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2003: Diary of a Season
Orioles 5, Red Sox 3
The Red Sox finished up their sweep of the Angels on Thursday night. On Friday, they played a doubleheader against the Orioles. The afternoon game was a make-up of the Opening Day game that had been rained out. Unfortunately the Sox lost both games. They finally beat the Orioles on Saturday night, as Kevin Millar's eighth inning homer was the 10,000th ever hit in Fenway Park. Sunday afternoon I was back at Fenway with my parents and brother. Our seats were in Section 33, the last section over in left field before the Green Monster starts. It's not covered, and it was raining when we arrived, so we sat in Section 32 until the game started. While we were waiting, my mother spotted a guy walking past us in the aisle wearing a RedSoxDiehard.com jersey. (Based on this website's "You Might Be a Diehard If..." page, the shirt lists the top ten signs you might be a Red Sox diehard.) I first designed the shirt a couple of years ago, but this was the first time I had seen anyone other than family members wearing one. I couldn't resist introducing myself as the webmaster of RedSoxDiehard.com and telling him I had designed the shirt.
The rain stopped prior to the start of the game, and the sun came out before it ended. This was Jeff Suppan's second start since he joined the team at the trading deadline. He gave up a run in the first, on a two-out walk followed by a double. The pesky Orioles put together back-to-back doubles in the fourth to take a 2-0 lead. After having gone to Baltimore the previous weekend to see the Red Sox lose two of three, I was getting really sick of the Orioles! The Red Sox got one run back in the bottom of the inning, when Trot Nixon tripled after Kevin Millar's single. In the sixth, the Orioles put together a double, a triple, and a homer to take a 5-1 lead. But by this point in the season, it felt like the Red Sox always started out behind and then came back to win. Sure enough, after Millar reached on an error in the sixth, Nixon singled him home. Jason Varitek homered in the seventh to make it 5-3.
The Red Sox went into the bottom of the ninth with one last chance to pull out a victory. Orioles closer Jorge Julio walked Trot to start the inning. Todd Walker flied out to right for the first out. Varitek walked, and Damian Jackson was sent in as a pinch-runner. Johnny Damon popped up to shortstop, but Bill Mueller walked to load the bases. Nomar Garciaparra came up next. He was already 2-4 with a double, and everyone stood up in anticipation of another big hit. Excitement built as the count went to 2-2. And then... strike three. I was really annoyed. How could they keep losing to the Orioles? What happened to all the magic we had become accustomed to at Fenway?
A's 8, Red Sox 6
After losing three of four to the Orioles, the Red Sox left on a west coast road trip. They were three games behind the Yankees in the A.L. East, and tied with Oakland for the Wild Card. The next 14 games would be against the A's and the Western-division-leading Mariners. They dropped the first two in Oakland, but rebounded by winning the next two to end up splitting the series. They lost two of three in Seattle, winning only the game pitched by Pedro, who remained undefeated against the Mariners in his career. After a day off, the Sox returned to Boston and lost the first game against Oakland in typical heartbreaking fashion. Derek Lowe pitched well for six innings, and the Sox had a 2-0 lead. It was fine until Lowe developed a blister and had to leave the game. Scott Sauerbeck walked two batters in the seventh and was removed from the game. Scott Williamson came in and surrendered a three-run homer to the first batter he faced. It was depressing that after all the excitement there had been this year, the whole season seemed to be slipping away. The next day at work, one of my co-workers, obviously as upset as I was, had printed up a sign that simply said "Scott" inside a red circle with a line through it. The laugh I got from that made me feel a little bit better, but I was going to the game that night, and I knew it was crucial that they rebound from the horrors of the past week with a strong win.
I was sitting in the bleachers near the center field cameras, and as I looked into the Red Sox bullpen I noticed the new TV monitor that had been installed there. Sauerbeck turned it on as the game was starting, and I joked to the people next to me that we'd be able to watch when he went into the game and see if the other relievers switched over to a Seinfeld rerun or something. By the end of the following week, the bullpen TV had become a hot topic around baseball. The Mariners accused the Red Sox of using it to steal signs, and the Commissioner's office ruled that unless a similar TV was installed in the visitors' bullpen, it would have to be turned off.
The game looked good early. The Red Sox got one run in the first, although it could have been more, since the bases were loaded when Gabe Kapler grounded out to end the inning. They stranded two more baserunners in the second, but finally broke through with four runs in the third. They got another run in the fourth, but stranded one more runner (and it would have been two if Kapler hadn't been caught stealing). Tim Wakefield had allowed two solo home runs, but the Sox led 6-2. In the fifth, the A's scored twice to make it 6-4. The Red Sox stranded two more runners in the fifth, left the bases loaded in the sixth, and left two on in the seventh. With all the hits (17 before the night was over, to go along with 7 walks) it felt like they should be a lot further ahead than they were.
