BOSTON -- Every once in a while, an evening comes along in your lifetime where sports aren't just sports.
What we witnessed Wednesday night at Fenway Park, where a century-old ballpark throbbed with passion and joy, was one of those nights.
To call this a mere sporting event doesn't do it justice. To call this just a baseball game would not be adequate.
Even to describe this as the night the Red Sox won the World Series doesn't really capture it.
Not on an evening when 38,447 people charged through the gates of Fenway and became part of what was very likely the most momentous sporting event to take place in the city of Boston in their time on this earth.
Did they ever think they would live to see this? Did they ever think they would live to experience this?
Did they ever think there would come a night, one of these centuries, when they would sit in the shadow of the Green Monster and see what they saw on this night -- the Boston Red Sox winning a World Series, right there in Fenway Park, for the first time in 95 years?
The Red Sox of Ted Williams never had a night like this. The Red Sox of Carl Yastrzemski never had a night like this.
This moment never came for the Red Sox of Luis Tiant, Jim Rice and Carlton Fisk. This dream never came true for the Red Sox of Lefty Grove, Jimmie Foxx and Joe Cronin.
Obviously, there just wasn't enough facial hair on earth back then to make that possible.
But on the last Wednesday of October, in 2013, the right team materialized before the eyes of New England, at just the right time, just the right place, just the right moment. And finally, after all these decades, every little thing really was gonna be all right.
"I've never felt anything like that here, in this park," Dustin Pedroia said after the 6-1 thumping of the St. Louis Cardinals that set off a three-hour thunderclap at Fenway Park. "It's a special place. And we wanted to win so bad here. Obviously, you want to win, period. But to do it here was unbelievable."
So how can we possibly explain what happened here? How can we begin to describe to you why this was so much more than just the same old stuff you see every year: Team wins, fans happy?
Where do we start? With the smoke and the sadness of Patriots Day and the Boston Marathon?
With the collapse of 2011 and the disaster of 2012, which threatened to unravel a seemingly unbreakable bond between this team and the people who have spent their lives caring about the Red Sox way more than human beings should ever allow themselves to care about any little old sports franchise?
Or how about with 1918 -- and 95 frigging years of waiting?
Uh, 95 years is kind of a long time, you know. Over these past 95 years, an incredible 1,166 players got at least one plate appearance for the Red Sox -- and never did this. An astounding 701 pitchers walked to the mound wearing a Red Sox uniform -- and never did this.
Which serves as an excellent reminder that 1918 wasn't exactly last week, either.
There was no such thing as a Curse of the Bambino back in 1918, although there was a Bambino. And there was no such thing as the Dropkick Murphys, although there were definitely dropkicks.
Best we can tell, there also was no "Sweet Caroline," no "Dirty Water" and no such thing as 38,000 people singing Bob Marley at the top of their lungs.
Little did Babe Ruth, Harry Hooper, Stuffy McInnis and the rest of those 1918 Red Sox know that this was what they were setting the stage for. And little did generation after generation of New Englanders know that this was the team they were waiting for.
As it turned out, they spent those 95 years waiting not just for a great excuse to throw a party and a parade, but to wait for a team like this -- a team that wouldn't only end The Drought, but would be so willing to share the joy with the fans who make what they do a life-changing experience.
"I just think this city is passionate," said David Ross, a man who came to Boston to be the backup catcher and wound up catching the final pitch of this historic World Series. "It's such a passionate group of people, you don't want to let them down."
Like so many of the men who made this triumph possible, David Ross didn't know, when he signed with the Red Sox last winter, what he was getting himself into. He'd spent the past decade playing baseball in L.A. and Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Atlanta. But he honestly had no idea how different this team, this place, would be than anything he'd experienced before.
"I've been getting congratulations all over the city," Ross said. "Wherever I go, people recognize me. And that's not my life. I've never had that. I've been a backup catcher, who hides behind a mask and nobody knows who I am. But here, I've got people who barely even speak English saying, 'Congratulations,' on the street to me. It's just amazing."
And then, at age 36, on the greatest night of his baseball career, he would find himself squatting behind home plate at 11:20 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, waiting for the unhittable, untouchable Koji Uehara to throw that pitch.
All day long, Ross said, he'd been trying not to think about this moment, much as he wanted to.
"I did, but every time I did, I got emotional," he said. "So I stopped."
But then here he was, many hours later -- after John Lackey had given them 6 2/3 efficient innings, after Shane Victorino had rattled a bases-clearing double off the Monster, after Stephen Drew had finally awoken to pound a World Series home run into the Boston bullpen -- and Fenway was about to explode.
