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2005: Diary of a Season

Monday, August 1, LeLacheur Park, Lowell

Spinners 8, Cyclones 1

Luis Soto grounds out This is the day I officially became - not an actual Old Person - but a Baseball Fan From A Different Era. The Red Sox had the day off, and I went to see their short-season single A affiliate Lowell Spinners. Most of the players on the team had just been drafted this June, making them a decade younger than me, but that's not what made me feel old. The Spinners were playing the Mets' affiliate Brooklyn Cyclones, and when the starting lineups were read, they announced that the Cyclones' manager was Mookie Wilson. My first reaction was a horrified gasp at hearing that name spoken at a family event, and then, naturally, a loud boo. But I looked around, and no one else blinked. Did they not know who he was? Maybe the kids in the stands didn't, but their parents certainly should. It was an embarrassment! Jesse Orosco still got extra-loud boos at Fenway in 2003 because everyone remembered him as a member of the '86 Mets. And here was the actual guy who hit the actual ball through Bill Buckner's actual legs, and no one cared! It was sad. The game that night was being promoted as Kevin Youkilis Night. He had played for the Spinners after being drafted in 2001, and now he was a World Champion with the Red Sox. His parents were here tonight to throw out the first pitch, which I thought was pretty cool. When they were introduced, my Red Sox fan instinct took over again, as I shouted "Yoooouuuuk!" like we always do at Fenway. But again, I was almost alone. The little girl next to me looked like she wondered why I was booing. So now they weren't just too young, they were actually clueless. All you have to do to know to shout "Youk" is watch a game on TV. Even in road games there are enough Red Sox fans in attendance that the chant can be heard. (Then when Wally the mascot came on the field, they all finally cheered. Ugh!) It was a sad contrast to yesterday's game at Fenway, where to cheer at all the right moments we had to know the past (they showed clips of Wade Boggs' Hall of Fame induction speech), present (injured Matt Clement warmed up before the game), and future (Jonathan Papelbon and Manny Delcarmen made their Fenway debuts) of the team, and everyone there did.

The two Spinners players I was most interested in seeing were center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and shortstop Jed Lowrie, two of the Sox' top picks in the draft, but neither of them were in the lineup. Ryan Phillips was pitching. He had a 1.91 ERA coming into the game, and he did a good job, holding the Cyclones to one run in six innings. The Spinners offense was evenly distributed, with each of the starters getting at least one hit. Left fielder Yahmed Yema had two doubles. Right fielder Luis Soto (who had a 20-game hitting streak going) and first baseman Jason Twomley each had two RBI. The Spinners batted around in the sixth, scoring six runs. Centerfielder Willy Mota homered in the seventh, and they went on to win, 8-1.

Wednesday, August 3, Fenway Park, Section 35

Red Sox 8, Royals 5

The Red Sox won again on Tuesday, their sixth straight victory since the dramatic game when Matt Clement was beaned. We were back on Wednesday for the second game in a series against the Royals. Wade Miller was starting tonight, after skipping his last start due to shoulder soreness. Manny was back in his usual spot in left field, and the fans were loving it, cheering and waving as he took the field each inning until he double-pointed back. He was playing with renewed enthusiasm and hustle, and last night he had cracked a huge three-run homer as part of a four-RBI night. In right field tonight was Jose Cruz, Jr. The Red Sox had traded for him just before the deadline, but they waited to activate him until afterwards so that Jonathan Papelbon could get called up for one day to make a spot start, so this was Cruz's second game as a member of the Sox.

Miller set the Royals down in order in the first, and Manny launched a three-run homer in the bottom of the inning. It was Manny Being the Manny that we knew and loved. A two-run homer in the second pulled Kansas City within a run, and with two outs, Ruben Gotay hit a bloop into shallow left. Edgar Renteria went back to get it, and Manny charged in to prove he could get it. Manny did end up with the inning-ending catch, but he and Renteria collided and both fell to the ground. Not again! Not with Clement still recovering from a season-threatening head injury, and Trot Nixon out, and Johnny Damon always banged up after crashing into something! And especially not after Manny had redeemed himself following the drama of the last few weeks! Fenway Park went silent, and we waited while the trainers came out to check on them. Finally, after a few minutes, they were both able to stand up and walk off the field.

Renteria was able to stay in the game, grounding out to end the second, but when they took the field in the top of the third, Gabe Kapler came in for Manny in left. The Royals took the lead in the fourth, aided by a triple which might not have gone for extra bases if Cruz had known how to play Fenway's tricky right field. But the Sox reclaimed the lead in the bottom of the inning on Kevin Millar's second double of the day, Tony Graffanino's RBI hit, and Renteria's sac fly. They padded the lead with two more runs on an error and a wild pitch in the fifth, and another on a wild pitch in the seventh. Miller hung in through six-plus innings, giving up five runs, but benefiting from the Red Sox offense and a hitless performance from the bullpen. The best news was that Renteria was just winded and didn't miss any time, and Manny had a bloody nose and a bruise on his face, but was back in the lineup after one day off.

Sunday, August 7, McCoy Stadium, Pawtucket

PawSox 9, Bisons 4

My trophy and me When I found out that the Red Sox' World Series trophy was coming to a Triple A game in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, I had to get tickets. They had brought the trophy to a PawSox game earlier in the year, but it was a day I already had tickets at Fenway. This time the Red Sox were on the road, so we could go. While I had seen the trophy enough times to practically be considered a groupie, the two friends I go to a lot of my games with had not seen it yet in person. We arrived early and went in as soon as the gates opened. The trophy was on display in center field, near the grassy berm where people can sit for the game, overlooking batting practice. We posed for pictures, then went to stake out some good seats in the general admission section. That's one of the things that makes McCoy a good destination if Fenway's sold out. Onsite parking is free for those who arrive early enough (even the overflow lots down the street are only $2 or $3) and general admission tickets are $6. And most of the players will be familiar to fans of the major league club.

McCoy Stadium Kevin Youkilis was back down in Pawtucket at the time, a casualty of the roster numbers. He was starting at first today, hoping to add some versatility so he could get more playing time the next time he got called up. (Another good thing about McCoy: Unlike at the Spinners game, the fans knew to say "Yoooouuuuk" when he came up. I'm sure they would have known who Mookie Wilson was, too.) Mark Bellhorn was here on a rehab stint, but he had been struggling as badly here as he had with the Red Sox this year. Catcher Kelly Shoppach had been with the Red Sox earlier in the year when Doug Mirabelli had been on the D.L. Adam Hyzdu had had several stints in the Red Sox organization, including some time in the majors at the end of 2004 and late July of 2005. Shortstop Alejandro Machado would go on to earn a promotion to the majors in September. I knew left fielder George Lombard from spring training. And I was interested in seeing top prospect Dustin Pedroia at second base.

Bellhorn bats with Youkilis on deck That day Abe Alvarez was starting. He had been with the team in 2004 briefly (one spot start) and as a result had picked up a championship ring. He gave up two singles and a home run in the first inning, starting his teammates out with a 3-0 deficit. But he recovered in time to strike out the side in the second and wound up with nine strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings of work. In the second, Lombard got one run back with a towering home run high onto the roof of the building in center field that's painted green to serve as the batter's eye. (I remembered seeing him in spring training in the same batting practice rotation as Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, and he had been hitting them as far as Big Papi.) Pedroia drew the PawSox closer with a solo homer in the third. He also walked twice, for a nice day at the plate. In the fifth, they loaded the bases on Luis Figerroa's single and walks to Machado and Pedroia. Bellhorn grounded out, but it knocked in a run. Youk followed with his second walk of the day, and Hyzdu and Shoppach each had hits, knocking in three more to give the PawSox a 6-4 lead.

Cla Meredith, whom we had watched surrender a grand slam in his major league debut in Boston in May, entered in the sixth, and pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings, giving up only one hit. The PawSox added to their lead in the seventh, when Bellhorn's hit knocked in Machado, who had doubled. It was Mark's second RBI of the day, and I hoped that meant he was finally getting back on track. Hyzdu's homer later in the inning drove in a couple more. Tim Bausher pitched the eighth, and Jonathan Papelbon came in for the ninth. We had been at his major league debut a week earlier. After making the start that day, he had been sent back down to work on pitching in relief, since that's the area in which the major league team needed the most help. He worked a quick and efficient ninth, needing only six pitches to induce three fly outs. The PawSox game had started at 1:00, but the Red Sox were in Minnesota so their game wasn't until 2:00. They showed us highlights during breaks in our game, and when we got to the car it was 8-3 Red Sox in the sixth. After winning eight in a row beginning with the day Matt Clement got beaned, they had dropped the first two games against the Twins. But we caught the end of the game on the radio as we drove home, and they hung on to win, 11-7.

Monday, August 8, Fenway Park, Section 35

Red Sox 11, Rangers 6

We were back at Fenway the next night for a game against the Texas Rangers. In the car on the way in, I heard on the radio that Bill Mueller had been scratched from the game with back spasms. Kevin Youkilis had been called back up, and Jose Cruz, