At 3 p.m. yesterday, wicked winds swept across the ancient Fenway lawn and the afternoon sky took on the menacing look of El Greco's ''View of Toledo." Some neighborhood trees were felled (one crashed on the home of Sox CEO Larry Lucchino) and the cherished championship banner in center was in danger of being torn to shreds.
It seemed like a bad omen, almost biblical.
After the storm, we saw a ballgame that had all the magic ingredients of 2004, fueling a desperate Nation with hope that the Red Sox can overtake the Yankees at Fenway this weekend and win the American League East.
Any surprise that AL MVP-designee David Ortiz did it again? When all seemed lost (the White Sox, Indians, and Yankees had all won), Big Papi delivered the latest in his sensational string of walkoff hits, plating Johnny Damon with a line single to left-center to beat the redoubtable Blue Jays in the ninth, 5-4. This game-winner came just one inning after Ortiz tied things, 4-4, with his 47th homer. He is channeling Yaz from 1967 and he gives Sox fans a reason to believe as they await the final series with the Yankees.
''It was a special effort," said manager Terry Francona. ''We all saw what David did, but to get to that point we had some guys do some extraordinary things. We were down most of the game, but we played with good confidence."
''It was a weird night," said Damon. ''We could have been written off. Now we've got to go out and win some ballgames. Preferably three."
Time to get out the Jack Daniels and summon the themes of 2004. Idiots Unite. Midnight Cowboy Up. With 159 down and three to play, those thundering Yankees are in town for the latest, greatest, famous final scene. The Yankees lead the Sox by one game and the Sox and Indians are tied in the wild-card race.
Ever the go-to guy in these situations, Kevin Millar, said, ''It's going to be three Super Bowl games, two heavyweight fighters. The energy of the city, the fans, and the media is going to be awesome."
There are still enough postseason permutations to make your hair hurt. Unfortunately, trying to figure out who will play who, and where, is tougher than diagramming a Faulkner sentence or getting an interesting quote from Bill Belichick. But the math involving the AL East crown is pretty simple. If the Yankees win two, they are division champs for the eighth consecutive season. If the Sox win two, there's a playoff game at Yankee Stadium Monday. If the Sox sweep, they win the East for the first time since 1995.
Yesterday was fretful for Sox fans. The White Sox won the Central early in the day, giving them no incentive for their final three against the Indians, a prospect that threatens the Red Sox. The Tribe blanked the Devil Rays to keep pace in the wild-card chase. And the Yankees won for the 15th time in 18 tries, beating the shameless Orioles one last time. Kenesaw Mountain Landis would have sanctioned those quitters from Baltimore.
Regarding the upcoming weekend, Sox general manager Theo Epstein said, ''Every time we talk about the historical significance of a series before we play, we get in trouble. I prefer to go game by game. Obviously, it's exceptionally rare for the regular season to go down to a head-to-head series . . . let alone the Red Sox and Yankees, let alone everything that's happened to these two clubs for the last three years."
Everything that's happened? That would include 68 games, split down the middle at 34-34. That would include the courtship of Alex Rodriguez and sniping between the front offices and ''down goes Zimmer" and Aaron Boone's walkoff and the Varitek leather sandwich eaten by A-Rod and ''Who's Your Daddy?" and the greatest comeback in the history of the sport.
With the Red Sox, it's always about history and this final weekend has ingredients borrowed from some of the most fabled moments in the 105-year life of the franchise.
It's like 1948 because that was the year the Sox and Indians met at Fenway in a one-game playoff. The Indians beat the Red Sox as Denny Galehouse (think Chad Harville) was routed by Lou Boudreau and friends. Now we could see the Tribe here Monday for a winner-take-wild-card game.
It's like 1949 because that was the year the Sox and Yankees fought to the finish and played in the final series of the regular season. David Halberstam immortalized the race in his seminal ''Summer of '49," and Ted Williams and Co. never again got a sniff of postseason baseball.
It's like 1967 because that was the year that four teams were still alive on the final Friday of the season. During the last week, the '67 Sox dropped a pair to a noncontender (Cleveland) at Fenway and appeared to fall out of contention before they rallied and swept the Twins on the final weekend. This week the Sox lost twice to the sub-.500 Blue Jays, falling out of first and making the job that much tougher against the Yankees.
It's like 1978 because it all came down to a one-game playoff between the Yankees and Red Sox on a Monday afternoon. The playoff game was played Oct. 2, which is scheduled to be the final game of this season when Curt Schilling takes the mound against the Yankees at Fenway.
Best of all, it's like 2004 when the Sox fell behind the Yankees, 3-0, in the ALCS. The Sox had to win four straight games and they pulled it off, making baseball history and forever changing the Boston-New York dynamic.
This time, they only have to win three straight to take the division. Two wins puts them in a playoff at New York Monday.
''You get down to these last three or four days, that's when it gets really tight," said Johnny Pesky, who turned 86 this week. ''This one reminds me of '49. We had a one-game lead and went to New York for those last two. Sunday was the killer. That [expletive] Jerry Coleman hit a ball off the end of his bat that just went over the glove of Bobby Doerr. We lost and went home. Sick puppies, we were. That was a sad train ride home. This game can kill you sometimes."
The game can kill you and it can also bring you back to life. Fenway was alive at 10:31 last night when Ortiz did it again and this weekend we await the next indelible memory -- the tragic or magic moment that folks will be talking about 50 years from now.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.