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2002: Diary of a Season
The Red Sox had the day after the home opener off, then met the Blue Jays again on Wednesday. I had tickets to this one, too, because it was the other game included in the Opening Day Value Pack. During my lunch break at work, I checked the Boston Globe's Red Sox articles online, as I often do. I was glad I did, because that's where I found out about Meet-and-Greet Night. The game was at 6:00, so the gates would be opening at 4:30. The paper said that Red Sox players and personnel would be greeting people as they entered the park through Gate A at 4:45. I've been to "Red Sox Caravan" stops before (I once waited outside Fenway in January for three hours just to see Jimy Williams, Joe Kerrigan, and John Valentin) so I half expected this night's event to feature only Frank Castillo and third base coach Mike Cubbage. But that didn't stop me from arranging to leave work early so that I could be there when the gates opened.
Everyone went in as soon as the gates opened, but there were no players yet. The whole crowd waited just inside Gate A. When the players did arrive, the whole team (except that night's starter Dustin Hermanson) was involved, and they were stationed at all the entrances to the park. The only problem was that everyone who had already come in was pushing back toward the gates to get a look, and the people trying to enter found it hard to get through. I found myself standing right next to the new Red Sox centerfielder, Johnny Damon. He was posing for pictures, signing autographs, and handing out schedules (or trying to, anyway; no one was very interested in the schedules.) I then spotted Pedro Martinez by one of the turnstiles. I squeezed up close enough to get a couple of great pictures, and enjoyed seeing the looks on people's faces when they entered the ballpark and saw Pedro. He was smiling and greeting people, "Welcome to Fenway Park. Enjoy the game." I somehow sensed, seeing Pedro smiling and enjoying himself, that there really was no injury problem as I had feared, and that his Opening Day outing was just a very rare off-day.
After taking a few pictures and seeing I wouldn't be able to get close enough for an autograph, I moved through the mob of fans to the next turnstile, where Nomar Garciaparra was stationed. I snapped a few more pictures, then found Manny Ramirez and Rich "El Guapo" Garces. There were so many people pushing every direction that it was hard to figure out where to go next. It was chaotic - but very orderly as far as chaos goes. No one was shoving, and everyone was happy just to get close, take a picture, and then let someone else cut in. And everyone, young and old, was smiling. Many of us have been fans our whole lives, and this was the first chance a lot of fans have had to interact with our favorite players. There was nothing to be gained financially by the Red Sox, which is probably why it had never been done before. But if the new owners were only trying to make a good impression, it was working.
As quickly as the players had appeared, they were soon whisked away by security. Although it had been sunny while we were waiting outside the gate, when we reached our seats it had started to rain. The tarp was on the field, and the scheduled 6:05 start was pushed back to 7:15. When the rain finally lightened enough for the game to get underway, Dustin Hermanson took the mound. The Red Sox had traded for him over the off-season, and were impressed with the fact that he was a durable pitcher who had never been on the D.L. He struck out the first two batters, then induced a grounder to short for an easy 1-2-3 inning.
A hit batsman and two walks loaded the bases for the Red Sox in the bottom of the inning, but they did not score. The rain was getting harder, but the teams wanted to get the game in. The Red Sox had the next day off, but the Blue Jays did not, so a rainout would have to be rescheduled later in the season. Hermanson took the mound for the top of the second in driving rain. While throwing his second pitch to Carlos Delgado, he appeared to slip and injure himself. The trainers came out to the mound, and Hermanson left the game quickly. Tim Wakefield was summoned from the bullpen. He struck out Delgado, then allowed a solo homer before retiring the side. It turned out to be a groin pull for Hermanson, who would pitch in only a handful of games for the rest of the season. So much for our durable #2 starter!
In the bottom of the second, the rain was really coming down hard, and a strong breeze was blowing straight in over the Green Monster. But Jason Varitek didn't let that stop him from launching one just barely over The Wall. He had homered in the opening game, too. We were happy to see he didn't seem too rusty after missing the last four months of the previous season, when he had broken his elbow diving after a foul ball. As soon as the inning was over, at 8:03, the grounds crew brought the tarp back onto the field, and we waited through another rain delay.
An announcement was posted on the Jumbo-Tron that the game would likely continue around 9:30, when the storm blew past. It was a cold night, and the rain and wind didn't help, but we didn't mind. We were still excited from the Meet-and-Greet, and we were planning on sneaking down to the empty box seats when the game continued. I wanted to check out the new "dugout seats," the front two rows next to the dugouts which had just been added this year. Around 9:00 the rain got lighter and lighter, and eventually let up altogether. That's when the umpires and managers conferred, and I got ready to move to a good seat and watch the rest of the game. Instead, I was surprised to find out they had called the game.
With only two innings gone by, the game would have to be replayed in its entirety, and none of the stats from tonight would count. It would be as if Varitek's homer had never happened, but unfortunately Hermanson's injury was real, and it would haunt him for the rest of the season. It was not raining at all as we walked back to the T station, and I didn't need my windshield wipers for the drive home, but apparently the field was too soaked for the game to continue. But even though there was no game, it was still a memorable and entertaining trip to Fenway Park.
Yankees 6, Red Sox 2
My next game was a Sunday afternoon game against the Yankees. The Red Sox had already beaten them Friday and Saturday. Friday, Darren Oliver was called out of the bullpen to start in place of the injured Dustin Hermanson, who had suffered a groin pull in the second game of the season. Oliver pitched a great game, and the Red Sox won 3-2. On Saturday, Pedro Martinez had a rough first inning, giving up four runs before settling down. But the Red Sox rallied, and Shea Hillenbrand hit a dramatic three-run homer in the eighth inning off Mariano Rivera for a 7-6 win. I showed up at Sunday's game still smiling from watching the day before.
This game was part of another "Value Pack", so I was in left field again. That meant I wasn't surrounded by as many Yankees fans as I would have been in the bleachers. But it didn't do much to enhance my enjoyment of the game. Tim Wakefield started for the Red Sox. He was taking John Burkett's place in the rotation, since Burkett had opened the season on the D.L. with shoulder stiffness. Wake pitched well, giving up only two runs in six innings, but Mike Mussina held the Red Sox hitless through the first five innings... again. I had been to the game against the Yankees last year in which Mussina took a perfect game into the ninth inning before Carl Everett's two-out, two-strike single broke it up. And now he was again perfect through five. I was starting to worry that I was a jinx. (Starting? OK, so I'd suspected it ever since my first trip to Fenway in 1987, even though productive 1999 and 2000 seasons had brought my lifetime record at games to over .500.) Still, I didn't think I could take sitting through another perfect game attempt.
Fortunately, Doug Mirabelli broke it up in the sixth inning with his first hit of the year. But then Willie Banks gave up three runs in the seventh, before the Sox finally got two on a Manny Ramirez homer in the bottom half of the inning. The Yankees tacked on another run, and wound up winning 6-2. I was not happy. This was my third trip of the year to Fenway, and even though the Red Sox were in first place, I hadn't seen a win in person yet. It was going to take a really fun, exciting game to lift my spirits.
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