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2005: Diary of a Season

Saturday, October 1, Fenway Park, Infield Roof Box 7

Yankees 8, Red Sox 4

With two games left to play On Friday night, the Red Sox beat the Yankees 5-3 in an exciting game, leaving the teams tied at 94-66. The Indians lost to the White Sox, so they were one game behind at 93-67. The Red Sox needed to win both Saturday and Sunday to win the division outright. Splitting the final two games would leave them in a tie, but it would also give the Yankees a 10-9 advantage in the season series, which would be used as a tie-breaker if Cleveland lost the next two and finished behind us in the standings. There was still a chance the Yankees could be out of the playoffs altogether, but that would involve the Indians and Red Sox both winning their next two games.

Saturday's game was my final trip to Fenway for the regular season. My Tenth Man Plan had given me the opportunity to get a playoff ticket, and we had "Division Series Home Game 2", which would be Game 2 if we won the division, but Game 4 if we got stuck with the wild card, and then we'd have to hope against a three-game sweep. We sat in the infield roof box seats, where the view is great. There are four rows of seats, and then a row of stools in the back, which is where we were. The stools are actually better than the seats. They have backs so they're comfortable, and they swivel, meaning people can come and go without making the whole row stand up to get out of the way. And there's a counter in front of them, great for holding my scorecard, the camera, and our beverages. Tim Wakefield was going for the Red Sox, but he was on only three days' rest. He had been scheduled to pitch on Monday night, but that game was rained out and he had pitched Tuesday instead. Pitching Wakefield on Saturday kept the rest of the rotation intact so that Curt Schilling could pitch the final game Sunday, but it also meant Wake wouldn't be at his sharpest against Randy Johnson.

View from the roof boxes The Yankees got three runs in the first on a couple of hits and Gary Sheffield's home run. The Red Sox got to work in the bottom of the inning. Johnny Damon singled and stole second, and Manny Ramirez launched one over the Monster to make it 3-2. Maybe Johnson would be beatable today, after all. But Wake gave up a single, a double, and two sac flies in the second, for another two Yankee runs. The Sox loaded the bases in their half, but Johnson ended up striking out the side. Hideki Matsui homered in the third, making it 6-2. Big Papi doubled to lead off the third, but Randy Johnson settled down and got out of the inning. The life started to come out of this game. A loss today would hurt. It didn't mean the end, but the chance to win the division without any complicated tie-breakers had depended upon a sweep. If we lost this game, there were still a couple of scenarios where we could take out the Yankees, but the Indians would have to win both of their remaining games and force a three-way tie. But we saw on the scoreboard that they were losing. With our game already out of reach, A-Rod hit a solo homer in the fifth, a pretty little hit off a tired knuckleballer whose pitch didn't knuckle, but nothing that could be remotely defined as clutch.

In the sixth, Mike Stanton came in to pitch. He had just been traded to the Red Sox a couple of days earlier, which was a pretty silly move. At this late date he wouldn't be eligible for the postseason, so he was just here as an additional lefty for the weekend. He had pitched for the Red Sox before, in 1995 and '96, and was also with the Yankees from 1997-2002. Today he struck out Matsui, gave up an infield hit to Robinson Cano and then picked him off, got Tino Martinez to ground out, and then was replaced by Jeremi Gonzalez the next inning. I laughed, because if the Red Sox went on the win the World Series this year, he'd wind up with a ring... for only one inning of work! (At least it was a decent inning.) After Gonzalez was done, Lenny DiNardo, Chad Bradford, and Craig Hansen all got work. Tony Graffanino hit a solo homer in the seventh, and Manny blasted his second round-tripper of the day in the eighth, but it wasn't going to be enough. Once we saw the Indians' loss become final, I realized that there was no way anyone could catch the Yankees, and a win today would clinch the division. I normally like to hang around after my last game of the season, but I didn't want to look at them congratualting themselves on our field.

