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2002: Diary of a Season

Tuesday, August 6, Fenway Park, Section 34

A's 9, Red Sox 1

Tonight's game wasn't one I had planned to go to at the beginning of the season, but I had tickets from two games which had been rained out. I traded them in in early May, but it wasn't easy finding games that I didn't already have which weren't sold out. This was one of them, and my seat was in Section 34, the little section right next to the center field cameras.

The last time the Red Sox had played Oakland, the A's were in a tailspin and the Sox were at their peak. But that was three months ago, and the fortunes of both teams had shifted since then. The Red Sox got one run in the first, when Trot Nixon and Nomar Garciaparra singled and Manny Ramirez doubled. Cliff Floyd was up next, and he got a standing ovation. It was his first Fenway at-bat after the Red Sox had traded for him the previous week, and he had had an impressive series in Texas. He ended up striking out, but he remained popular for the rest of the season.

The first inning was unfortunately the highlight of the game. Oakland catcher Ramon Hernandez hit a three-run homer off Tim Wakefield in the fifth inning, and Olmedo Saenz had a two-run shot in the sixth. When Chris Haney started off the seventh by loading the bases on a hit and two walks, Frank Castillo was summoned from the bullpen. He induced a popup and a run-scoring groundout, and then intentionally walked Eric Chavez. But then he walked Jermaine Dye, scoring one run, and plunked Saenz, which plated another. At this point pitching coach Tony Cloninger went out to the mound to talk to Castillo, and a frustrated fan near me yelled, in a reference to Cloninger's involvement in the brawl a week earlier, "Put him in a headlock!"

No such luck. There was no headlock for Castillo, and no win for the Sox.

Saturday, August 10, Fenway Park, Section 26

Red Sox 2, Twins 0

Another strikeout victim

As my next Sunday game approached, I got more and more discouraged. The Red Sox had gone from having the best record in all of baseball to fighting to stay in the wild card race, and this week had been particularly painful. After the pitiful 9-1 loss I had been to on Tuesday, Wednesday's game was even more brutal. The Red Sox had trailed the whole game, and were down 3-2 in the bottom of the ninth with a couple of runners on base and Manny Ramirez at the plate. He hit one home run distance into the bullpen... almost! Oakland center fielder Terrence Long had reached over the fence and robbed Manny of the game-winning home run. To make matters worse, I hadn't been to a lot of wins lately. I love going to Fenway, and it's not that I wasn't having fun at the games, but it gets hard to take after awhile. It seemed like every time I went to a game, the pitcher was whoever was doing worst at the time. I had personally witnessed Darren Oliver, Rolando Arrojo, and Frank Castillo all pitch their way out of the rotation. Meanwhile Pedro Martinez was compiling his usual Cy Young numbers (he currently had a 23-inning scoreless streak going) but it was August, and I hadn't seen him pitch since Opening Day. He was scheduled to go against the Twins on Saturday. It was the third time he had pitched at home on a Saturday, and the third time I had a ticket for Sunday instead.

So at work on Friday, I decided I should at least try for Saturday's game. Maybe it wasn't completely sold out yet. I called the ticket office, and asked if there was anything available for Saturday's game. I was told yes, there were still a couple of tickets left, and I ordered one in the bleachers. The woman in the ticket office took my credit card number, and gave me a confirmation number. I was ecstatic! I was going to get to see The Best Pitcher on the Planet! My whole summer was saved! As I was ready to hang up, she said, "So, that confirms one ticket for August 11th--" "What?!" I interrupted. "11th? I wanted the 10th, Saturday!" "Oh, I'm so sorry," she said. "Let me check... No, Saturday's all sold out." Here I was with a confirmation number and everything, and now it was as if Terrence Long had come along and snatched the ticket right out of my hand! I was miserable, but now I was more determined than ever to go see Pedro.

Pedro on the moundI was told standing-room-only tickets would go on sale Saturday morning at 9 am, but I figured if I wanted to do that I would need to be there by 8. I live well outside Boston, which would mean I'd have to leave shortly after 6, and then even if I was able to get a ticket, I'd have to wait four hours for the game to start. I don't believe in paying scalpers - why should they benefit monetarily by exploiting my devotion to the Sox, especially since if they hadn't bought so many tickets it might not have been sold out in the first place? So I decided I'd go in early and try the ticket office again, but just not 6 am early.

I got to Fenway about 10:45, and went into the ticket office. I was told they were sold out - even the standing-room-only tickets. The guy at the window said there were about 300 people in line when they opened at 9 am. Duh! I should know as well as anyone to never underestimate the power of the diehard! But he said I could "try back later, maybe something will open up." I wasn't really sure what "later" meant, but I went to the back of the foyer and waited. I watched as people came in alone or in groups, inquired at the window, and were turned away. About fifteen minutes later, a woman came in, said it was her daughter's birthday and she really wanted tickets, and next thing I knew she was handing over her credit card! Did I hear that wrong? Maybe she was talking about a different day, but I had to be sure. I jumped back in line and went to a different window and asked again. "Oh sure," I was told. "They just brought this one down." Apparently as tickets "open up", either turned in by season ticket holders who aren't using them or by players or by the visiting team, someone from the ticket office brings them down to the windows. The one he had was in the first row of the infield grandstand on the third base side. It was $44, but I figured you can't put a price on happiness. (I could hear the commercial now: "Parking, $2.25; tolls on the Mass. Pike, $1.80; subway tokens, $3.50; ticket, $44; hot dog, $3.25. Seeing Pedro Martinez pitch in front of the home town crowd, priceless!")

