BOSTON -- In his dream and in the nightmares of every New Englander, Carlton Fisk comes home to clear the Green Monster with a game-winning home run off Roger Clemens.
But last night, New England embraced a reality as warm as any since Fisk hit his famous World Series homer 15 years ago.
The Boston Red Sox limited Fisk to a harmless single and a walk, and having avoided yet another humiliation by their nemesis, knocked off the White Sox 4-3 in a Fenway Park thriller.
The Red Sox's victory, combined with Toronto's 6-3 loss in Baltimore, clinched at least a tie for the American League East title. A Boston win or a Toronto loss the next two days gives Boston its third division title in five years.
Dwight Evans' single off Barry Jones (11-4) in the eighth won it.
"It feels like [winning the title], but the job's not over," Evans said. "We want to go out winning. We don't want to back into it."
The Red Sox looked as if they'd backed themselves into one of their usual corners. They cruised into the eighth with a 3-0 lead behind starter Dana Kiecker, but Ivan Calderon led off with a double to left. Manager Joe Morgan summoned Larry Andersen, who yielded a long double to Lance Johnson to make it 3-1.
The groans could be heard as far away as Portland, Maine, for in the on-deck circle stood Fisk -- a career .321 hitter with 27 homers, or one every three games, against the team that let him go in 1980.
New England knew what was coming.
"They wouldn't have had that fear if they'd allowed me to play here," said Fisk, who signed as a free agent with the White Sox before the 1981 season.
Fisk took a heart-stopping rip at Andersen's 1-2 slider, but the ball slipped untouched into Tony Pena's glove.
But, one out later, Dan Pasqua (an ex-Yankee, as Red Sox fans know) singled to make it 3-2, and then Robin Ventura doubled to tie the score.
And New England wondered: Could Fisk simply be waiting to hit the homer in the 10th?
He never had the chance. In the bottom of the inning, Jones gave up a single, an intentional walk and Evans' game-winning single to center. In the ninth, Jeff Reardon set down the Sox in order to leave Fisk in the hole.
This wasn't the ending of Fisk's dream, which brings home the fears of Red Sox fans in living Chicago black-and-silver.
"There's two out, there's two on, it's the top of the ninth," Fisk said before the game. "We're down a run, then it goes black. I don't know what happens. Then Roger is pitching, and I wish I could say I hit one off the wall or over the net, but it doesn't take me any further than that."
Red Sox fans can envision the rest: Pudge hits a ball halfway to Peabody, Toronto sweeps Baltimore and the heavy chains of failure remain unbroken.
"It hasn't been easy all year, so why should it be now?" Morgan said before the Orioles made a Toronto sweep an impossibility. "That's the way it is in the world."
Don't Red Sox fans know it? Most people smile when they spot a stray $20 bill on the sidewalk. Boston fans figure it's counterfeit.
They see a rainbow and assume a flood is coming.
It's not paranoia. Red Sox fans' fears are real (see Bill Buckner, Bucky Dent, et al.).