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2003: Diary of a Season
Red Sox 7, Rangers 1
In the past week, the Red Sox had been on the road, taking two of three in Kansas City and losing two of three in Minnesota. But again the home field advantage was in full effect when they returned to Boston. Unlike last year, when the Red Sox had the best road record in baseball but barely cracked .500 at home, this year the Fenway Faithful were being treated to a 12-4 home record. The latest last-at-bat win had come Tuesday night, as they rallied for three runs in the eighth to beat the Texas Rangers. I went on Wednesday night for game two of the series. This was one of the discounted games where tickets were 25% off. I chose an infield grandstand seat, which even at a discount is more than a normal bleacher seat, but I like to get a different perspective every now and then. My seat was in Section 24, to the left of home plate just beyond the backstop screen. The view is great from that area!
Carl Everett was on the Rangers now, after tumultuous 2000-2001 seasons with the Red Sox. There had been an incident a week or two prior to their trip to Boston when an idiot in Oakland had thrown his cell phone at Everett's head while he was in the outfield. So every time he came to bat in tonight's game, a guy behind me yelled out, "Hey Carl, can you hear me now?" like in the telephone commercial. Nomar Garciaparra got the game off on the right foot, when he homered in the first inning to extend his hitting streak to 15 games. The next three batters all walked (including Shea Hillenbrand - good thing I wasn't calling him "Hack-Away Shea" any more!) but they were stranded. Casey Fossum gave up a lone run in the fifth, and the Sox scored two more in the bottom of the inning on hits by Hillenbrand and David Ortiz.
When Ramiro Mendoza came in to start the sixth, I was nervous, thinking back to the game I had been to in April when Fossum left with a 5-1 lead and Mendoza blew it. Tonight's lead was only 4-1. But Mendoza was good, allowing only one hit in two scoreless innings of work. The Sox took advantage of two more walks, three wild pitches, and doubles by Ortiz and Bill Mueller to score three more runs in the bottom of the seventh. In the ninth, Robert Person made his Red Sox debut. He had been working his way back from injury, and I hoped he'd be able to step in and add some stability to the shaky bullpen. He pitched the ninth, allowing only a harmless single.
Red Sox 5, Angels 3
After my Wednesday night game, The Red Sox won again Thursday to complete the sweep of the Rangers. On Friday and Saturday they dropped two sloppily-played games to the defending World Champion Anaheim Angels. The low point came in Saturday's game when Trot Nixon flipped a ball into the stands with less than three outs, allowing a couple of costly runs to score. The good news was that the Yankees were also faltering, and when I arrived at Fenway for Sunday's game, the Red Sox were only one game out of first place.
John Burkett was pitching for the Red Sox. Last year it seemed like every game I went to was a Burkett game, and one with disastrous results. But now it was already May and this was the first I'd seen of him this year. Fortunately, he was pitching better this year. In his past few starts, he had gone along smoothly until hitting the wall in the fifth or six inning and giving up five or six runs. Today's game appeared to be no exception. In the first six innings Burkett scattered six hits and allowed only one run, and even that scored on a sac fly. The Sox cruised along at the plate, too. Nomar Garciaparra singled in the first inning to extend his hitting streak to 19 games. In the second, Jason Varitek knocked in two with a double, and Johnny Damon and Bill Mueller followed with RBI of their own. Manny Ramirez led off the third with a homer, making it 5-1, Sox. Better still, the scoreboard showed Texas with a 4-1 win over the Yankees (their game started an hour before ours), so a win by the Red Sox would put them in a tie for first.
When Burkett came out to start the seventh, we started to worry that he would tire and melt down like he had in the middle innings of his last couple of starts. When the first batter of the inning, Bengie Molina, sliced a towering shot to left that was just barely foul, a guy near me yelled, "Hey Grady, that's your clue!" Sure enough, Molina ended up getting a hit. But Grady Little stuck with Burkett, and he quickly ended the inning with a double play and a strikeout. Ramiro Mendoza and Robert Person made it closer than I would have liked, as each allowed a run in an inning of work. But when it was over, the Red Sox had another win and more importantly a share of first place!
Red Sox 10, Yankees 7
The next day brought the first Red Sox/Yankees game of the season. Casey Fossum gave up five runs in the first inning and the Sox went on to lose, but I was excited about going to Tuesday's game. I was 0-7 in my life at Fenway games against the Yankees, but today's matchup of Pedro Martinez vs. Jeff Weaver sounded promising. On paper at least, the game I had randomly picked in February turned out to be the one I most wanted to see. But just before I left work to head to the game, one of my co-workers told me he had just heard from his wife that Pedro was not starting. In a panic, I called my brother, but he hadn't heard anything yet and couldn't find anything online. When I got to my car I heard it was true. Pedro had been scratched with a sore lat muscle, and Bruce Chen had been called up for the emergency start. I lived in Atlanta a few years ago, so I remember Chen as a hot prospect in the Braves system, but he had never materialized into a frontline pitcher and had spent the last few years bouncing around from team to team. I was disappointed, to say the least.
As I got on the T, the family sitting across the aisle from me asked if I would take their picture. They were all wearing Red Sox gear, so I happily obliged. The father saw my own Red Sox garb and joked, "You're wearing the right team, so I knew I could ask you." I replied, "You're wearing the right team, or I wouldn't have done it!" I asked if they had heard about Pedro (they had), because I didn't want them to get all the way in there and find out at the last minute. When I got to the park, I was happy to find that my seat was surrounded by Red Sox fans. I don't mind going to a game by myself, but there's nothing worse than being stuck next to an obnoxious Yankee fan all night.