Uehara rubbed up a new baseball and took a stroll around the mound. Cell-phone flashes lit up the night. The decibel level felt like a sonic boom. And then here it came, one final splitter in Uehara's magical season.
Matt Carpenter swung and missed. Uehara pumped a fist and jumped into Ross' arms. Fireworks crackled overhead. And the Red Sox were the champions of baseball.
Yes, we know that had happened before. We got that memo. We know all about 2004. We know all about 2007. We're familiar with the changes in the universe those two World Series unleashed.
But this one was still different. This one, even a noted authority such as David Ortiz would acknowledge Wednesday night, was "special."
"I think it might be the most special out of all the World Series that I have been part of, to be honest with you," Ortiz said.
And he wasn't saying that merely because he'd just won a World Series MVP award, either. Or because he'd just finished rewriting the World Series record books by going a mind-boggling 11-for-16 and reaching base 19 times in 25 trips -- giving him the highest batting average (.688) and highest on-base percentage (.760) of any man who ever batted as many times in a Series as he did.
No, said Big Papi, what made this team extra special was its "heart." And its roster full of overachievers. And its closeness. And its manager, John Farrell.
And, of course, Boston.
Now you could argue that every year, there is a unique connection between Boston and its baseball team. And you wouldn't be wrong. But never more so than this year. Never more so than with this team.
From the moment all their worlds changed on Patriots Day, the bond between city and team took on a whole new shape, and a whole different meaning. And never has that bond felt tighter than it did on the night the Red Sox won the World Series.
"To hear that crowd all night tonight and how they were, it was just incredible," said infielder John McDonald, a member of this team for only two months but a New Englander and a Red Sox fan all his life. "I went out on the field before the game, before the [national] anthem, and you could feel the energy in the building. And it built the whole time.
"I think the expectation was, if you win the World Series and do it at Fenway Park, it's going to be the best night of baseball that anyone in New England has seen. And I don't think anyone left here disappointed."
So as McDonald hugged his family afterward and watched commissioner Bud Selig hand the World Series trophy to his baseball team, he found himself trying to explain to his 5-year-old daughter why she would remember this night for the rest of her life.
"I told her, 'Fathers and sons, generations of people, are going to remember where they were the last time the Red Sox won the World Series in Fenway Park,'" he said. "And they're going to remember the crowd. The people that were in the building tonight, they're going to remember so many things about it. I grew up in New England, a baseball fan. And nothing really compares ... because they care so much about being a part of what's going on. They all feel like they're a part of the Red Sox. It's really special."
And that was why this night was distinct from all those other nights that came before it -- because the people who sat in those seats, many of whom had paid thousands of dollars for the chance to sit there, weren't there merely to supply the noise and the cheers and the "Sweet Caroline" chorus.
They were a part of it. Literally. They felt it. They shared it. And they showered their love on a team that has spent the past seven months loving them back.
So as the night wore on, as the Red Sox built a three-run lead and then a four-run lead and then a six-run lead by the time this game was four innings old, the men in uniform couldn't help but stare into the eyes of the people around them.
They were blown away by what they saw.
"You've got to take it in," said Victorino, whose bases-loaded double in the third and bases-loaded single in the fourth allowed him to join Bobby Richardson (1960) and Billy Rogell (1934) as the only players in history to get two bases-loaded hits in a World Series game. "So as the outs got less and less ... you just live for that. I mean, whatever [emotion] you feel, just magnify that by 10. When you're standing in the middle of the field, magnify it by whatever number you feel to imagine how fun it is to be out there."
"Oh, yeah. I took it all in," Ross said with a laugh. "When Drew hit his home run, I was on deck. And I didn't even watch him. I just looked at the fans. And then [after the final pitch], I got out of the pile and just looked around, and people were jumping up and down. And I mean, wow. What better place to win the World Series in Boston."
He stroked his Santa Claus beard and chuckled: "I'm never gonna be able to shave my face again."
So will any of them? Will any of them ever be able to shave again? Will there ever be another razor allowed in Fenway Park after this night, this season, this celebration for the ages?
Who knows? Maybe they'll find a certain poetry in not shaving for the next 95 years.
But whatever it was that just happened at Fenway Park on Wednesday night -- whether it was the power of flowing beards, the power of crooning Bob Marley or simply the power of a team full of players who loved to play baseball just as much as they loved playing with each other -- this was more than merely a sports experience.
This was a life experience for millions of people. And that's not something you can say on the final night of every World Series.
This one was about a town and a team, about healing the wounded and ending the emptiness of 95 years. And, of course, about the century-old ballpark that never gets old.
"It's still the cathedral of baseball," Victorino said, as the Korbel Brut champagne dripped from his shirt. "It's a special place."