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2001: Diary of a Season
Yankees 1, Red Sox 0
After Saturday's game, I went to visit a friend on Cape Cod, resisting the urge to jump off the Sagamore bridge on the way. I spent all afternoon Sunday on the beach, and made it back to Fenway for Sunday night's game just in time to see the sun set over the Green Monster. What better setting for a September matchup between these two ancient rivals?
About half an hour before the game even started, a guy a couple of rows behind us started throwing up all over himself, and he was so far gone he didn't even know he was doing it. I pitied the security officers who had to come and escort him out. The matchup for the night's game was David Cone (who had once pitched a perfect game for the Yankees, but had struggled badly the previous year before joining the Red Sox in the off-season) versus Mike Mussina (the long-time Orioles ace who was lured to New York the previous winter with a huge contract). As the game got underway, a group of Red Sox fans came and sat behind us. In front of us were a husband who was rooting for the Red Sox and his wife who cheered for the Yankees. There were Red Sox fans on our left, and Yankees fans on the right, one of whom was wrapped in a giant Yankees flag. In the first inning, Derek Jeter reached on a Mike Lansing error, but he was stranded. Trot Nixon struck out to start the home half. He was followed by Lansing (strikeout) and Izzy Alcantara (line out to shortstop). Tino Martinez singled to start the second, but after Jorge Posada struck out, Paul O'Neill grounded into a double play. We were sitting in right field, and one of the guys behind us spent the first few innings screaming at O'Neill, calling him a variety of names. His friends finally told him, "Hey, there are kids around. Calm down." So he switched to a different strategy: "Hey Paulie, you politically correct human being, you!" His friends needn't have worried, though, because it wasn't long before he lost his voice. In the Red Sox second, Manny Ramirez struck out looking, Dante Bichette struck out swinging, and Brian Daubach struck out looking.
Lansing made his second error of the game in the third, allowing Chuck Knoblauch to reach with two outs. Jeter was up next, and he grounded out to end the inning. Usually when he comes to bat at Fenway, chants of "Nomar's better!" ring out. But tonight Nomar was back on the D.L., and Lansing was at short. So I tried, "Lansing's better!" (which isn't too far from the truth, and got a laugh from the people around me). The Red Sox went in order in the third, with Shea Hillenbrand, Lou Merloni, and Joe Oliver all grounding out. Cone issued a walk in the fourth, but it didn't hurt. The Red Sox again went down in order. Both teams had 1-2-3 innings in the fifth.
Now I was starting to get nervous. It was clear both Cone and Mussina were pitching their best games of the season. In the cool autumn air, against the backdrop of the night sky, it was starting to feel like a September game should. This would be an instant classic, like the Pedro-Clemens matchup at Yankee Stadium in May of 2000. (Both pitchers had thrown complete games that night, and it was scoreless until Trot's two-run homer in the top of the ninth won in for the Sox.) Here, Knoblauch singled to start the sixth, but he was quickly erased when Jeter hit into a double play. Hillenbrand, Merloni, and Oliver went down in order again. (Shea's routine fly to center was the first Red Sox ball to leave the infield.) After six innings the game was scoreless, and the Red Sox hadn't had a single baserunner. The Yankees fans around us were getting really obnoxious now. One guy kept standing up and yelling, and a Red Sox fan retorted, "Hey, Danny Almonte, sit down!" - referring to the teenager from the Bronx who had lied about his age and then pitched his team to the Little League World Series. It had quickly turned into an expression of disdain for anything from New York.
Jorge Posada hit a double in the seventh, but he was stranded when Cone struck out pinch-hitter Nick Johnson to end the inning. After the seventh inning stretch, Trot grounded to first, Lansing lined out to second, and Alcantara struck out. ("Just think - Vomit Guy is missing the whole thing," I remarked, remembering the guy who didn't even make it to the first pitch before getting thrown out.) In the eighth, Alfonso Soriano singled and David Justice walked, but Trot Nixon made a nice catch of a Bernie Williams fly ball to end the threat. Then Manny popped to shortstop, Bichette hit a fly to center, and Daubach struck out looking for the third time in the game.
