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Reliving Game 6 for the First Time

September 13, 2006

I was nine years old when the ball went through Bill Buckner’s legs in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. I watched the game, but I don’t remember it; despite my t-ball prowess (I led the league in building mounds in the outfield), I was not a sports fan at the time. But I do remember my brother’s response. He cried, slammed his bedroom door shut and punched some things in his room. He was 11. Even my parents, who weren’t baseball fans, were kind of somber after that game.

Now, after being a devout Red Sox fan for the last dozen years, I know what Red Sox pain is like: I remember the sweeps at the hands of the Indians in the playoffs, the disastrous series against the Yankees (when Mussina almost threw a perfect game) in August 2001, and of course the nightmare of Game 7 of the ALCS in 2003. But all that doesn’t compare to what it must have been like for fans on October 25, 1986, when the Red Sox went into the ninth up two runs, and had the Mets down to their last strike.

Game 6, a tiny little speck of a movie that came out last year, attempts to recapture the weight of that moment, the anticipation, the anxiety, the excitement and the angst that Red Sox fans felt. It does so in the most curious way: it tells the story of a playwright (Michael Keaton) whose breakthrough play is debuting that night on Broadway. Wait, what the hell? Aren’t Red Sox fans supposed to be plumbers and state cops? If that’s not enough, the guy’s a New Yorker.

The entire movie takes place during the day of October 25, opening with Keaton standing on the roofdeck of his apartment building, overlooking the East River (or is it the Hudson? What do I know, I’m from Natick.), studying the paper, contemplating the skyline and telling himself–convincing himself, it seems–“This could be it.”

The rest of the day is consumed with, well, I’m not really sure what. The plot, or what there is of a plot, seems to revolve around whether Keaton’s character will watch the game or attend his play, and what will happen when New York’s most feared theater critic reviews, and inevitably savages, it. Oh, I should also mention that Keaton’s character, Nicky, cheats on his wife unapologetically and is prone to self-aggrandizing soliloquies. There is simply no good reason why anyone should care about such a self-involved man and his minor conflicts, and yet, I did.

It has something to do with the episodic nature of the film. It reminded me a lot of After Hours, Martin Scorsese’s black comedy about one New Yorker’s inability to get home from work. That movie too had very little plot in the traditional sense, but it was filled with story, or perhaps better said, stories. In it, Griffin Dunne wandered from bizarre situation to bizarre situation, each circumstance promising a way out of his predicament, but each circumstance only making it harder for him to get home. Game 6’s vision isn’t nearly so dark, but it shares the same tone and existential concerns–not to mention the two actors who had the biggest speaking parts in After Hours, Dunne and Catherine O’Hara.

Like Dunne’s character in After Hours, Nicky has a hell of a time getting from home to the theater. (If that is indeed where he’s heading. He never says.) Traffic is terrible all over New York because of the game, as a grim Bukowski-esque voice tells us in radio updates every 15 minutes or so. And events beyond Nicky’s control seem to keep postponing his arrival: he spots his daughter in another taxi; he sees an old friend, played by Dunne; an asbestos-laden pipe explodes in the middle of the street. When he does arrive at destinations out of his own willpower, you’re never sure why. When he pops in for a quickie with his mistress and patron, she asks, “Was I expecting you?”

All these ominous events, coincidences and aimless visits could easily be insufferable, and at times I almost thought they were. But the lack of conventional narrative is also the movie’s greatest strength; it keeps you guessing, wondering what will happen next, so that non sequitir sights like two old black men asleep on a couch on the sidewalk seem to carry great meaning. Keaton’s natural charm, a spooky soundtrack from Yo La Tengo and lingering shots from the empty pregame Red Sox lockerroom in Shea Stadium help to keep things moving on a weird, suspenseful vibe. When the camera slowly tracks past the lockers adorned with jerseys saying “Boggs,” “Gedman,” “Clemens” and “Reed,” eventually passing a quoteboard scribbled with the words “This could be it!”, pregame anticipation turns to dread. It seems silly that I got so caught up (no doubt it has something to do with being a big Red Sox fan), but the scenes at Shea before the game are the essence of suspense: the audience knows something terrible is going to happen but the protagonist does not.

