but it's hard not to want to get big," he said -- but the moment transcended the result of a particular at-bat.

At a time when baseball is supposedly receding from the local sporting consciousness, Fenway Park felt like something out of a time warp. The presence of the Yankees certainly helped rekindle those sparks, and chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom recognized the significance of the moment.

Relatively speaking, I'm a newcomer here, but I know what this means -- to this organization, to the game of baseball. We were writing a new chapter in this rivalry tonight.

Chaim Bloom

If past installments became defined by players named Vic Raschi, or Bucky Dent, or Pedro Martinez, or Dave Roberts, the story of this one was something different. It was about the fans, and the atmosphere, and the raucous flash mob that gave the park a feel that perhaps not even the World Series runs of 2013 and 2018 ever reached. The Red Sox had no choice but to deliver a 6-2 victory that felt like an adrenalized Mardi Gras from start to finish.

"It was the most fun atmosphere I've played in front of in my whole entire life," said catcher Kevin Plawecki. "Fans brought it from pitch one. First pitch of the game, everyone on their feet yelling is something I'll never forget. Obviously you've got the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, and even last weekend when they were here it was electric, but first pitch wasn't like that. That's when it really hit me that this was going to be different."

The Red Sox didn't follow an easy path to Tuesday night. Bloom sweated out the final week of the season with the rest of us, and there were times it looked dicey that the Red Sox would even make the playoffs, let alone host the wild card game.

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Bloom stood on the field as the hours turned to early Wednesday morning soaked in beer and champagne, wearing red workout shorts, blue shower shoes, a Red Sox t-shirt, and ski goggles. He kept returning to the same theme, that the Red Sox wouldn't have been celebrating on that field without the dedication of every corner of the organization.

"Don't get me wrong, there were some anxious moments at the end," Bloom said. "But when you follow the path that we did to get here, it means that every single person in this organization played a role in this. That's what makes this so special -- 200 people, and every single contribution mattered."

And that brings us back to Dalbec. He wouldn't even be here, except that scout Vaughn Williams proverbially pounded the table for him before the 2016 draft after Dalbec followed a breakout sophomore season at the University of Arizona with a disappointing junior one. His average dipped from .319 to .260, his homers halved from 15 to seven, and some thought he might make a better pitching prospect than hitting one.

 

Williams believed in Dalbec, however, and his advocacy ended up convincing the club to select him in the fourth round. Even though Dalbec may have taken an oh-fer on Tuesday, the Red Sox don't get here without his August, when he hit .339 with seven homers and 21 RBIs. Maybe Tuesday's game plays out differently if he's not playing first base to cleanly field Anthony Rizzo's leadoff smash up the line.

And maybe the insanity of the Fenway crowd wouldn't have hit with such force without 38,000 people screaming his name like they had just collectively discovered the lost Beatle. It made this October day one to remember, and now they've guaranteed themselves at least more in front of these fans this weekend vs. the Rays in the ALDS.

"Growing up, I've seen Four Days in October a few times," Dalbec said. "Ever since I was drafted by the Red Sox, I've tried to put myself in that position and see what's it like, and that's what it was like tonight. And we're not done yet. We're going to keep rolling. Keep it rolling, baby."