Now we were really worried. Even some of the Red Sox fans around us were saying things like, "I almost hope we don't get a hit, so we can say we saw a perfect game." But I can't do it. I just can't agree to that. Not against the Yankees. Isn't it enough for them to win the division again? Did they have to take every last shred of my dignity on the way? "I'd rather go my whole life without seeing one, than to see one like this," I said. Certainly if I was in a neutral ballpark watching two other teams, I'd love to see one. Or even if someone like Greg Maddux threw one against the Red Sox, I'd have to respect that. That's the baseball fan in me. But I'm not a baseball fan - I'm a Red Sox fan. I can't pretend to be impartial. Now I wanted a hit more than ever!
Cone had already thrown 110 pitches, but he came out to start the ninth. Mussina's performance was overshadowing his, but he had been excellent that night, too. Tino Martinez started the inning with a single. Posada flied to left. O'Neill hit a grounder to Merloni which should have been a double play, but Lou booted it, and both runners were safe. Enrique Wilson came up next and hit a double that scored Clay Bellinger, who had come in to run for Martinez. Cone's brilliant outing was about to be wasted by an unearned run. He left the field to a standing ovation, and Derek Lowe came in to record the final two outs of the New York ninth.
Everyone was standing for the bottom of the ninth. Troy O'Leary pinch-hit for Hillenbrand and chopped it to second, where Bellinger had to make a diving play to retire him and prevent a hit. Would that be the defensive play that saved the perfect game? (I sure hoped not.) Lou Merloni batted next, and I thought the perfect way for him to atone for his error in the top of the inning would be to get a hit. Instead, he struck out on four pitches. Now there were two outs, and Carl Everett came off the bench. He was 1-for-9 with 7 strikeouts in his career against Mussina. He took two quick strikes, then ball one, and Mussina was one pitch away from a perfect game. My whole baseball life flashed in front of my eyes. I was afraid to watch the next pitch - but I'm glad I did. He lined it into left-center for a hit! Fenway Park erupted! There had been so little for us to cheer about lately, and the night had been so tense and dramatic, that it was a very cathartic moment. Even the Sox fans behind me who had wanted to see a perfect game were cheering. We already had been standing for the whole inning, so I leaped up on my seat and jumped up and down. (So much for dignity!) I like to think of myself as above the whole "Yankees suck" thing, but sometimes you've gotta do what you've gotta do. I belted out our victory chant along with everyone else.
Then we realized that the game wasn't over, and we still needed a run to avoid a loss. Trot Nixon came up, and I thought what a great, magical moment it would be if he hit a homer. Somehow a victory like that would make the whole summer seem a little less lost. I knew, I just knew that he would do it.
Unfortunately Red Sox fans don't often have luck on their side. We got our hit, but a win was just too much to ask for. Nixon grounded to second base. The Sox had just been swept. They had lost eight in a row. For all intents and purposes, this weekend eliminated them from any chance of postseason play. But for some weird reason, that one hit left me smiling. (My brother's theory is that Red Sox fans always expect that the worst possible thing will happen, and then when the second-worst thing happens instead, we think it's something good.) On the T ride back home, a woman saw my Red Sox gear and the smile on my face and asked, "Did they win?" "No," I answered, "but it wasn't a perfect game."
Red Sox 10, Indians 7
After a disheartening weekend against the Yankees (in which the Sox starting pitchers had combined to allow just one earned run) pitching coach John Cumberland was fired. In most other cities, the news wouldn't have even have made the paper, but this is Boston, and it set off a huge series of events. Cumby could hardly be blamed for the Sox' demise. He had been the pitching coach for only 18 days, earning the promotion from bullpen coach when Joe Kerrigan had taken over as manager. During that time, the pitching had stayed the same as it had been all season - it was the hitting that had dropped off. There was no way anyone would believe that the move was made in order to strengthen the team. The Sox were out of contention, and the end of the season was only a few weeks away. All the move accomplished was to show GM Dan Duquette's total lack of loyalty toward the people on the field. The players were appalled. Nomar Garciaparra, who usually steers clear of controversy and rarely speaks out in complaint, was quoted, "That's why nobody wants to play here." Coming from Nomar, words like that carry more weight than they would from someone who's constantly griping.
