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2005: Diary of a Season

Monday, September 26, Fenway Park, Section 41

The next week the Red Sox went on to Tampa Bay. They lost two of three, but Big Papi had three homers and eight RBI in the series. They moved on to Baltimore and swept the Orioles. Jonathan Papelbon emerged as a strong set-up man behind Mike Timlin, and picked up his first big-league win in the process. On Monday night, the Red Sox opened a four-game series against the Blue Jays, who had been giving them problems all year long. Despite the sweep of the Orioles, the Red Sox and Yankees were now tied atop the A.L. East. In the Central, the White Sox were in the lead, but the Indians were just a few games out, 1/2 game ahead of the Red Sox and Yankees, so it wasn't a given that the wild card would go to the second place team in the East. Ideally, the Red Sox would win the division and Cleveland would grab the wild card, leaving the Yankees out altogether. But whatever happened, this final week of the season was going to be a stressful one.

My friend and I got these tickets in late April when our game was rained out. That game was made up in June, but it was a Thursday afternoon, and she couldn't take the time off from work to go to the makeup. So we bought tickets to this game, because only September games were still available at that point. Even then it wasn't possible to get two seats together; we wound up near the front of the bleachers, but I was one row back and three seats over from her. When I got there, it was pouring. How was it that I seemed to get all the rainouts? I didn't even bother going to the seats. I just sat under cover in the grandstand waiting. There was no batting practice, so the time was spent thinking about the upcoming week. There were all the tie-breaking scenarios to consider. If the Red Sox won the division, and the Yankees finished tied with the Indians, New York and Cleveland would have a one-game playoff to decide the wild card. Likewise, if the Yankees won the division and the Red Sox were tied with the Indians, we'd face them in a one-game playoff for the wild card. It was more complicated if the Red Sox and Yankees finished the season in a tie. If they were tied and the Indians were ahead of them, Cleveland would get the wild card and the Sox and Yanks would have a one-game playoff to determine the division. But if the Red Sox and Yankees finished in a tie with the Indians behind them, then there wouldn't be a one-game playoff for the division because both Eastern Division teams would be in anyway. In that case, the head-to-head record of the two teams would determine who won the division and who was the wild card. (So far the season series was 9-7 in favor of the Yankees, but there were still three games left and if the Red Sox swept, they could still have the tie-breaker in their favor. The rotation had David Wells, Tim Wakefield, and Curt Schilling scheduled to pitch the weekend series, so it was well lined up to make a sweep possible.) Then in the case of a three-way tie, the Red Sox and Yankees would have a one-game playoff to decide the division, with the loser playing a one-game playoff against the Indians the following day for the wild card spot.

The anticipation of the upcoming week was stressing me out. It was almost as bad as the playoffs last year. I didn't want to sit around and think about it any more - I just wanted the game to hurry up and start. But there was no chance of that. When we saw the clubhouse guys come out to the visitors' bullpen to bring in the Gatorade bucket at 8:00, we knew the game had been called. It was announced that the game would be made up in the afternoon the next day. I called my boss from the T on the way home, to say I would need the day off.

Tuesday, September 27, Fenway Park, Section 41

Red Sox 3, Blue Jays 1

Fenway Park Normally I like to arrive at day games early, when the gates open two hours before the game. But with this week as crucial as it was, all the sitting around and waiting before the game was stressing me out. I had already sat there for two hours last night with nothing to show for it. So for today's game, I decided I'd get there at noon, which was still plenty early for the 1:05 start. It's a 45 minute drive from my house to the T station, then a 45 minute train ride in from Riverside. I left my house at 10:30, and got to Riverside around 11:15. There was a long line of cars waiting to pay, and I was in line there for quite awhile. I made it almost to the front (only four cars were ahead of me) when the lot filled up. That's when I realized that I had been so focused on the Red Sox that I forgot about everything else. To me, this was The Most Important Game Of The Year (at least until the next game), but to the rest of the world, this was Tuesday. It's impossible to find a place to park for a weekday afternoon game, and normally I'd leave the house earlier, but I just hadn't been thinking about that today. It was already after 11:30 when I left Riverside. There was no point trying any of the other Green Line lots nearby, because they're much smaller than Riverside and fill up much earlier.

