There were puddles on the plastic tarp covering the infield. A tour group occupied a few rows of seats in the back of the deserted grandstand. A handful of maintenance workers walked along the muddy clay track between the dugouts. Pitching coach John Farrell played catch with his son, long and lean. Daisuke Matsuzaka stood alone in center field, throwing long toss with Alex Martinez, the bullpen catcher, standing on the right-field foul line. The clubhouse had long since been cleared of reporters - Peter Gammons and a camera crew or two still prowled about - and most of the players who had come in and hit in the batting cages underneath the stands had scattered.
It was quiet on a damp Yawkey Way yesterday afternoon, on a day that was more late August sticky than mid-October crisp. Fenway Park had the feel of an old-time amusement park drawing to the end of another long summer, just before the cars on the Ferris wheel are taken down, the cotton candy stands are boarded up, and the roller coaster is shuttered.
But the ancient ballpark is not yet ready to call it quits for the season, and neither are its primary occupants. The funhouse will be packed to overflowing tonight, when the Red Sox, given a reprieve when Josh Beckett pitched a game for the ages Thursday night in Cleveland, attempt to stave off winter one more time against the Indians in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series. The Indians lead the best-of-seven affair, 3-2.
"We're still the underdogs; we've still got to win two," rookie second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. "We've got to find a way to win."
Curt Schilling, who has made a career of booking one rendezvous with destiny after another, will face Cleveland's Fausto Carmona, one aging pitcher looking to ignite old glory at least one more time, against a 23-year-old righthander who already has flashed the promise of great deeds to come.
The Sox are attempting to return to the World Series for the first time since 2004. The Indians have played in only three World Series since 1948, the last time they won it all. The Indians could have clinched the pennant Thursday in front of their own towel-waving fans in Jacobs Field, but were beaten down by Beckett, who was all steel and sinew in outdueling Cleveland ace C.C. Sabathia, limiting the Indians to a run on five hits and a walk while striking out 11 in eight innings of a 7-1 victory
"I knew he was going to will himself to do something pretty special," Schilling said in a conference call with the media, "and he did."
Gone are the days when Schilling, 40, could overpower an opponent the way Beckett did. Now it is all about preparation and precision, poise and persistence.
And fear. That has been a constant, Schilling said, whenever he has pitched.
"There's always fear," he said, echoing a theme he has touched upon at various times in his celebrated career. "I mean, I'm scared to death to go out and fail tomorrow. I'm terrified of letting my teammates down and the fan base down and this organization down because they're counting on me to survive, and to get past another day.
"I'm scared to death to not do well tomorrow. But I'm also very cognizant of the fact that fear is something that has always driven me and always pushed me."
If there is to be one game in which it's all in, Schilling said, he wants to be the pitcher his teammates would embrace as the man they want on the mound, so "that we have the best chance to win no matter who's pitching against him, other than Josh now."
"I know how good I can be," said Schilling, who, like Carmona, was something less than that in Game 2, when he lasted just 4 2/3 innings. "And if I can make myself the best I can possibly be tomorrow, then we have a real good chance to win."
It is not all about Schilling, of course. It can never be about just one man in baseball. The Sox have other players with a rich catalog of October memories, like David Ortiz and Manny Ramírez and Jason Varitek, and some new players already on their way to making their own October reputations, like Kevin Youkilis, who is batting .421 in the series with home runs in each of the last two games, and Pedroia, who had two hits in Game 5, including a gap double in the seventh that started the two-run rally that gave Beckett some elbow room.
It appeared that manager Terry Francona was prepared to allow another rookie, outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, a chance to leave some lasting footprints as well. Francona hedged when asked whether he planned any lineup changes tonight, but was open in discussing Coco Crisp's failures this postseason, which included going hitless in a dozen at-bats in Cleveland and failing to get down a critical bunt in Game 5. "He's really having a tough time, I agree," said Francona.
On the Cleveland side, much rides on Carmona, the 19-game winner who held the mighty Yankees to three hits and a run in nine innings in the Division Series, but came up short against the Sox in Game 2, walking five and giving up four hits and four runs before being lifted one hitter into the fifth. The Indians lead this series even though neither of their aces, Sabathia and Carmona, has recorded a win.
"I'm not going to be intimidated by anything," Carmona said about another trial by fire against Schilling.
The Indians could use a return to form not only by Carmona but by DH Travis Hafner, who hit a home run in the first inning of Game 1 against Beckett but has been stymied since, batting .158 (3 for 19) in the series. Hafner, the Indians' 3-hole hitter, did not get the ball out of the infield in 11 at-bats in Cleveland; in a span of seven at-bats in Games 4 and 5, he struck out six times and grounded into a double play.
History would seem to favor the Red Sox. Schilling is 3-0 in elimination games in his career, and on the five previous occasions the Sox have found themselves down, 3-2, in the postseason, they won Game 6 all five times. The last time, of course, is the stuff of legend, Schilling and the bloody sock in the Bronx in 2004.
Now, in what could be his last appearance in a Sox uniform, he has a chance to author an encore, unforgettable or anticlimactic or somewhere in between.
"We've been through a lot this year," Francona said. "We know who we are. There's a lot of trust in there, as there should be. If we go out and play as good as we can play, you certainly hope that leads to a win."
Gordon Edes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.