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2004: Diary of a Season
Red Sox 7, Blue Jays 2
After my last game, the Red Sox went on the road, where they split a four-game series in Toronto and took two of three in Tampa. They returned home and won Friday and Saturday against the Blue Jays. On Sunday, I was back at Fenway to watch them go for the sweep. This was the game I had a Green Monster standing room ticket for. It was a little strange to have the two Green Monster games so close together, but that's just how the schedule worked out. Last time I had been with my family, and this time I was with three friends. None of them had ever been up on the Monster before, so they had the same reaction, repeating "This is so amazing!" throughout the game. Even the standing room area is nice, with counters behind the back row of seats that we could put our bags on and lean against. We staked out a good spot behind Section M3, between the light tower and the Sports Authority sign, where a home run had landed at the game I went to a couple of weeks earlier. During batting practice we watched Manny Ramirez crush balls over the Green Monster. He hit them too high for anyone near me to have a shot at them, but it was fun to turn around and watch the attendants in the parking garage across the street search under cars for the ones that landed out there.
When the lineups were announced, I was disappointed to hear that Cesar Crespo would be at short today, giving Pokey Reese the day off. I had been remarking to my friend on the way in how much I liked watching Pokey play. I knew when we signed him that he had a reputation as a good fielder, and reasoned that the rest of our offense was good enough that they could withstand a loss in production at second base in order to gain better defense. But I didn't realize how much I'd want him in the lineup until I saw him make one sparkling play after another. Plus he went about everything with a smile, and I felt happy that we had "rescued" him from playing in obscurity in small-market towns and brought him to the big time of baseball-crazy Boston, where 35,000 people chanted his name every night.
At third base was Kevin Youkilis, who had been called up from Pawtucket when Bill Mueller went on the D.L. needing knee surgery. Youkilis was one of the Sox' top prospects, but had been in Double A last year and had only had a month or so of experience in Triple A this year. The expectation was that he'd play a full year in Triple A this year, then get called up to the majors in September, or in 2005. He was known as a singles and doubles hitter with good plate discipline and a high on-base percentage (he had been dubbed the "Greek God of Walks" in Michael Lewis's Moneyball), but it remained to be seen what he could do at the major league level with so little experience in Triple A. It didn't remain that way long, however, when he homered in his first major league game, in Toronto the previous week. By the time the Sox got back to Fenway, he was already getting "Youuuuuuuuuuuk!" chants every time he came to the plate or made a play in the field.
Center field was still manned by Johnny Damon, but he had a new look. He had shown up in spring training with long hair and a shaggy beard, evoking comparisons to everything from a caveman to Jesus. He wanted to keep the long hair, but this past Friday he shaved the beard. (There was a live shaving ceremony in downtown Boston sponsored by Gillette, which attracted over 2,000 fans on a weekday afternoon, giving further proof of how popular the Red Sox are and how crazy their fans can be!) Manny was DH'ing today, so we had Brian Daubach in left field. David Ortiz was at first. I would have been very disappointed if he had not been in the lineup, because I had brought an "ORTIZ" sign, with the "O" made up of red concentric circles like a target. (I know most of his homers go to right field, but he can hit them over the Monster, too. Walk-offs against Baltimore last September and Toronto this April came to mind.)
The Red Sox got off to a quick start, scoring two runs in the first, and made it comfortable with four more in the third. Ortiz had three hits and three RBI in the first three innings, and the Beardless Wonder had two of each. Youkilis walked twice in the game. Tim Wakefield cruised, giving up two runs in seven innings of work. At one point Crespo made an error, prompting a "Pokey, Pokey" chant from the crowd. Pokey did get to come into the game as a defensive replacement in the ninth, much to our delight. The afternoon had started sunny, but by the end of the game it had clouded over and the wind picked up, making it quite chilly on the Monster. But the view was great and and the game was fun, so it didn't matter. I didn't even notice my feet hurting after standing for five hours counting batting practice and the game, until we had to stand on the T for the ride back home. That was also when I realized that no one had hit a ball over the Monster, or even banged a double off the Wall, during the whole game.
Red Sox 9, Mariners 7, 12 inn.
After finishing off a sweep of the Blue Jays at the last game I went to, the Sox took two of three from the A's in the teams' first meeting since last year's playoffs. They beat Seattle on Friday night, then lost on Saturday. Today my seat was in the "upper bleachers," a few rows away from being directly under the scoreboard in center field. Even though it's a long way back, those aren't bad seats. There are no poles to block the view, so I could see the whole field, and at only $12 it's a much better seat than the $20 one I had behind the bullpen fence that always seemed to have a puddle under it.