The game did not start out well. Alfonso Soriano hit the first pitch for a home run. Another run scored a couple of batters later on a sacrifice fly, and it was 2-0 before the Red Sox even came to the plate. Being the eternal optimist that I am, I said, "It's better than the five runs they gave up in the first last night. No problem!" The Red Sox did get one back in the bottom of the inning on Nomar Garciaparra's sac fly. Weaver plunked the next batter, Manny Ramirez, but got out of the inning. When Chen took the mound in the second, his first pitch sailed behind Jorge Posada. The umpires issued a warning, and any more hit batsmen would result in ejections. The Yankees took a 3-1 lead in the second, but the Sox put together doubles by Todd Walker and Nomar to make it 3-2. Nomar's hit extended his hitting streak to 21 games. The Sox took a 4-3 lead in the fourth when Bill Mueller doubled and Jason Varitek hit a home run. Finally, unlike all the other Yankee games I had been to at Fenway, this was getting fun!
The good feeling didn't last long, however. Chen was done after four innings, and considering the emergency nature of the outing, he hadn't done too badly. But Ramiro Mendoza came in and gave up four straight singles. Add a sac fly and an RBI groundout, and the Sox were suddenly down 6-4. This was just one in a series of bad outings for Mendoza, prompting the Boston public to nickname him "the embedded Yankee". Tonight seemed to be the proof that he had switched sides in name only and was still working for the enemy. I was appalled that he stayed in the game so long, but the bullpen was going to have to put in a lot of time tonight, so he pitched two innings.
Jeremy Giambi knocked in a run the next inning and the Red Sox were back within a run. With the Sox threatening to reclaim the lead, Weaver was lifted in favor of Jose Contreras. The Cuban defector had been the prize of the free agent market the past winter, with both the Red Sox and Yankees sending delegations to Nicaragua to try to sign him. He wound up signing with the Yankees, but for once the joke was on them, as he had struggled so far in the season. (Based on his outing tonight, I joked that maybe he had reached a deal with Theo Epstein last winter, to be "the embedded Red Sox" who infiltrated their roster as Mendoza had ours.) The Red Sox loaded the bases to start the seventh, and David Ortiz came to the plate. He had been getting hotter and hotter at the plate lately, and I hoped for another big hit. Remembering what had worked in the past, I promised that if Ortiz got a hit now, I'd never call him "Hack-Away Shea" again either. As pathetic as my running gag was, it worked again, as Ortiz doubled, scoring two runs and reclaiming the lead for Boston. It was a fruitful inning for the Sox. Even their outs were productive, with two more sacrifice flies. I found out later that the two teams had tied a major league record with five sac flies in the game - two by the Yankees and three by the Red Sox. When it was over, they had batted around and scored five runs off Contreras.
All that was left now was to hold on to the lead, and Alan Embree, Mike Timlin, and Brandon Lyon did just that. Lyon struck out the side in the ninth, and next thing I knew I was high-fiving the strangers sitting next to me. A game which had had such a potential for disaster had turned out to be exhilarating! I walked back to the T station among a crowd of happy people, and as we crossed the bridge over the Mass. Pike, cars on the highway below honked their horns in triumph. It was quite a game!
Red Sox 12, Indians 3
After my Tuesday night game, the Red Sox lost the next day in Roger Clemens' 299th career victory. I was very glad I had gone when I did, and not to that one! On Friday the Indians were in town, and the Sox beat them 9-2. I was back on Saturday afternoon for game two against the Tribe. Despite being Memorial Day weekend and therefore the unofficial start of summer, it was only 48 degrees at game time. It was a windy, overcast day, and I was unhappy that I still had to wear a coat to games, even at the end of May.
The Indians were no longer the powerhouse team they had been in the late 90's. Milton Bradley was surprisingly among the A.L. leaders in batting average at that point in the season. Bradley and former Sox outfielder Ellis Burks provided any offense they got, while a lot of young players were given a chance. With the help of two errors by Cleveland, the Sox scored five runs in the first, highlighted by David Ortiz's three-run homer. Nomar Garciaparra hit a solo homer in the third, extending his hitting streak to 24 games. They tacked on two more runs in the fifth on Kevin Millar's double. With the score 8-2 after five innings, John Burkett was done for the day. Ramiro Mendoza came in and gave up a home run to the first batter he faced, Matt Lawton. Shea Hillenbrand's error, a hit batsman, and a single loaded the bases with one out, and suddenly the five-run lead didn't seem so comfortable. Fortunately the next batter lined into an inning-ending double play.
When Mendoza gave up two more hits to start the next inning, he was replaced by Mike Timlin. (One of the new features in Fenway this year was the Fleet message board which gives additional stats on each pitcher and batter, including ERA updated after every out. Burkett's was over 5.00, and Mendoza's had gone up to 7.54. We joked that he was redefining the "Mendoza line". When Timlin came in, we were happy to see him well below the Mendoza line, at 4.15, and two scoreless innings brought him below 4.00.) While the bullpen was not exactly stellar, the offense was. Manny Ramirez hit a two-run homer in the seventh, and the Sox scored two more in the eighth, to win 12-3.
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