Except, like all good Red Sox fans, Nicky does know something terrible is going to happen. He’s convinced of it. In fact, the movie suggests he started following the Red Sox because they’re tragic. “I could have been happy. I could have been a Yankees fan,” he tells his father, and that’s not the why-me? lament of a Bostonian. This is a man who chooses to be mired in misery; as a playwright and womanizer, he probably finds it more interesting.

I imagine non-Red Sox fans must find this all a bunch of navel-gazing nonsense, but the way he sees the team’s frustrations as a metaphor for his life is a valid reflection of the psychology of many Red Sox fans. I know that when the Red Sox won in 2004, for some reason, I felt that my life would be different. Bill Simmons didn’t title his book on that season “Now I can die in peace” simply because he was waiting for the Sox to win so long. Their inevitable collapse every year was ingrained in his psyche, as it was in mine and most Sox fans I know. It served as an excuse for our failings, and justified our flights of fatalism.

Keaton captures all that as he mutters along during Game 6 about how the team’s going to lose, how it’s all going to fall apart, while a cabbie he’s invited to join him keeps repeating her mantra, “Life is good. Have faith.” The movie beautifully captures the emotional adventure of watching a significant baseball game, and Keaton nails the way you pace, get up, sit down, clench your fists, attempt to somehow impose your will on what’s happening on the TV screen. In fact, the movie was so good at depicting this drama that I found myself momentarily thinking that maybe the Sox could pull it off. Maybe Clemens wouldn’t get a blister, maybe Shiraldi wouldn’t fall apart, maybe Buckner would snag the grounder and tag first base. Indeed, the strange, end-of-days feeling of the rest of the movie made me suspect that the story would take a surprising left turn and imagine an alternate universe where the Red Sox did win.

But alas, they lose. Nicky, however, has convinced himself, after all the signs and wonders he’s seen that day, that they couldn’t lose, that they must have gotten out of the inning tied. In his mind, “This could be it.” was transformed to “This is it.” Only when two Mets fans beat the crap out of him does it begin to sink in that the Red Sox have lost.

As engaging as the Red Sox drama is, there is a lot of other weirdness that strives to be profound but is often just weird: Dunne’s character is a homeless playwright, the theater critic (Robert Downey Jr.) practices Buddhist rituals and carries a gun to all the plays he reviews, the lead actor in Nicky’s new play caught a brain-eating bug in Borneo.

The movie cuts back and forth between Nicky and the suspense surrounding his play: whether the star will remember his lines (brain-eating bugs have a tendency to corrode the memory) and whether Downey’s character will eviscerate the play. This all leads to a bizarre and deeply unsatisfying conclusion where Nicky attempts to take out his anger at the Red Sox, and life, on Downey’s character. He tracks him down in his anonymous apartment, where he shoots at him. The scene does allow Keaton to give us a taste of his patented “You want nuts! I’ll give you nuts!” craziness, but it has no place in this movie. Since no one who’s reading this has seen the movie, I won’t reveal the final scene, but suffice it to say it resolves nothing and pretty much allows the tightly controlled pace and tone of the rest of the movie to disintegrate.

But I guess I should have expected disaster after all that suspenseful buildup. This is the Red Sox we’re talking about after all.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. bro permalink
    September 14, 2006 9:15 pm

    i would like to point out that while i have certainly thrown many a hissy fit after a red sox loss, i dont recall being very emotional after game 6. i’m pretty sure i had a similar reaction to it as to game 7 2003- emotionally drained and consumed by overwhelming sadness.

  2. September 14, 2006 11:35 pm

    Never let truth get in the way of a good story.

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