We headed out, and as we walked around to the T station, we passed a group of guys parading down the street with a sign that read, "M-V-Papi for President!" They were marching up and down the street and shouting, "A-Rod, the MVP award is no longer up for sale... You may not purchase this award... It must be earned... It doesn't go to the player with the highest salary, it goes to the best..." They were passing the visitors' parking lot where a group of Yankee fans were waiting for the players to come out. One of them said, "Today proved A-Rod is the best," but we had just walked past them, and I turned around to add sarcastically, "Yeah, it's real valuable to hit a homer when your team's already up by five! They couldn't have done it without him." We also walked past a large group of policemen in riot gear marching in formation up from Kenmore Square. It was strange because the streets were unusually quiet (except for the Papi fans). I don't think anyone realized until the end of the game when Cleveland lost that the Yankees could even clinch today, and it's not like the Sox were eliminated yet. The ballpark just emptied out in silence, with no reason for any kind of violence. But now it would take a Red Sox win or Indians loss tomorrow to assure us of the wild card, and that also meant we wouldn't have home field advantage in the playoffs, so for my "Division Series Home Game 2" ticket to be good, the series would have to go at least four games.


The Postseason

The Red Sox cruised to an easy 10-1 win in the final game of the season Sunday. They actually clinched the wild card in the fifth inning when the Indians' loss became final. Their Division Series opponent was the Chicago White Sox, who had had a huge lead all summer long, then slipped slightly in September, but finished up with a sweep of the Indians. Because the Red Sox had taken until the final day of the season to secure a spot in the playoffs, there had been no time set up the rotation. Matt Clement started Game 1, and struggled horribly. I wanted Terry Francona to take him out after the third, when we were only down 6-2 and there was still plenty of time to come back. But he stayed in for the fourth and gave up two more runs. It felt like a flashback to 2003. At work the next day I told everyone we got "Grady-ed" again. Game 2 provided an even worse flashback. With the Red Sox up 4-2 in the fifth, Tony Graffanino let a routine grounder roll right through his legs. It wound up to be as costly as a certain ground ball in 1986, because two batters later David Wells gave up a three-run homer to Tadahito Iguchi that gave Chicago a 5-4 win. Maybe that was the gimmick this year. After erasing the curse and issuing a generic "everyone's forgiven" last year, we would have to relive and conquer each specific ghost of the past on the way to this year's win. That's the only way it could come close to topping last year's achievement. (I just hoped my "idiots" knew that you can't allow yourself to go down 0-3 in a five-game series!)

Now we needed a win in Game 3 on Friday so that I could get to go to Game 4 on Saturday. Twice before, in 1999 and 2003, the Red Sox had come back from 0-2 deficits to win the Division Series, and they always played well at Fenway Park, so there was no reason to think they wouldn't. But the Red Sox couldn't overcome Chicago's pitching, failing to score off Orlando Hernandez in the sixth despite having loaded the bases with no outs. It ended up not being a flashback to anything except the quick, lame playoff exits of 1988, 1990, and 1995. So much for my Game 4! Even if they lost in that game, I would have known that I had done all I could and had some sense of closure. Instead it felt as if we hadn't even made the playoffs at all. There was no closure. No standing outside the player's parking lot yelling "MVP" when Papi drives up. No playoff atmosphere, jumping up every time there are two strikes, even in the first inning. No chance to say good bye to Johnny, Bill Mueller, Kevin Millar, or anyone else - maybe even Manny - who would be leaving at the end of the season. (The worst part was that if we had won just one more game during the season, we'd have won the division and had home field advantage, and I'd have been able to go to Game 2 instead!)

Five minutes after Game 3 ended, my phone rang. I knew whoever it was was going to be as bummed as I was and would want to talk about it, but I didn't feel like picking up. I figured I'd let the machine get it and see who it was first. The problem is my answering message is the play-by-play of the final out of last year's World Series. I couldn't listen to that either, so I had to answer the phone.

