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2005: Diary of a Season
Red Sox 5, Devil Rays 2
The day after my last game, the Red Sox beat the Yankees 17-1, highlighted by Trot Nixon's inside-the-park home run. But then they lost the next two, and even dropped the first game against the Devil Rays to fall out of first place. They entered Tuesday's game tied with Baltimore, 1/2 game behind the Yankees. The Yankees had major problems with their starting pitching, so it was frustrating that our bullpen problems had prevented us from being able to open up a bigger lead. But tonight we got to face the lowly Devil Rays, and had Bronson Arroyo facing off aginst old friend Casey Fossum, who had broken into the big leagues with the Red Sox and was traded to Arizona in the Curt Schilling deal. There was a brief rain delay before the start of the game, so I went into the souvenir store. They were showing the pre-game show on TV, and I saw that Alan Embree had been designated for assignment. That meant they had ten days to either trade him or release him. I knew he was having a bad year, but since he had been good in the past, I always assumed he'd break out of it. He had actually been better lately, and John Halama was still on the team, and was having a worse year than Embree. Not only that, but Embree was one of "my boys" who had won it all for me in 2004 - he had gotten the final out of the ALCS - so I was a little sad to see him go. I also heard that they had re-acquired outfielder Adam Hyzdu and traded for infielder Tony Graffanino.
The game was only delayed a half-hour, and the weather was fine once the game got started. Arroyo gave up a cheesy run in the first, on an infield hit, a groundout, and a single, but the Red Sox got it right back in their half. David Ortiz doubled and went to third on a wild pitch. Manny Ramirez was hit by a pitch, and Jason Varitek hit an RBI single. Manny's homer in the fourth broke the tie, and Big Papi's RBI single in the fifth padded the lead. Curt the Closer got a huge standing ovation as he walked out to the bullpen in the middle of the sixth. Arroyo pitched much better than he had the last time out. The only other Tampa Bay run scored on Edgar Renteria's error in the seventh. Mike Timlin made it through the eighth, and the Sox tacked on two more runs in the bottom of the inning. Curt came on for the ninth with a 5-2 lead, the first save situation the team had had since he went to the bullpen. He struck out Jonny Gomes for the first out, got Fernando Cortez to fly out to left, and got Toby Hall to pop up foul to John Olerud at first. That completed his first save since he pitched for the Phillies in 1992, and it sealed the win for the Sox. The Yankees and Orioles both lost that night, putting the Sox back in first place.
Red Sox 4, Twins 3
To say that the last week and a half had been eventful would be an understatement. They won the final game against the Devil Rays, split a four-game series in Chicago, and then headed to Tampa Bay. On Monday night, Curt Schilling blew the lead in the first extra-inning game the Sox had played all year. On Tuesday, Trot Nixon pulled his oblique muscle swinging at a pitch in the third inning, and was out indefinitely. Matt Clement was cruising along with a 5-0 lead in the bottom of the third, when he was hit in the head by a vicious line drive. The ball ricocheted into left field, and Clement crumpled to the ground and lay motionless on the mound for several scary minutes. It turned out he hadn't lost consciousness, but his future this season was uncertain. Chad Bradford came in from the bullpen and gave up a grand slam, and before long the Devil Rays had an 8-6 lead. But the Red Sox rallied in honor of Trot and Matt, and tied the game up. Johnny Damon made a leaping catch in the bottom of the ninth to prevent a Devil Ray walkoff win, then led off the tenth with a home run. Curt closed it out in the tenth, and the Sox had won a riveting, dramatic roller-coaster of a game.
Just like the "brawl game" against the Yankees in late July last year, this was sure to galvanize and inspire the entire team... everyone except Manny Ramirez, that is. He sat out the next game to "rest". Apparently he had been promised the day off a week in advance, but since then they had lost Trot. Jay Payton had been traded, and Adam Hyzdu and Adam Stern weren't ready to step into an everyday role, so they were down an outfielder to start with. The Sox had just played back-to-back extra-inning games after not going longer than nine all season. On the beleaguered pitching staff, Tim Wakefield said he was ready to pitch in relief, even though he was scheduled to start the next day. Curt had pitched multiple innings on consecutive days and was supposed to have the day off, but he talked his way into the game. And here was Manny taking the day off? He should have gone up to Terry Francona on his own and said never mind about the off-day. But he didn't, and even when the coaches came to him and asked if it was OK to pick a different day, he declined. That angered Red Sox Nation, and he said he wanted to be traded. With a couple of days to go before the trading deadline, all kinds of rumors surfaced about Manny going to the Mets, perhaps in a three-way trade with the Devil Rays. I was angry, but trading him and subtracting his bat from this lineup would hurt the team more than keeping him and having to put up with his occasional antics. I hoped Tito would bench him for one game to make a statement to the other 24 guys on the team, and then put him back in the lineup, watch him hit two home runs, and get everything back to normal. As they returned home for a weekend series against the Twins, Manny was in the lineup Friday night, but he heard mostly boos when he came to the plate. By Saturday, I was over it. The fans had expressed their opinion, and now it was time to move past it. I hoped he'd hit one over the Monster that night, but he wasn't in the lineup. Now I was really upset! Had Theo Epstein decided to make a knee-jerk move just for the sake of doing something? I had resolved not to get upset at the trading deadline this year like I had about the Nomar Garciaparra trade last year, because Theo had earned my trust... but now, when it looked like Manny was gone, all bets were off!
