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2002: Diary of a Season

Tuesday, August 20, Fenway Park, Section 35

Rangers 3, Red Sox 2

The Red Sox were back from a road trip to Seattle and Minnesota, and I was back in my usual spot in the front row in center field. I knew that I'd hear the usual cheers for Johnny Damon, and I figured I'd also hear a lot of less-complimentary comments directed toward Carl Everett. It was Everett's first trip back to Fenway since wearing out his welcome and being run out of town during the offseason. He had been injured a lot in his first season with Texas, and was just now pulling his average up over the Mendoza line. But the Rangers had just acquired Todd Hollandsworth at the trading deadline, and he was playing center field with Carl in right.

A pre-game ceremony declared tonight "Disability Awareness Night", and there was also a moment of silence for former Red Sox GM Dick O'Connell, who had passed away two days earlier. When the lineups were read, Everett got his share of boos. Then the umpires were announced, and Ron Kulpa was at third. He was the umpire whom Everett had been suspended for "head-butting" (even though their noses barely touched) in an episode at Fenway in 2001, and he actually received cheers when his name was called. During the game, the crowd was tamer than I thought it would be, maybe because Everett wasn't doing well at all in Texas, or maybe it was worse in right field where he was playing.

Derek Lowe was pitching, and he only gave up three hits in the first seven innings. Meanwhile, the Red Sox scored single runs in the third and sixth. But after Lowe gave up an unearned run in the eighth, the bullpen took over, and the game rapidly disintegrated. Bobby Howry and Alan Embree got out of the eighth without allowing any more runs, but Ugueth Urbina allowed a solo homer to Ivan Rodriguez to lead off the ninth and tie the game. The Sox had only managed five hits so far that night. One was misplayed by Everett in right and allowed Jason Vartitek to reach second, but generally it had been a frustrating night for the offense. But Brian Daubach led off the bottom of the ninth with a walk, and Rickey Henderson came in to pinch run. (When Carl Everett played in Boston, he was famous for saying he didn't believe in things like dinosaurs and the moon landing, so when the 43-year-old veteran Henderson entered the game, I yelled out, "See Carl, dinosaurs really do exist!") Unfortunately, the opportunity was squandered, and the game went to the tenth. Willie Banks gave up a solo homer to Todd Hollandsworth, and the Rangers took the lead. Cliff Floyd and Shea Hillenbrand got on base in the bottom of the tenth, but they were stranded. Disability Awareness Night had turned into Inability Awareness Night, as we saw first-hand the inability of the bullpen to protect a lead for Lowe, and the inability of the offense to put together a rally against the Rangers' relievers.

Sunday, August 25, Fenway Park, Section 36

Angels 8, Red Sox 3

Varitek signs autographs before the gameI was back in the same seat I had had a couple of weeks earlier, among the season ticket holders in Section 36. A cloud hung over the whole afternoon, though, since the Players' Union had set August 30 as a strike date and it didn't look like an agreement would be reached. The Red Sox were now a few games behind both Anaheim and Seattle in the wild card race, and if a strike interrupted the season for a few weeks and then baseball resumed, it wouldn't be enough time to catch up. All summer long, I had refused to talk about, follow, or acknowledge the negotiations in any way. I just hoped that everyone would realize that a strike would only hurt both sides. A strike was just too horrible a thought to consider, so I had blocked it out as much as I could, but as the end of the month approached, I began to worry.

Derek Lowe was pitching, but I had just watched Tuesday as the bullpen had blown his lead. The Angels got a quick run in the first when David Eckstein doubled, went to third on a groundout, and scored on a sacrifice fly. Eckstein had been drafted by the Red Sox, but was taken off the 40-man roster when Ed Sprague was acquired (and Wilton Veras stayed) in 2000, and Eckstein was grabbed up by Anaheim. That roster move was already regarded as a poor one, but it would become very apparent today. The Red Sox got the run back in their half of the first. Nomar Garciaparra and Manny Ramirez singled, Cliff Floyd walked, and Shea Hillenbrand knocked in a run before a double play ended the inning. (Before the game, I had noticed that people were already wearing "Floyd" shirts, even though he had been acquired less than a month ago and he'd be a free agent after the season ended. Coming into the game, he was batting over .300 but had only 4 RBI, which had come on four solo home runs. So when he came up with two men on, a guy near me yelled, "Come on Cliff, drive in someone besides yourself! You know, carpool!") Lowe gave up another run in the second on back-to-back doubles, but the Red Sox tied it up in their half, on a Rey Sanchez double and a Johnny Damon single. In the fifth, the Angels again took a one-run lead (Eckstein reached on an infield hit, stole second and went on to score), but again the Sox tied it up in their half.

