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2004: Diary of a Season
Blue Jays 10, Red Sox 5
After an exciting but ultimately tragic 2003 season, the off-season was dramatic in its own right. After having been so close the year before, most of the team was returning and was hungry to go further. John Burkett had retired, Todd Walker left as a free agent, and Terry Francona replaced Grady Little as manager, but most of the rest of the core team members returned. The Sox had scored the coup of the off-season, trading Casey Fossum, Brandon Lyon, and prospects to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Curt Schilling. Paired with Pedro Martinez, they were sure to be a formidable 1-2 punch. Keith Foulke was the best closer on the market, and he also signed with the Sox as a free agent, which promised to bolster the bullpen which had let them down too often in 2003. Slick-fielding Pokey Reese had been signed to replace Walker at second, but most of the new players would round out the bench: Ellis Burks, Brian Daubach (returning after a season with the White Sox), and Mark Bellhorn. They had also tried to trade Manny Ramirez to Texas for Alex Rodriguez, after which they would have then traded Nomar Garciaparra to the White Sox for Magglio Ordonez. The deal fell through at the last minute when the Players' Association wouldn't approve A-Rod's new contract. At the same time, the Yankees' Aaron Boone injured himself and was released. Suddenly they needed a third baseman, and naturally scooped up A-Rod and shifted him to a new position. I personally had not wanted to get rid of Nomar and Manny, but it still felt like Aaron Boone was sticking it to us again. Adding to the off-season drama was the fact that many of the biggest players on the team would be eligible for free-agency at the end of the year. Martinez, Garciaparra, Jason Varitek, Derek Lowe, David Ortiz, and Trot Nixon were all in the final year of their contracts, and so far none had re-signed. We figured they probably couldn't all return, so it seemed like if they couldn't manage to win it all this year, they'd never do it. On the other hand, it's hard to get as far as they did last year, and even making the post-season is not a given, no matter how good the team looks on paper. Just returning to where they were last year would be a challenge enough, let alone surpassing it.
It was with these expectations that we arrived at Fenway Park for Opening Day. The Sox had started with four games in Baltimore, splitting the series. The final game had gone 13 innings, and then there were mechanical problems with their plane that prevented them from leaving Baltimore until 5 am the morning of the home opener. They went home for a few hours' sleep and were told they didn't have to be there for the 3 pm game until 1:00. I arrived at Fenway at noon and went around to the players' parking lot to watch them arrive. I got to see Johnny Damon, Varitek, Ortiz, and Cesar Crespo drive in. Schilling arrived a little later with a police escort. Foulke walked in, unnoticed until he got to the gate, because we were all looking for fancy cars. We also saw New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft and Red Sox legend Dwight Evans, both of whom would be participating in the pre-game ceremonies, pull up in limos. Before Kraft's limo had left the tiny parking lot, Manny pulled up in his car. Security directed him to leave it where it was and let them park it, since the limo was in the way. So Manny left it half in the parking lot and half in the street (with the door still open!) and went into the ballpark. Just Manny being Manny, I supposed.
When the gates opened, I went right in. The new feature this year was the seating on the right field roof. It's a pretty large area, but blends in well with the existing structure. They had also expanded the concourse under the left field grandstand. It was wider, had more concessions, and a larger ladies' room (a welcome addition, since there used to be only one bathroom with eight stalls on the whole left field/third base side). See more pictures showing the 2004 changes on this page.
The opening ceremonies weren't much of a surprise, since members of the Patriots had thrown out the first pitch after winning the Super Bowl in 2002. When then won again in 2004, I remember thinking, "Well, I guess we know who's throwing the first pitch at Fenway this year!" While I had nothing but joy when they won the first time, and plenty of admiration as I watched their thrilling last-minute, come-from-behind, "Cowboy-up"-style playoff run the second time, it was with a twinge of jealousy that I watched them bring both trophies onto the field today. I was happy for them, and for their fans, but when would it be my turn to see my trophy when my Sox won? Before they came out for the first pitch, though, the introduction of the starting lineups was nicely done. Many Red Sox legends from the past walked onto the field in pairs. Johnny Pesky, Charlie Wagner, Dick Radatz, Frank Malzone, Jerry Moses, former manager Joe Morgan, Ted Lepcio, Dick Berardino, Bruce Hurst, Skip Lockwood, Billy Conigliaro, Tommy Harper, Rich Gedman, Jim Corsi, Bob Montgomery, Rick Miller, Dennis Eckersley, Luis Tiant, Jim Rice, Dwight Evans, and Carl Yastrzemski all returned. They lined up on either side of a red carpet, greeting the current players as they each came out of the dugout.
The game matched Bronson Arroyo against Toronto's Ted Lilly. Byung-Hyun Kim, originally expected to be the number-five starter, was on the D.L., giving Arroyo the chance to start. Nomar Garciaparra opened the year on the disabled list with an achilles heel injury, and Trot Nixon was also out with a back injury. Both players were expected back before the end of April, but for now the starting lineup had Johnny Damon in center, Bill Mueller at third, Ellis Burks as DH, Manny Ramirez in left, David Ortiz at first, Kevin Millar in right, Jason Varitek behind the plate, Mark Bellhorn at second, and Pokey Reese at shortstop. The Jays got on the board first, with two runs in the second and another two in the fourth. The Red Sox scored a run in the third, and then finally got going in the bottom of the fourth, when back-to-back doubles by Manny and Ortiz plated a run. A few batters later, the bases were loaded with two outs and light-hitting Reese was up. We all jumped to our feet and chanted, "Pokey, Pokey," and he rewarded us with a double, scoring two more runs to tie the game. Varitek's solo homer in the sixth gave the Sox a 5-4 lead.