It turned out he wasn't traded Saturday - that was the day he was benched - but as I drove in to Sunday's game, I heard he was not in the lineup again. Had a deal already been reached that they weren't announcing yet, or was Tito just holding him out of the lineup again? The game was at 2:00, and the deadline for trades was 4:00. There were only a few hours to get through, but in the meantime, there was no telling what would happen. There had also been rumors about a possible trade of either Bill Mueller or Kevin Millar to the Twins for some bullpen help (like reliever J.C. Romero, who had given up a grand slam to John Olerud in the Sox' win on Friday night), and Bronson Arroyo had been mentioned in a number of rumors, too.
It was already certain to be an emotional day for Red Sox Nation, and the game hadn't even started yet. I went in as soon as the gates opened. There was no batting practice; instead a bunch of the walking wounded that made up the Red Sox pitching staff were working out in the outfield. It was great to see Matt Clement throwing so soon. It was only five days earlier that he had been hit in the head. He was skipping his start today, but given how frightening the injury had looked, it was amazing he was in uniform at all so soon. We gave him a big ovation as he went to the bullpen to throw, and another huge ovation as he walked back to the dugout when he was done. Wade Miller, who had skipped his last start as his arm injury from last year flared up again, was long-tossing in right field. Keith Foulke, who was rehabbing after arthroscopic knee surgery, was also throwing. Curt Schilling was out there, too, although he wasn't throwing. He was just following Foulke around, and I joked that he was job-shadowing for his new role as closer.
About twenty minutes before gametime, Jonathan Papelbon walked out to the bullpen. The hard-throwing, highly-touted hot prospect was making his major league debut, subbing for Clement. He got a standing ovation as he walked out to the bullpen to warm up. When the game started, he seemed unfazed by all the hype of making his major league debut, pitching in a frenetic and fanatical Fenway, and dealing with all the clubhouse distractions. He struck out Shannon Stewart, the first batter he faced, on three pitches. He followed with a strikeout of Luis Rodriguez, and got Joe Mauer to fly out on the first pitch, for an excellent first inning. We gave him a standing ovation as he walked off the field at the end of the inning. It was going to be that kind of day.
In the second inning, Papelbon gave up a single and hit a batter, but then induced a popup and struck out two more, getting out of the inning and earning yet another standing ovation. He got quickly through the thrd inning, too, and I said, "He's certainly pitching as advertised." My friend replied, "Yeah, start printing the t-shirts now!" (Sure enough, by the following month there were already #58 jerseys in the souvenir store across the street from the park.) In the bottom of the third, Gabe Kapler came up to bat. The fan-favorite from 2004 had gone to Japan for the start of the season, hoping to be an everyday center fielder. But he struggled in Japan and ended up hitting below .200 and not playing much. When the Red Sox managed to free him from his contract and bring him "home" to Boston, he jumped at the chance. It was perfect timing for the Sox, too, with Trot Nixon out. Gabe had spent the past two weeks in Pawtucket getting back into game shape, and Saturday night's game was his first day back. When he came to the plate on Sunday, we of course gave him a warm standing ovation to welcome him back.
Papelbon gave up a solo homer in the fourth, but he quickly learned the benefit of pitching for the Red Sox, when David Ortiz and John Olerud homered back-to-back in the bottom of the inning to give him a 2-1 lead. He walked the bases loaded in the fifth, but got out of it. In the sixth, a solo homer by Jacque Jones tied it, and after a couple more baserunners and his seventh strikeout of the day, Papelbon's very promising debut was done. We gave him another standing ovation as he left the game, and stayed standing to welcome Manny Delcarmen, the young righty who had just made his major league debut the previous week. He grew up in Boston and was making his first appearance at Fenway Park. He struck out the first batter he faced, but then an unearned run scored on an error, giving the Twins a 3-2 lead. Mike Myers came in to finish up the inning. In the middle of the sixth, Curt Schilling walked out to the bullpen with Doug Mirabelli, to yet another ovation.
In the top of the seventh, Terry Tiffee doubled and went to third on a groundout. With two outs, Lew Ford hit a drive to right-center that could have knocked in a run, but Kapler leapt, caught the ball to end the inning, and landed with a backward somersault. Of course, that meant another standing ovation, and we stayed standing for the seventh-inning stretch. In the home half, Olerud singled, Jason Varitek doubled, and Kevin Millar knocked in the tying run with a sacrifice fly. Between innings, video clips played on the scoreboard of Wade Boggs' induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame the day before. That was good for another standing ovation, and even more cheers when we saw the part of his speech where he thanked Ted Williams and Johnny Pesky for helping him with hitting and fielding drills early in his career.
Mike Timlin pitched the eighth, but I missed a couple of batters while I checked my cell phone messages. My parents had called to say that the 4:00 deadline had passed and they had said on TV that no Red Sox players had been traded! Phew! All of a sudden, a "Man-ny! Man-ny! Man-ny!" chant started in left field, and sure enough, there was the prodigal left fielder himself, standing in the dugout holding a bat. Kapler and Johnny Damon made outs to start the eighth, but Edgar Renteria doubled, and Big Papi was intentionally walked. Then in came Manny Ramirez - the best pure hitter in the American League, the 2004 World Series MVP, and a very important piece in the Red Sox offense - to the loudest ovation of the day. Forgiven by Red Sox Nation, he did what he does best - lined a hit into center field that scored the go-ahead run. When he reached first base, he raised his helmet over his head, then did his patented double-point to the appreciative fans. And that is Manny Being Manny!
Curt pitched the ninth to get the save and finish off a heart-warming love-fest of a game, one that ended up being my favorite of the whole season. At the end of the game, after "Dirty Water", they played the REM song "I Am Superman" and showed highlights of Manny's career. We stuck around until the field was cleared. It was all good again in Red Sox Nation. Manny, Mueller, Arroyo, Millar, and fans everywhere could all stop worrying about trades, and get on with winning another championship.
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