It was my parents, and they convinced me I'd feel better if I booked my flight for next spring's trip to Ft. Myers that night. I did, and it definitely helped start the healing process. Then I decided to drive up and visit them for the weekend, since I no longer had plans locally. Only I forgot to tell one of my friends I was leaving, and she left me several messages all day Saturday. When I still wasn't answering the phone on Sunday, she got worried. She thought of the scene in Fever Pitch when they break up and Jimmy Fallon's character is so depressed he sits around in his pajamas watching a tape of the Buckner play over and over until his friends come over, confiscate the tape, and get him up and out. My friend thought she was going to have to come over and break into my house to find me in my PJ's on the couch watching Dave Roberts' steal of second over and over! When she did finally track me down, I had to convince her that I was actually OK.

It rained all day Saturday, which gave me a nice excuse. There's no way they could have played the game that day anyway. Then it rained for eight days straight, allowing me to stay in denial a little longer. I started every day at work looking out the window muttering, "Oh yeah, they can't play today. We wouldn't want Curt warming up in weather like this..." Sadly, after escaping for a year, denial came right back to me. It was just like riding a bike!

The strange thing is I wasn't as depressed as the preceding paragraphs make me sound. I was, actually, OK. I did understand that the White Sox flat-out out-pitched us. Last year we had better pitching than the Angels, Yankees, and Cardinals, that was why we won. This year, we just didn't have it. In fact, last year's glorious finish had not faded, and it helped me accept this year's inglorious demise.

And it finally gave me time to watch the complete DVD set of all 2004's ALCS and World Series games!

The Rant

Big Papi In November the MVP results came out, and the voters once again displayed their stubborn adherence to outdated concepts. As the "experts" predicted in September, the vote came down to David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez. As I mentioned earlier, I was surprised to see A-Rod's name as a candidate, since I didn't even view him as the most valuable guy on his team. (I thought that was Mariano Rivera; the Red Sox of 2003 and 2005 proved that no amount of offense can save a team with a terrible bullpen, so a dominant closer should be worth more than just another guy who can mash the ball on a team already full of sluggers.) But MVP voters are biased against pitchers. We found that out when Pedro Martinez got snubbed in 1999. Their argument is that a starter only affects one out of every five games. This is, of course, ridiculous. After all, a batter can only affect one out of every nine at-bats, even if he never takes a day off. In 1999, B.J. Surhoff played all 162 games and led the American League with 673 at-bats (727 plate appearances), but Pedro faced 835 batters that year. A true pitching ace also takes pressure off the rest of the staff on the other four days - the others don't have to try to be better than they are, and there will be fewer long losing streaks for them to try to snap. An ace also helps out the bullpen, keeping the relievers rested for the other days in the rotation.

MVP voters have an unwritten rule that pitchers shouldn't be eligible (ignoring the fact that they are) and they think there always has to be a candidate from the Yankees. So they went with A-Rod. At first glance, he and Papi appear to have similar numbers:

            AB  HR  RBI    BA   OBP   SLG    OPS
Ortiz      601  47  148  .300  .397  .604  1.001
Rodriguez  605  48  130  .321  .421  .610  1.031
But of course what separates the two is not how many home runs or RBI they had, but the circumstances under which they had them. Let's look at "close and late" situations, meaning in the 7th inning or later with his team either ahead by one run, tied, or with the potential tying run at least on deck:

            AB  HR  RBI    BA   OBP   SLG    OPS
Ortiz       78  11   33  .346  .447  .846  1.293
Rodriguez   75   4   12  .293  .418  .520   .938
Papi increased his production in situations that counted, while A-Rod's numbers slip with the game on the line. Further proof of this can be found in the following chart, from the
Joy of Sox blog's summary of a post on the Sons of Sam Horn message boards, which shows the pair's production in one- and two-run games, extra-inning games, and blowouts (through mid-September):

