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2004: Diary of a Season
Orioles 10, Red Sox 5
The Red Sox finished up their series with Texas by winning Saturday and then losing Sunday. They headed off for the All-Star break 7 games behind the Yankees. Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, and Curt Schilling represented the Red Sox at the All-Star Game in Houston. Roger Clemens started for the National League. (Jason Schmidt of the Giants was having a better season, but the game was in Roger's home town, so he got the nod.) Manny homered and Clemens was knocked out early after giving up six runs. Later "Big Papi" came in the game and also homered. The American League cruised to the win, meaning the A.L. champions would have home field advantage in the World Series. (Never let it be said that Roger hasn't contributed to the Red Sox' postseason success!) After the break, the Sox went to Anaheim, where they split a four-game series with the Angels, and Seattle, where they split a two-game series. Now it was back to Fenway to face the Orioles, and I was back for my first game in almost two weeks.
Pedro Martinez was pitching and he retired the first nine Baltimore batters in order, striking out five of them. But in the fourth, he gave up a single, a double, a triple, and a sac fly to give the Orioles a 3-0 lead. Gabe Kapler quickly tied it up with a three-run homer in the bottom of the inning. We were sitting in left field, and had fun imitating Manny's two-handed point whenever he came out to start an inning. We'd cheer until he waved back. Unfortunately, Pedro gave up another three runs in the sixth, before getting Karim Garcia to end the inning. Garcia had just recently signed with the Orioles, but he had been on the Yankees last year and was one of the players who had jumped into the bullpen to beat up the bullpen attendant in the infamous ALCS Game 3. He got plenty of boos all night, and went 0-5 with two strikeouts. Kevin Millar homered in the bottom of the inning to get one of the runs back.
In the seventh, the game got just plain ugly. With a runner on board, David Newhan hit a drive into center field for extra bases. Johnny Damon finally tracked it down in deep center field, but when he threw back toward the infield, Manny Ramirez cut off the throw in shallow center. He threw to cutoff man Mark Bellhorn, who fired home too late to get Newhan. It went down as an inside-the-park home run, but it seemed like it should have been a triple and an error. Two more runs were across, and the Sox were down 8-4. "This is a travesty, and a sham, and a mockery," I yelled. "It's a traveshamockery!" It got worse in the ninth. Jimmy Anderson, who had just been called up from Pawtucket, gave up two more runs. It was pathetic to keep losing to teams like the Orioles. Something was going to have to shake up the team to get them back on the right track.
(I had gone to this game with my parents and my brother, and as we walked back to their car, we passed a police car. "Look!" I said. "Karim Garcia's ride is here!")
Valley Cats 8, Spinners 1
The day after my last game, the Red Sox played a doubleheader with Baltimore. Abe Alvarez was called up from the Sea Dogs for the first game, which they lost 8-3, but they finally won the nightcap 4-0. The Yankees came into town next, and they lost on Friday night despite Kevin Millar's three home runs. When it was raining Saturday afternoon, it seemed like maybe it would be best to have the game rained out and made up later in the season, when they were playing better. But a couple of the players, led by Jason Varitek, insisted that the game be played, and it did start up after a rain delay. The wild game saw the lead change hands several times, and was highlighted when Alex Rodriguez started mouthing off at Bronson Arroyo after Arroyo had hit him with a pitch. Tek rushed to the aid of his pitcher, smashing his glove into A-Rod's face. The benches cleared, and a brawl ensued, with Gabe Kapler, Trot Nixon, and Yankees pitcher Tanyon Sturtze getting into it. After the brawl, the Sox lost the lead, and it wound up 10-9 Yankees in the bottom of the ninth with a runner on base and Mariano Rivera on the mound. Bill Mueller provided the highlight of the regular season when he hit a game-winning walk-off home run into the Red Sox bullpen. I was watching on TV at my friends' house (accidentally woke the baby up when Mueller homered) and I told everyone there that this was just what they needed to galvanize the team, and that it would turn the season around. Sure enough, they beat the Yankees again the next night on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball in front of a national audience and a number of dignitaries in town for the Democratic National Convention. On Monday, they left for a two-week road trip. I knew it would be a while before my next Fenway game, so I went to Lowell, Mass., to see the Sox' short-season Single A affiliate Spinners.
Lowell is the lowest Single A team in the Red Sox system, so I wasn't familiar with many of the players. Tonight's starter, Andrew Dobies, had just been drafted by the team in June. Before the game, there was a birthday ceremony for the hotdog vendor known as "Dog Man" who always wears a cap with long floppy dog ears and a stuffed dog on top. Then former New England Patriot Mosi Tatupu threw out the first pitch. The game itself wasn't all that interesting. Dobies had to leave in the second inning after he was struck by a comebacker to the mound. The rest of the Spinners' staff struggled, and their hitters didn't do much of anything at the plate. I was happy to see reports of the Red Sox score. They were leading Baltimore 10-0 after six innings. Ever since the brawl, they hadn't lost a game. They were even beating the pesky Orioles who had given them so much trouble this year! I was also interested in seeing Spinners manager Luis Alicea, the former Red Sox second baseman. As is the case in the minors, Alicea also served as the third base coach.