I headed to Fenway, annoyed that I'd now have to pay the $30 or $40 to park at one of the lots there. Traffic wasn't bad as I hopped on the Mass. Pike, got on Storrow Drive in Allston, and took the Kenmore Square exit. But then... Kenmore Square was completely gridlocked. I turned onto Beacon St., and from there it's only a block to Kenmore Square, where I would turn left onto Brookline to go up past Fenway. I promise this is not an exaggeration, but that little stretch of less than half a mile took forty-five minutes! Buses trying to cross in front of us kept running red lights and blocking the intersection so that only one car, if any, could get through in my direction per green light. It was brutal! By the time I got to Fenway, it was 12:30, and I had the pre-game show on the radio in the car. And of course by then, all the lots were full. There are usually plenty of lots down Brookline toward the hospitals, but for weekday afternoon games they are all marked "No game parking today" or "Monthly permits only". Somehow I managed to get over to Boylston St., and started circling up and down the Back Bay streets, looking for a lot that wasn't full. The Prudential Center garage was full. So was the garage in Copley Square, and the game had now started. (Johnny Damon led off the bottom of the first with a single, Edgar Renteria doubled, and Papi and Manny drove them in.) One garage didn't say "Full", so I drove in, but at the bottom of the ramp there was a guy directing us to turn around. I asked him, and he suggested the Dartmouth St. garage, a couple of blocks down from Copley Square, near the Back Bay T station. They did have spots - I didn't even look to see what their rates were - and I started walking to Fenway, which is over a mile away at that point. My parents are retired, so they were watching the game at home, and narrating it to me over my cell phone. As luck would have it, Tim Wakefield, who's always a quick worker, was pitching, and he was throwing a beauty, retiring batters quickly with minimal baserunners. This was one day I didn't want a briskly paced game! (Come on guys, foul off a few pitches!) Why couldn't this be a Wade Miller start? His games always last at least 3 1/2 hours, but Wake's are often in the 2 1/2 hour range. At least we had the lead - that was, after all, the important thing. I finally made it, an hour late and just in time for the bottom of the fourth!

My seat was great, only nine rows back but far enough up that the bullpen fence didn't block the view, and the weather was gorgeous. The Blue Jays got one run in the fifth on a passed ball, but other than that, Wakefield was spectacular. He went seven innings with only three hits and one walk, and struck out six. The Red Sox added an insurance run in the bottom of the fifth. Renteria hit his second double of the day, and Big Papi followed with a double of his own for his second RBI. Jonathan Papelbon allowed two baserunners in the eighth, but they didn't score, and he provided a nice bridge to Mike Timlin, who nailed down the save. (Apparently I wasn't the only one with traffic troubles. When I got to my seat, the people to my left said they had just arrived a few minutes earlier. In the sixth inning, a woman in the row in front of me was on her cell phone, then turned to the people she was with and said, "He's still on Storrow Drive. I don't know if he's going to make it." No one ever did come in and sit next to her. Then in the eighth, two guys came and sat in the row behind me. Their friends asked, "Are you just getting here now?" and they replied, "We were determined to make it.") The game ended at 3:30. It was a good game, I just wish I could have been able to savor the whole thing, especially since my last four games had been losses and these games were so important. The Yankees and Indians didn't play till that night, but after our afternoon game, all three teams had identical 92-64 records.

Wednesday, September 28, Fenway Park, Section 37

Blue Jays 7, Red Sox 2

Chewbacca throws out the first pitch The Red Sox lost the night game on Tuesday, but the Indians and Yankees lost too, so at the end of the day all three teams were still tied. Wednesday night's game was in our Tenth Man Plan, but my friend had also bought a pair further back in Section 37 so that her husband and brother could go. The guys are tall, so we let them use our close seats behind the bullpen fence, while we opted for the faraway yet unobstructed ones. (In a promotion for the upcoming Star Wars exhibit at the Boston Museum of Science, Chewbacca threw out the first pitch.)

Bronson Arroyo gave up a triple to Frank Catalanotto and a two-run homer to Vernon Wells in the first inning. Edgar Renteria's homer in the bottom of the inning got one run back for the Sox. But Catalanotto, for whatever reason, is one of those guys who always does well against the Red Sox, no matter who the pitcher is. He homered to lead off the third, and later in the inning, Eric Hinske's homer made it 5-1, Blue Jays. Just like Catalanotto, another Blue Jay who always has great games against the Red Sox and mediocre stats against the rest of the league is Ted Lilly. The Sox loaded the bases against him in the third, but couldn't score.

Bronson Arroyo Arroyo gave up a hit and two walks to open the fourth, and with the dangerous Catalanotto coming to the plate, he was done for the night. Lenny DiNardo entered, and promptly surrendered a two-run double. It was really frustrating to watch the Sox fall behind 7-1, in a game they absolutely had to win. It was cold, too. Our seats were on the aisle, and it was breezy, making me wish I had brought my gloves. The Red Sox went down 1-2-3 in the fourth. The final out was a popup in foul territory, fielded after a long run by second baseman Aaron Hill. He flipped it into the stands as he jogged off the field, and the frustrated fans sitting in that area all chanted, "Throw it back, throw it back!" to the person who caught it. DiNardo actually went on to pitch four good innings. He even managed to get Catalanotto to ground out in the sixth to prevent him from hitting for the cycle. The Red Sox got one more run in the fifth on Renteria's double and David Ortiz's single, but even Big Papi couldn't do it all by himself. Even worse, the Yankees went on to win, although at least the Indians lost. We finished the night one game out in the A.L. East and tied for the wild card... with only four games left to play.