Newcomer Mark Malaska pitched a 1-2-3 seventh, but Mike Timlin allowed three runs in the eighth. Alan Embree started the ninth by allowing a home run to Carlos Delgado, then got one out before walking the next batter. Francona went to the bullpen, and called upon... Dave McCarty. The backup first baseman/outfielder was trying his hand as a lefty reliever. He had done OK in a couple of innings in Spring Training against minor leaguers, but had shut down pitching to focus on hitting early in the Grapefruit League season. It was a fascinating concept to have a position player who could also pitch. It would, in essence, free up an additional roster spot, and the late-game lefty-righty bullpen moves could be interesting. However intriguing it sounded, though, it would only be worthwhile if he was decent as a pitcher. Today he made his major league pitching debut, apparently to save the bullpen which was taxed after a long game last night. He retired the first batter on a groundout, before issuing a walk, throwing a wild pitch, and giving up a two-run double. He eventually got Reed Johnson to ground out to end the inning, but by then they were down 10-5. So much for the Great McCarty Experiment (although he would go on to pitch - with more success - in a game in June and another in October). The Sox went in order in the ninth, with pinch hitter Brian Daubach making the final out.
Orioles 12, Red Sox 7, 11 inn.
The Red Sox won the next two games against Toronto, including David Ortiz's walk-off home run into the Green Monster seats on Easter Sunday. (Last year, Nomar Garciaparra had ended Easter's game with a Monster walk-off, too.) Monday was a scheduled day off, and then Tuesday's and Wednesday's games were both rained out. By Thursday it had stopped raining, but it was still cold and damp. There was a giant puddle under our seats, meaning I had to juggle my purse, camera, and scorecard on my lap. Luckily the people next to us came late and left early, so we could use their seats for our stuff for most of the game. This was our first game of the Tenth Man Plan I had purchased with a friend. We had ten games in these seats, with the promise of tickets to one Division Series game when the Sox made the playoffs. Unfortunately, it wasn't like a real season-ticket plan, where I could have come in and previewed the seats ahead of time to pick out good ones. We were in Section 40, right behind the Red Sox bullpen. I had sat there a bunch of times a few years ago, but I couldn't remember which row it was where the railing on top of the fence behind the bullpen completely blocked my view of the field. I thought that was row 3 or 4, so I figured row 5 would be OK. The next best seat after that would have been row 12 or so, and that would take away the fun of being right behind the bullpen. (My preference would have been Section 36 or 37, but those weren't available for the Tenth Man Plan.) As it turned out, I had guessed wrong. I'm the exact wrong height for row 5, as the thick railing on the fence blocked my view of the infield. Oh well, only nine more games here after this one!
The rain had caused problems for the pitching rotation, too. Derek Lowe, who would have pitched Tuesday, was skipped altogether and might get an inning in out of the bullpen. Tim Wakefield was moved from Wednesday to Friday, so he could be between Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling in the rotation. Even though there's no statistical proof that facing Wakefield's knuckler the day after Pedro's fastball, or vice versa, put hitters at a disadvantage, the Red Sox wanted to set it up that way. That meant Pedro would be going tonight on regular rest, five days after a good outing against Toronto. He struggled in the cold, though, much the same as he had in a chilly Camden Yards during the season opener. Brian Roberts homered to lead off the game, and Larry Bigbie's triple plated another run in the second. The Sox got right back into it in the bottom of the second, scoring five runs, highlighted by a three-run homer by Bill Mueller. Both teams scored twice in the fourth, making it 7-4 Sox. Pedro's undoing was a two-out, three-run homer to David Segui which tied the game in the fifth. (As the game went on, it felt colder. We noticed Manny ducking into the Green Monster during pitching changes to keep warm!)
Mark Malaska pitched the sixth for the Sox, and Scott Williamson came in for the seventh. Mike Timlin and Keith Foulke combined for a scoreless eighth, and Foulke was back for the ninth. The people around me started wondering who would pitch if the game went extra innings. Most of our dependable relievers had already been used, and we thought it strange that in a tie game, Timlin would come out after only two-thirds of an inning. We might need more than that out of him! We saw Frank Castillo - who had been called up from Pawtucket last week when Brian Daubach was designated for assignment - warming up in the 'pen. I remembered all the games I had been to a couple of years ago when he was a starter that the Sox lost, and joked, "We'd better get some runs soon, before Castillo comes in!" In the bottom of the ninth a girl ran down the aisle next to our seats and jumped over the fence into the Red Sox bullpen. She was quickly cornered by security, but the inning had already started, and the only way to get her out of the park would be to walk across the warning track. She basically got to stand there for the whole inning. I laughed, "She must be pitching the tenth!"
Alan Embree ended up pitching the tenth, after the girl in the bullpen was escorted out. In the bottom of the tenth, the Red Sox loaded the bases with two out, and Mueller, who had homered earlier, launched a fly to deep center. If it hit the wall, it would win the game... but instead Bigbie made a leaping catch up against the wall to end the inning. Bronson Arroyo started the eleventh by surrendering a homer to Miguel Tejada. He gave up a single, a triple, and a walk, before being replaced by Phil Seibel, who had been called up before the game when Bobby Jones was sent to Pawtucket. Seibel, making his major league debut, allowed two more runs to score, and was replaced by Castillo, who gave up one more run before finally getting out of the inning. Just like that, the Sox were down 12-7, and they were unable to mount a comeback in the bottom of the eleventh.
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