Curt Schilling retired the side in order in the first. In the bottom of the inning, Mark Bellhorn led off with a single, and Kevin Youkilis followed with a double, before David Ortiz's groundout and Manny Ramirez's sac fly gave him a 2-0 lead. Curt shut the Mariners down easily in the next two innings, making one trip through the lineup without allowing a baserunner. In the third, Youkilis got on base via a hit-by-pitch, and Manny, celebrating his 32nd birthday, doubled him home for a 3-0 lead. Schilling again sent the Seattle hitters down in order in the fourth and the fifth. Randy Johnson, Schilling's former teammate on the Arizona Diamondbacks, had pitched a no-hitter earlier in the week, and it looked like Curt was trying to do him one better today. The afternoon was warm and sunny, and with a 3-0 lead I was content to sit back and enjoy a dramatic game. But I had no idea just how dramatic it would end up being.
In the top of the sixth, Schilling retired the first two batters, before Randy Winn hit the ball past third base and into left field. From where I was sitting, it looked like it could have been foul, but it wasn't. So much for the perfect game! We all gave Curt a long ovation for taking it that far, and then another ovation after he retired the next batter to end the inning. (A couple of years ago, Tim Wakefield had taken a no-hitter into the ninth inning in Tampa Bay, and it was Winn who had broken that one up, too.) The Mariners finally broke through for a run in the seventh, but the Red Sox padded their lead in the home half. Bellhorn and Youkilis both singled, then a walk, a wild pitch, and an error brought them both home for a 5-1 lead.
Curt seemed to tire in the eighth. A walk, a double, a groundout, a sac fly, and a single made it 5-3, and marked the end of the day for Schilling. He received another huge ovation as he walked off the field. Alan Embree allowed a single to the only batter he faced, and Keith Foulke was called upon to put out the fire. He had been absolutely outstanding this season. It was the end of May, and he had given up only one run all year! His ERA was 0.36, and he was 10-for-10 in save opportunites. Red Sox fans were especially appreciative, because it was a sharp contrast to the completely unreliable bullpen we witnessed last year. I was annoyed that Foulke wasn't getting the national buzz I thought he deserved. In my opinion he was a no-brainer for All-Star consideration, but he was not often mentioned because he only had 10 saves. A quick check of Red Sox box scores would show that most of their wins had been by greater than three runs, thus not making them save situations. Still, Foulke had not blown any saves, and routinely pitched more than one inning at a time. Today, he'd be asked to get out of this jam and then come back for the ninth.
Instead, Foulke gave up a single to Edgar Martinez, making it 5-4, and then Raul Ibanez followed with a three-run homer. Suddenly, we were down 7-5, when up until recently it looked like we might see a perfect game. Finally, Bret Boone (who was getting booed all afternoon because of the transgressions of his brother Aaron) grounded out to end the inning. In the bottom of the inning, the Sox went back to work. Jason Varitek singled, and Dave McCarty, who had come in defensively for Kevin Millar when the Sox had had the lead, doubled. Johnny Damon, originally supposed to have the day off, hit a pinch-hit sacrifice fly to make it 7-6. Pokey Reese was due up next, but Andy Dominique was called upon to pinch-hit. I remembered him from Spring Training the last two years, and the Portland Sea Dogs game I had been to last year. He had made his major league debut with the Red Sox earlier in the week, but had only had a couple of at-bats. He lined a hit into center field - his first major league hit - and tied up the game! Now we were back in business, and I knew with all the excitement we had seen already today, that they'd find some way to win it.
Foulke was back out for the ninth, then Timlin came in for the tenth, and rookie Anastacio Martinez held the Mariners scoreless in the eleventh and twelfth. Dominique singled again in the tenth, but he was the only baserunner the Red Sox had until the twelfth, when Varitek was hit by a pitch. That brought McCarty back to the plate to face J.J. Putz, who was starting his third inning of relief. On a 3-0 count, McCarty was given the green light, and he quickly deposited the next pitch into the center field stands, for a walk-off homer! His teammates mobbed him at home plate and we went crazy in the stands. The game was finally over, but it had had some of everything, and became one of my favorites of the 2004 season.
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