Thursday, September 29, Fenway Park, Section 14, Box 110

Red Sox 5, Blue Jays 4

I was back on Thursday (my fourth straight day at Fenway, counting Monday's rainout!) and this time I was in a great seat in the infield behind first base. I had gotten the seats from a business associate a couple of days earlier, and brought my aunt. The game was, of course, crucial. The Red Sox had fallen a game behind the Yankees in the A.L. East after leading most of the summer, and were tied with Cleveland for the wild card. They couldn't afford to fall any further back. I heard on the radio on the way in that the Red Sox had acquired Mike Stanton from the Washington Nationals in a trade for two low-level minor leaguers. It was funny to acquire someone with only four days left in the season, since he wouldn't be eligible to pitch in the playoffs, but they were desperate for pitching help - especially in the form of a lefty - for the weekend series.

Matt Clement went against Scott Downs. Clement set the Jays down in order in the first. It was so important for him to have a good start, because the Sox were going to need him in the playoffs. He had a reputation in past years of fading down the stretch, but we hoped that being on the Red Sox where he could pitch to Jason Varitek would stop that trend. True, he hadn't been as good in the past two months as he had been in his All-Star first half, but I wasn't sure how much of it was due to the beaning he had suffered at the end of July. With one out in the second, Eric Hiske doubled. He stole third, and Varitek's throw went into left field, allowing the run to score. Toronto got another in the third, when Frank Catalanotto (who hits like Babe Ruth against the Red Sox and like, well, Frank Catalanotto against the rest of the league) doubled home Aaron Hill. The Red Sox got one run back in the bottom of the inning. Tony Graffanino doubled, Johnny Damon singled, and Edgar Renteria's groundout knocked in a run. David Ortiz came to the plate to thunderous "MVP, MVP" chants. It looked like the vote would come down to him and Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees. A-Rod didn't make much sense to me as a candidate, because I didn't even think he was the most valuable player on his team. (In my opinion, that would be Mariano Rivera. If the Red Sox had had a healthy closer all season long, they wouldn't be in this predicament now.) But MVP voters are always biased against pitchers, so they pick the guy with the best offensive stats, even if he may not bring as much value as someone else. Both players would finish the season with gaudy stats (.300-47-148 with a 1.001 OPS for Papi; .321-48-130 with a 1.031 OPS for A-Rod) but only one defined the word clutch. A-Rod tacked on plenty of RBIs when his team was already in the lead, but Big Papi had single-handedly carried his team to victory several times, and as the games got bigger he only got better. Ortiz struck out to end the third, but it was still too early in the night for heroics.

The mighty Catalanotto hit a two-run homer in the fifth, giving the Jays a 4-1 lead. Now I was getting concerned. The Yankees and Indians were leading in their games, and we could not lose any additional ground. What was it with these Blue Jays, anyway? The Red Sox had struggled against them all year long. Clement gave up a single to the number nine hitter to open the sixth, and Terry Francona didn't waste any more time lifting him in favor of Mike Myers. Myers was able to get out of the inning, even retiring Catalanotto on a groundout. In the sixth, the players knew they were running out of time and decided to do something about it. Big Papi led off with a single, chasing Downs fom the game. Jason Frasor entered, and Manny Ramirez greeted him with a home run, making it 4-3. The urgency and importance of the game and the chill in the air gave us in the stands a postseason intensity. I was already getting hoarse from yelling "MVP" and cheering, but I now felt like they were going to find a way to win the game. They just needed to keep the Blue Jays from scoring any more runs.

Big Papi's homer ties the game Myers got the first out of the seventh, and Jonathan Papelbon entered. The rookie had beome a favorite of mine when he had excelled under the pressure of the crazy trading deadline day when he made his major league debut. Since then he had shown no fear in a number of high-pressure situations in the stretch run. And he showed plenty of poise in the intense game tonight, finishing up the seventh and pitching a 1-2-3 eighth. In the bottom of the eighth, M-V-Papi did what he does best - he homered to lead off the inning, tying the game. We went crazy, jumping up and down and screaming. Was there any further proof needed? No one brought more value to his team than our own Big Papi! (It was his eleventh homer in September, a new club record for the month.) I knew we'd win the game now, it was just a matter of working out the details of how we'd win. Manny walked and Tek singled him to third with no outs, but John Olerud flied out, Bill Mueller struck out, and Trot Nixon flied out to end the threat.

Papelbon stayed in and pitched the ninth, allowing only a harmless two-out double. Big Papi was due up fourth in the bottom of the ninth, meaning someone would have to reach base to get him to the plate. Graffanino led off the inning by popping out to third, but Damon singled and stole second. Renteria walked, and up came Papi. It had become almost cliché to just predict, "Don't worry, Papi will come up with something." I mean, he had done it so many times already. Even tonight, he already had two hits, two runs scored, and the game-tying RBI. Could he really be expected to come through again?

Of course he could! He worked the count full, just to make it interesting. We had been standing for the whole inning, and chanting "MVP, MVP" for the whole at-bat. Finally, he lined one into left-center, out of reach of the diving shortstop, and Johnny raced around with the winning run. MVP! MVP! MVP! We high-fived everyone around us and stuck around as the players surrounded Papi. His post-game interview played on the scoreboard, but we couldn't hear it because we were all still cheering. It was an exhilarating win, but the Indians and Yankees won their games, too, so we were all in the same position we had started the night in.

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