Arigatō, Koji

There are some phrases that, when you hear them, immediately take you back to a moment in time.

Or rather, a season in time.

For Red Sox fans, 2013 had a trifecta: “Boston Strong,” “This is our fuckin’ city!,” and “Koji Time.” Each meant something different, but each meant a lot to a city struggling to heal after maybe its darkest time.

Boston Strong,” or “B Strong,” was the motto. It was the image painted onto the Green Monster and cut into the grass of the Fenway outfield during the postseason (it also now hangs in canvas form on the wall in my apartment) that reminded all of us that Boston could not be weakened by terrorism. We were each strong, and as a city united, we were strongest.

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Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

This is our fuckin’ city!” was David Ortiz’s wake-up call to a shell-shocked city. In the heat of the moment, before the team’s first home game after the bombing, David Ortiz, usually so impactful with his bat, made an impact with his words, instead. It was a statement so powerful that the FCC chose not to fine him, and President Obama called the entire thing “One of my most powerful memories and one of my proudest moments as president.” When Papi spoke these now-immortal words, he didn’t just become Boston’s hero; he empowered all of us to take back our home.

Finally, there was “Koji Time,” 2013’s equivalent of Closing Time. 2013 was his first season as Sox closer, and he recorded 26 saves with a 1.09 ERA. We never had to worry when he took the mound; Koji was the Coup De Grâce, the cherry on top of each win, the final nail in each opponent’s coffin that year. When he entered the game, the game was over. And almost always, the game was won.

I was living in Israel in 2013, so I watched the Sox postseason run during the witching hours; the games would start around 2 AM, and often end as morning came. And so the sun was rising in my bedroom on October 31, 2013, when Koji made the final out to bring Boston its first World Series victory at Fenway in 95 years. It will forever be one of the happiest moments of my entire life; profoundly healing after a year of personal and hometown tragedy. I know that so many Red Sox fans would say the same.

It’s funny how a few words strung together can take on such enormity and impact. But that’s what these phrases did, and they still hold so much meaning for all of us who watched Koji and Papi and the Red Sox do everything they could to help our city heal together.

So whenever I hear or think of the phrase “Koji Time,” I am and will be eternally grateful to this great man. By closing out baseball games for us, he brought us joy, healing, and closure.

Arigatō (thank you), Koji.

Photo: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

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