Lowe had thrown 109 pitches after eight innings, but he came out to start the ninth. I was glad, because I had already been to two games where he had left with the lead and the bullpen blew it. And if the season ended Friday, this would be his last start. But he gave up a couple of hits, and with runners on first and third and one out, Eckstein bunted. The result was a classic suicide squeeze, as pinch runner Chone Figgins scored the go-ahead run. Lowe was lifted for Alan Embree, who was probably the hottest arm in the bullpen at the time. But Embree gave up two more hits, scoring two more runs. Bobby Howry came in and allowed a triple to the not-exactly-speedy Brad Fullmer, scoring two more. And this time the Red Sox didn't tie the game back up, as the bottom of the order went quietly in the ninth. Most of the season ticket holders around me had the weekend plan, and as they left, they all bid each other good-bye for the winter in case the season did not continue.

Tuesday, August 27, Fenway Park, Section 32

Yankees 6, Red Sox 0

After Sunday's depressing game, Monday's was one of the season's most dramatic. Down by four runs going into the bottom of the ninth, the Red Sox tied it up, and then won it in the tenth on Johnny Damon's homer just past Pesky's Pole. Of course, I hadn't been at Fenway for that one, but I was there the next day as the Sox took on the Yankees. There was still no agreement in the labor negotiations, and the strike date was a couple of days away. If a solution wasn't reached soon, this would be my last game of the year at Fenway. Talking with the season ticket holders on Sunday, I had found out that I could get my money back for the unused September tickets I had, so the impact to me wasn't financial. But the emotional scars would be deep if baseball was taken away from me.

The threat of a strike and the fact that the Red Sox were seven games back in the division combined to make the atmosphere at the ballpark much less intense than a late-August matchup between these two teams normally would be. There were two games at Fenway this week, and then three in New York next week, so it was still possible to get back in the race, but it would have to start with a win tonight. Casey Fossum was matched up against David Wells, and Fossum started off on fire. He struck out the first five batters he faced, and after one trip through the lineup, he had seven strikeouts and no baserunners. Although Wells has traditionally struggled at Fenway Park in his career, the Sox hadn't managed to push any runs across. Casey had a little touble the second time through the Yankees order. He allowed four runs in the fifth inning, before being replaced by Frank Castillo. The only other bright spot after the third inning was when one of the Red Sox batters hit a foul sharply into the Yankees dugout and everyone cheered. I was still hopeful that they'd put together a four-run rally like they had the night before, but it didn't happen. Castillo and Alan Embree gave up two more runs in the ninth. This was not how I wanted my season to end.

Thursday, September 5, Fenway Park, Section 34

Blue Jays 5, Red Sox 4

Yawkey Way turnstilesThe good news was that baseball wasn't going away. A strike was averted on the last possible day, and summer was able to continue! This game was the beginning of a brief homestand, and it was also the beginning of the over-commercialization of Yawkey Way. The road outside Fenway was now part of the park. Turnstiles were placed across the street near Gate A and Gate D. Vendors who have sold peanuts and sausages outside Fenway for generations, the ones who had created the atmosphere that all the new "mallparks" like Camden Yards were trying to copy, were banished to other less-frequented parts of the neighborhood. To me, it's sad to put up a contrived, artificial representation of something when the real thing has been here all along. There were face-painters and balloon artists for the children, but frankly, kids can do that sort of thing at any fair, school event, or McDonald's birthday party. But this is the only place they can watch real live baseball players take batting practice, or explore Pesky's Pole, the red seat, or the Green Monster.

"Gimmick Lane at Yawkey Stadium" isn't really for me, but that's OK. It's still My Fenway on the inside. In fact, with all the people packed on Yawkey Way, the concourses were free and open, and there were no lines at the concession stands inside. I went to my seat and watched batting practice, like I always do. I've always maintained that renovation rather than replacement of Fenway was the way that would satisfy the most people. The casual fans could have their gimmicks, and we diehards could still watch a game played on the same field where Babe Ruth and Ted Williams once stood. And although the new owners wouldn't admit it publicly, the Yawkey Way transformation was a step in that direction. For that reason, I would try to tolerate it.

Center field camerasThis game was another one that I had traded in my stub from one of the rainouts to get. I was in Section 34, right near the center field cameras. John Burkett was pitching, and he had really been struggling lately. So when he loaded the bases in the first inning with a single and two walks, I heard one of the cameramen boo. Somehow, Burkett managed to get out of the inning unscathed, and Manny Ramirez hit a two-run double in the bottom of the inning to get the Sox on the board first. But it wasn't long before rookie Josh Phelps tied it up, with solo homers in the fourth and sixth. Dustin Hermanson, rusty from having been out most of the season with injuries, came in in the seventh and surrendered the go-ahead run. The Jays tacked on two more runs in the eighth. Down 5-2 entering the ninth, it still seemed possible that the Sox would stage a comeback against Kelvim Escobar, who had blown a couple of saves against the Red Sox earlier in the season. After two errors, a walk, and a wild pitch, Carlos Baerga's pinch-hit double made it 5-4. Rickey Henderson came in to pinch run for Baerga at second. Would I finally see a walk-off win? Not tonight. Johnny Damon hit a fly to center to end the game.

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