A beautiful day at the park The seat was excellent, and the day was warm and sunny. Pedro held up his end of the bargain, limiting the Twins to only four hits over eight innings. He extended his scoreless streak to 31 straight innings, eclipsing the 28-inning streak Derek Lowe had had earlier in the season as the longest in the majors all year. He lowered his ERA to within a few points of Lowe's, which was the best in the league. And although he didn't strike out as many batters as he used to before his arm injury last year (only 8 in this game) it was still every bit as exciting the way he kept hitters off-balance. There had been so much concern about his pitch count that it seemed as if he was out to prove he didn't need strikeouts. He had three innings when he only needed nine pitches. Only four batters reached base. There were only two fly ball outs; the rest were either groundouts or strikeouts. Better still, the Red Sox scored their two runs in the second inning, so we could sit back and enjoy watching Pedro without having to stress over the score.

Nomar at the plateAll season long, every time I had seen Lowe pitch another beauty, I'd always say, "That's it, give him the Cy Young right now!" Then a couple of days later, Pedro would pitch, and I'd say, "He's the best. The Cy is his!" All season I had gone back and forth, until Saturday, August 10. Lowe was a great pitcher having a tremendous season, but when Pedro's on, he's just unbeatable. He ended the season leading the league in ERA, strikeouts, winning percentage, and a host of other stats. To give the Cy Young Award to anyone else would be nothing short of blasphemy!

Sunday, August 11, Fenway Park, Section 36

Red Sox 3, Twins 1

When I arrived at the park for Sunday's game, I was still in good spirits because of Saturday's game. That one Pedro game had done wonders for my sanity. Saturday's 84-degree temperature was comfortable and pleasant, because my seat in the grandstand was shaded. Sunday, the temperature was announced as 83, but it felt much, much hotter in the bleachers. The plastic seats bake in the sun all day, and sitting down is like getting in a hot car and accidentally touching the metal of the seatbelt - except the whole seat bottom feels burning hot. I had ordered my tickets the first day they went on sale, so I was in the third row in center field, sitting among a bunch of season ticket holders. That's always fun, because they know what's going on. I always hate sitting near people who have no idea what's going on, like the girl near me at the no-hitter who said, "What do you mean, a no-hitter? They've hit the ball," or guys who yell "Who??" really loud when a player they've never heard of who's been with the team for a month is announced. I don't have to worry about that in the front few rows of Section 36.

It was a well-pitched game on both sides. Through the first five innings, Tim Wakefield had only allowed one hit, an infield single to Dustan Mohr in the second. Lou Merloni's double and Rickey Henderson's walk accounted for the only Red Sox baserunners against Johan Santana. In the bottom of the fifth, a kid near me offered the Twizzlers he had brought to everyone around. I politely declined, since I'm not a big fan of licorice anyway, and these had been sitting in the sun for several hours. People who knew him asked if these were his famous "rally Twizzlers," and he lifted one over his head and waved it in a circle. I hate the "rally monkey" phenomenon in Anaheim, because a monkey has nothing to do with baseball, and it's as if they wouldn't know when they were supposed to cheer if they weren't told to. But I'm OK with Rally Twizzlers, because today they worked. The very next inning, the Sox finally scored two runs on a couple of walks, a single, a double, and a sac fly.

It was getting uncomfortably hot, and although I enjoy warm weather and never leave my seat during a game, I was actually contemplating bailing from the bleachers and moving to the standing-room area, which was shaded. But when the two runs scored, I didn't want to leave my suddenly "lucky" seat. On the other hand, the heat was beginning to hamper my enjoyment of an otherwise fun game. So I decided I'd break my never-get-up rule, and head downstairs to refill my empty water bottle at the drinking fountain. (In my heat-induced hallucinatory state, I would have even shelled out $4.25 for a bottled water, but the only vendors around were selling hot dogs and cotton candy.) There was a long line at the water fountain, and when I got back, I found out that not only had the inning started, but the Twins had scored a run, making the score 2-1. "That's why I never get up," I said.

The water made me feel better, and so did the kids in the row in front of me. They had a spray bottle in the shape of a baseball with a battery-powered fan on top. Every time the girl in front of me sprayed herself, she got me too. I thought, if I ever become a season ticket holder, I'm definitely investing in one of those. When the bottom of the eighth rolled around and it was still 2-1, someone told the kid with the Twizzlers we needed another rally, so he passed them out again. This time I took one, because, as I'm fond of saying, "you gotta do what you gotta do." Sure enough, Johnny Damon led off with a walk, and Nomar Garciaparra doubled him home, giving the Sox a 3-1 edge. Ugie Urbina set the Twins down in order in the ninth, and Tim Wakefield had his 100th career win.

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