Said captain Jason Varitek, "This is kind of like not winning a championship in a while."
Varitek was sitting behind the wheel of his car, driving home, when the Red Sox clinched the first division championship of his 11-year career. Rest assured, he spun around and came back.
"We've had our fair share of these," said Varitek, "but this is the first one to win our division. I can honestly say it was something I wanted real bad."
And it almost didn't happen. Not on Friday night, anyway. The Red Sox settled in after beating the Twins, 5-2, and watched the Yankees-Orioles game on the clubhouse flat-screens. No plastic covered the lockers. Coco Crisp, Manny Delcarmen, Eric Gagne and many others manned the clubhouse couches.
Mike Timlin kept things loose, cracking punchlines as the mood tightened. Mariano Rivera, New York's indomitable closer, was somehow blowing a lead. Matsuzaka, who had just pitched eight brilliant innings, stood among the Japanese media contingent in the clubhouse, watching, rapt, like any fan would.
"Daisuke, want to sit down?" Timlin said.
In the stadium, anywhere between 2,000 and 5,000 people remained as the Yankees broadcast lit up the Fenway Jumbotron. They erupted when Baltimore outfielder Jay Payton hit a three-run triple off Rivera. They chanted for the Orioles. They cheered every time Kevin Millar, once a postseason hero for the Red Sox, took the batter's box, and sighed when he struck out on a fastball in the 10th.
One spectator, Dr. Charles Steinberg, the team's executive vice president of public affairs, sat in the field boxes, fiddling with his phone's text messaging features as the fans around him stood and cheered.
"I'm letting the Orioles folks know how wild it is here," said Steinberg, who, coincidentally, spent his first two decades in baseball with Baltimore.
As Steinberg talked, the Orioles mounted a 10th-inning rally. The Fenway fans rollicked and roared. Steinberg smiled.
"I was just thinking of a new scoreboard message to put up," he said. "It would've been, 'Only at Fenway would everybody stay to watch the Yankees play the Orioles.' It's all part of the experience. You can go out to any of the neighborhood taverns and watch it there, but the place they'd rather be is at Fenway Park."
In the front row of the stands, just behind the home dugout, stood fans Haley and Drake Hull, 9 and 11, respectively. Like his sister ("Go Orioles!"), Drake held a cardboard sign. It read, "I believe," with a special superscript: "1st Place!"
"He did it all by himself and didn't tell us," Drake's mother, Ellie, said. "We said, 'Bring it.' "
Inside the bowels of the stadium, the Red Sox themselves shifted strategy. They went from tentative finger-crossing to all-out preparation. Attendants began wrapping the lockers.
"We were sitting inside with our regular clothes on," outfielder Bobby Kielty said. "And after Payton hit the three-run double, we were like, 'Oh my God.' So we ended up changing clothes again."
The outfits of choice: bathing suits, gym shorts, goggles -- "I'm not good at swimming," David Ortiz said, so he found a nice use for his set -- athletic supporters (in the case of closer Jonathan Papelbon) and, last but not least, official AL East Champions T-shirts.
After Melvin Mora hit his game-winning bunt single for the Orioles -- viewed by fans on the Jumbotron, and by players on TV -- celebration ensued. It wasn't long before the Red Sox spilled onto the field, jumping and dancing and carrying champagne. Mike Lowell stood on the home dugout and sprayed the fans. Alex Cora crowd-surfed on the right-field line. One group of players ran all the way to the home bullpen, where they doused the attendant cop.
"We were in a drought, man," Papelbon said. "We're back."
Up next are the Angels and in the first round of the AL Division Series. But on this one raucous night of celebration, the Angels could wait.
"Hey!" shouted general manager Theo Epstein to manager Terry Francona. "We don't have to check the scores tomorrow!"