Then after Pedro had pitched well in his two starts back from the D.L., he was evaluated by a different doctor, who found a rotator cuff tear, meaning that his injury was more serious than originally diagnosed. With this season all but over, Pedro talked about shutting down for the rest of the season. Duquette ignored the doctors and announced that Pedro was fine and that he owed it to the fans to continue to pitch. I can't speak for all fans, but at that point I'd have rather had him healthy for the next season than risk aggravating it more. I don't question Pedro's desire to play. After all, it was his ability to pitch in pain that had single-handedly won the Division Series against Cleveland in 1999 - the only postseason success they've had under Duquette's reign. The Duke was panicking, as everyone watching the Red Sox was, but he was taking it out on the wrong people.
It was under this cloud that the Red Sox began a series against the Indians. They dropped the first game 8-5, extending their losing streak to nine games. I arrived at the park early, in time to see NESN film Red Sox Digest on the right field roof near the retired numbers. In the picture above, Bob Rodgers is seated, and in blue on the right is Glenn Stout, co-author of Red Sox Century (see below) and a frequent guest on the show. I was again in Section 40, behind the Red Sox bullpen. There was a kid above me, in Section 37 or so, who was hanging over the high wall in center field to watch batting practice. He kept yelling things like, "Hey Indians, I hope you win tonight! I don't even like Cleveland, but I like the Yankees and I want the Red Sox to lose!" Then in the next breath, he'd be asking for a baseball. The Cleveland players were giving them to everyone there but him. Finally a batting-practice hit went into the triangle, the deepest part of Fenway right near the bullpen. The player nearest where it landed picked it up, and the obnoxious kid in center field yelled, "Over here, over here!" The player ignored him and looked around for someone else to give it to. That's when I realized I was sitting right nearby, and there were no kids around me. I said half-laughing, "Over here?" I didn't expect him to toss it to me, but he did! The player was wearing a jacket, so I couldn't tell who he was, but given that it was September and he was shagging flies in the outfield, it was probably a newly-called-up reliever. (And I can assure you that this ball went to a good home. It sits on my desk near my computer, where I can see it every day.)
The Red Sox finally broke out of their slump that night. Jose Offerman started the first inning with a hit, and Alcantara, Ramirez, and Everett knocked in runs as the Sox batted around. Offerman started the second inning with another hit, and another run scored. He came up again in the third, and hit his third single of the game. The Sox added three more runs on Nixon's triple and Everett's single. Offerman was at the plate in the fourth when Lansing was caught stealing to end the inning, so he started off the fifth, too. (This time he grounded out.) It's not often I get to use almost every square on the scorecard! The Indians scored six runs off starter Casey Fossum, but the Sox held on to win 10-7. They had finally snapped their losing streak, but with all the bad vibes surrounding the team lately eveyone seemed depressed. We were cheering, but it was hard to recapture the enthusiasm we had felt earlier in the season.
All season long, people had been bringing signs to the games. The NESN and FOX25 crews showed them on TV all the time. It quickly became apparent that all a person had to do to get on TV was bring a sign with "Jerry Remy" written on it somewhere. The broadcaster became so popular that in Montreal, Red Sox fans actually mobbed his cab on the way home from a game. Signs are not technically allowed in Fenway, but as long as they weren't blocking anyone's view, security always let them stay. They even permitted Yankees fans to hold one up that read "Every Sox Phan's Nightmare" during ESPN's game the previous weekend. In the sixth inning of this game, someone in right field, about Section 6 or so, had a sign on a sheet that said "BYE BYE DR. DAN," referring to the "medical advice" he had given Pedro earlier in the week. When the right field fans started to cheer, it caught the attention of everyone else, and the whole park was cheering. I don't think anything else in the game, except maybe the first couple of runs and the final out, got that much enthusiasm all night. When a security guard came over to take it down, the guy tossed it to someone else who then displayed it. Every time security got close, whoever had it would toss it to someone else a couple of seats away. The sign eventually made it as far as first base before it was confiscated. Every time someone held it up, the whole crowd cheered. The Sox were batting at the time, and Daubach walked and Hillenbrand got a hit, but they received only a smattering of applause, because everyone else was watching the Dr. Dan sign. It was really weird - almost creepy - but offending Nomar and Pedro in the same week is not the way to win friends in Red Sox Nation.
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