The problem with this game was that our seats were out in the outfield and were just bench seats. Kids were running all over the place and not paying attention to the game, so it was hard to follow. If I ever go again, I'll make sure to get a real seat, closer to home plate. They did all the typical minor league gimmicky things between innings, but one promotion I did like was the Bingo cards they handed out when we entered. On the back of the card was a code for each possible outcome for the current at-bat and the Bingo square it went with. For example, if the catcher strikes out, it was I-17, and if the right fielder hits a double, it was G-58. Kids who wanted to play had to pay attention to the actual play on the field and then discuss what had happened. They marked off the squares, and any fans who got Bingo would win a prize. But my favorite part of the night was seeing that the Red Sox had beaten the Orioles 12-5.
Fenway Park Open House
Three straight wins had followed the brawl with the Yankees, but then came a rainout and a loss in Baltimore and a Friday night win in Minnesota. Back in Boston, politicians had descended on the city for the Democratic National Convention. When the DNC wrapped up, the city sponsored a series of free events at museums and other locations over the weekend to thank people for putting up with road closings and other inconveniences during the past week. The Red Sox had an open house at Fenway Park, much like the Father's Day event. This time my parents were able to come, so I went in again. See the rest of my pictures here. It was a fun, carefree afternoon at the ballpark, but we had no idea how drastically our lives were about to be changed.
Today was the trading deadline, but the rumors that had been floating around over the past week implied that the Red Sox were unlikely to do anything major. Maybe they'd add an extra outfielder since Trot Nixon's quad injury had him out a lot. Maybe a good-fielding backup infielder for the days Nomar needed off because of his heel injury, or perhaps an additional arm for the bullpen. I originally hoped that if anything happened during the day, they'd make an announcement at the open house, like they had told us about Keith Foulke's signing the day tickets went on sale in December. So when nothing was announced as the 4:00 pm deadline approached, I figured nothing had happened. Then just before 4:00 my phone rang. It was my parents, who were listening to the radio in the car on their drive home from Fenway. They broke the bombshell news that Nomar Garciaparra had been traded to the Cubs. The deal involved four teams. Shortstop Orlando Cabrera of the Montreal Expos and first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz of the Minnesota Twins would come to the Sox, while the Cubs sent several prospects to the Expos and Twins. In a separate deal, the Sox had traded minor leaguer Henri Stanley to the Los Angeles Dodgers for outfielder Dave Roberts.
I was devastated, shattered, and otherwise horrified. How could they do this to Nomar? How could they do this to me? If there's ever been a player I identified with (as much as someone with no athletic ability and no desire to actually play sports myself possibly can), it was Nomar. We were the same age, and while I am no athlete, we shared the same obsessive devotion to our chosen crafts. Nomar always made sure on the final day of the season - whether it was a wild-card-clinching victory, a crushing playoff defeat, or just the final game of a year with no playoff implications - to come back onto the field at the end and thank the fans. He did a lot in the community, and his accomplishments on the field spoke for themselves. This year, he had unfortunately been hurt, and it must have been frustrating to watch the team struggle for the past few months without being able to help. The media (whom I often distrust because they all have their own agenda) told us he was unhappy this year, because the Sox had tried to trade him over the past winter. (If the Manny Ramirez-for-Alex Rodriguez swap had gone down, they would have dealt Nomar to the White Sox for Magglio Ordonez - who, as it turned out, also spent much of the year injured.) They had reportedly offered a four-year contract in spring training which he had turned down. But it seemed to me that that's how all negotiations start, only the Red Sox never made any additional attempts to re-sign him. At this point in the season they must have known something I didn't, that he really didn't want to come back. But I thought they owed it to him, after all he's done for this franchise, to at least try. Cabrera would be a free agent at the end of the season, too. They should at least try to sign Nomar, and then if that didn't work, they could always sign Cabrera as a good Plan B. If Nomar really wasn't going to come back, then I suppose it made sense to trade him and get something in return, but I thought they should have made more of an effort first. He deserved better than that!
And if they were determined to trade him, shouldn't they have gotten more in return? Who were these guys? I didn't think Mientkiewicz was anything spectacular - an average hitter with a good glove - but we already had Dave McCarty as a defensive replacement at first base. Cabrera was a good young shortstop, but not as good offensively as Nomar, and would also be a free agent at the end of the year. It just didn't make sense. I felt a little better about the trade for Dave Roberts. I knew from playing fantasy baseball over the past few years that he wouldn't do much offensively, but people picked him for their teams for the stolen bases. I knew we needed another outfielder to back up Trot, but it was puzzling that they would get a guy whose only weapon was his speed, when that was something they didn't seem to utilize. A press conference was scheduled for 6:00. What could Theo Epstein possibly have to say for himself?
Theo tried to spin it as a defensive upgrade. Surely the defense had had their lapses this year, and the team was among the leaders in unearned runs allowed. Derek Lowe had been particularly victimized, as a sinkerballer who needs his defense to make the plays behind him. Theo said that in evaluating the team, he thought that as it was they would be good enough to make the playoffs but wouldn't have much success in the postseason without better defense. He said it was the one flaw in the team, and he didn't want it to become a fatal flaw. (I noticed he chose his words carefully, using the phrase "fatal flaw" instead of "Achilles heel" - the injury that had sidelined Nomar for most of the season.) But it just didn't make sense to me. It still seemed like an awful lot to give up just for a short-term fix, which may not even fix anything.
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