Alan Embree and Mike Timlin had helped Wakefield get out of the seventh, and Byung-Hyun Kim came in for the eighth. He gave up three straight singles to score one run. After a strikeout, there was another RBI single, and the game was tied. The go-ahead run scored on an error, and B.K. departed in favor of Sauerbeck. Another run scored on a sacrifice fly before he finally got out of the inning. By the time it was all over, the Sox were down 8-6. Jason Varitek and Kapler each hit singles to lead off the eighth, but both runners were stranded. Nomar Garciaparra made it to third base in the ninth, but he became the 17th runner left on base by the Red Sox that night. As I headed to the exit, I was more upset than I had been at any other game this year. It felt like the whole season was deteriorating. In the past few years when the Sox had failed to make the playoffs, they were still only a few games out in early September. But now it was only mid-August, and they were already 7.5 games behind the Yankees, and two games behind the A's in the Wild Card race. Some friends of mine were also at the game but sat in a different section. I met up with them on the street after the game, saying, "I don't remember what all the stages of grieving are, but I can tell you that right now, I'm in Anger. 17 left on base! They needed to win tonight. They're not supposed to do this to me until September!" I didn't feel like hanging out, so we hurried back to the subway. I usually listen to WEEI in the car on the way home from games, but I couldn't tonight. My normal "Today's best variety" music station wouldn't do either; I switched to the alternative rock station to hear songs with a little harder edge and a lot more angst. As I drove past Fenway on the Mass. Pike, I shook my fist and yelled out, "Why?! Why must you always do this to me?!" It's safe to say August 20 was the low point in the season.
Red Sox 8, Mariners 1
I thought it couldn't get any worse for the Red Sox, but the next day Pedro Martinez was scratched from his start after being hospitalized with pharyngitis. I didn't hold out any hope for that night's game, but I'm a Sox addict, so I watch them all. Casey Fossum came up huge, keeping the Sox in the game as the offense broke through early and often, and the Sox routed Oakland 14-5, moving within one game of the Wild Card lead. That was also the night the "Rally Karaoke Guy" video of Kevin Millar lip-synching to Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" was first shown at Fenway Park. It marked a turning point in the season, and I remember hearing Casey Fossum say the next day that it was "the most important game of the year, because it's tonight." I always say that every game is vitally important, so Fossum's statement became my mantra for the rest of the year. Every day at work when we'd talk about the next game, I'd always add, "And they'd better win, because it's the most important game of the year."
After exhibiting their trademark resiliency on Thursday night, they beat Seattle on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. On Moday, they wrapped up the series with the Mariners, and Pedro was ready to return from his illness. I had a ticket because it was part of the Value Pack I had purchased to get Opening Day. It was a day game on a Monday, so I had to take the day off from work. One thing I had not been able to do all summer was go up on the Green Monster to see the new seats. I had tried twice, once before the game on a rainy day with no batting practice and once right after a game, but both times I had been turned away. It had become one of my pet peeves of the summer, and I was determined to get up there at some point. I thought if I picked a game that was likely to be less popular, like a Monday or a weekday afternoon game, I'd have a chance at the Green Monster standing room. Even though I already had a ticket to today's game, I know that fans are allowed to upgrade their tickets on the day of the game if any remain (paying any difference in face value, of course). So I hoped if I arrived early enough, I could get on the Green Monster today.
I arrived before 8:00 am, but when the ticket office opened at 9:00, the Green Monster standing room tickets were already sold out. I went across the street to Twins souvenir store and purchased a ticket to the 10:00 Fenway Park tour. I had done a tour once in 1999, and was happy to see that they had expanded the tour times to include seven days a week, every hour up to three hours before game time. Because my tour was on the day of an afternoon game, players were already taking batting practice, so we couldn't go on the field or in the dugout like I had in 1999, but we would be going up on the Green Monster. We wound up seeing the .406 Club, the Green Monster seats, and the Hall of Fame Club. The pictures from my 1999 and 2003 tours are combined into the Fenway Park tour section. (When we got to the Green Monster seats, they told us that there are only 24 standing room tickets that go on sale on the day of each game. The number 24 was chosen because it's left fielder Many Ramirez's uniform number, and it explains why today's were sold out by the time I got there.)
The tour ended at 11:00, just as the gates were opening for the 1:05 game. Since I had the camera and plenty of time, I wandered around to some places I've never been before, like the last row of the bleachers that are actually behind the scoreboard. I also checked out the new Big Concourse near Gate B under the right field stands. The area features a wider concourse with larger bathrooms, new food choices, and picnic tables.
By the time the game started, I had already been at Fenway for five hours. It had already been a fun day, so when I realized there was still a game to be played - and a Pedro game at that - it almost sounded too good to be true. The best part was that the game lived up to its expectations. It wasn't exactly vintage Pedro, because it had been nine days since his last start, but it was more than enough for the Seattle Mariners. He went six innings, giving up only one run and striking out four. David Ortiz had a two-run homer and a two-run single. Bill Mueller added a two-run double, and Nomar Garciaparra and Todd Walker each had RBI hits, as the Red Sox piled on 8 runs. The win completed the sweep of Seattle, and put the Red Sox, Mariners and A's in a three-way tie. The season wasn't over after all! There was still a lot left to play, and the Red Sox were right in the thick of it.
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