                        Ortiz    Rodriguez

                       OPS  PA     OPS  PA
Two-run wins         1.195  33    .828  36
One-run wins         1.151  87    .880  81
One-run losses       1.481  50    .985  51
Two-run losses       1.026  47    .611  42

Extra-inning wins    1.286  23   1.029  21
Extra-inning losses   .495  11    .121  17

Six+ run wins         .870  86   1.790  93
Six+ run losses       .779  67    .523  55
Apparently it's not just my imagination that A-Rod pads his stats in blowouts, while Papi comes up big helping his team in situations that matter! So if it's that obvious that Ortiz is a much more clutch player, why would A-Rod receive any first place votes at all?

This year we found out the voters are also biased against designated hitters. But look, this is the American League. The DH is a legitimate position! It has been for 33 years! It is not cheating to use a guy in this manner! (It's not like I'm suggesting the bat boy or the assistant to the traveling secretary should win the MVP. A manager, hitting coach, or team physician like Dr. Bill Morgan all have the ability to profoundly affect a team, but they're not eligible for this type of award. A DH, however, is.) If there was no such thing as a DH, David Ortiz would be perfectly capable of playing first. He demonstrated that in the 2004 World Series, and in 2005 he had a .998 OPS in 43 at-bats as a first baseman, showing that playing in the field didn't hamper his production at the plate.

Some voters act sanctimonious about the value of defense, but it's not as if the quality of the player's defense enters into it. Was that what put Jason Giambi over the top in 2000? Or Juan Gonzalez - twice - or Mo Vaughn or Jose Canseco? If there's a choice between a dominant slugger who plays first base and a slick-fielding shortstop who doesn't hit as many home runs, who's going to win? What if the choice was between a good-fielding right fielder and a good fielding catcher who had similar offensive numbers? Should the catcher get "degree-of-difficulty" points for playing a more difficult position to field? Should a poor-fielding pitcher not win the Cy Young despite a great pitching line? Of couse not! (But these are the same voters who gave a Gold Glove to Rafael Palmeiro in 1999, the year he spent all but 28 games at DH. Even after all their other supposed reasons, they still give preference to guys who have won one before.)

M-V-Papi It's often stated that the problem is that there is no official definition for "valuable". Is it the player who GMs would most like to have on their team if he were available? (Apparently not if he happens to be a pitcher.) The most dominant offensive player? (Apparently not this year.) The most complete offensive/defensive position player? (Not necessarily, because they don't like to consider players on losing teams, even if it's not his fault the team is bad.) But the definition that captures the true spirit of what the award stands for is this: The most valuable player is the player - at any offensive or defensive position - who is the most instrumental to his team's success. Search no further, voters, Big Papi defines valuable! Anyone who followed his 2005 season understands now what this award is all about.

So give A-Rod the M.F.N.P.W.P.I.T.F.A.H.G.C.S.F.A.T.T.A.H.O.R.G.P. (Most Famous Non-Pitcher Who Plays In The Field And Has Good Counting Stats For A Team That Also Has Other Really Good Players) Award if you must, but the Most Valuable Player is none other than David "Big Papi" Ortiz.

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Read other years' diaries:     2001     2002     2003     2004     2005     2006     2007

If you enjoyed my accounts of the 2005 season, you'll love Feeding the Green Monster by Rob Neyer. It was reading his book about the 2000 season that inspired me to write about my experiences in 2001-05. You can read the first chapter online by following the link below.

Feeding the Green Monster Feeding the Green Monster, by Rob Neyer.
The columnist who grew up a Kansas City Royals fan proves you don't have to be from Boston to appreciate Fenway Park. Neyer attended every home game at Fenway in 2000, and his book chronicles the season from a baseball fan's viewpoint. Experience sitting through a cold April game, catching a foul ball, and witnessing a walk-off homer as if you were in the stands yourself.
Paperback - Buy from Details/Order is happy to feature Chapter 1 of Feeding the Green Monster online, courtesy of

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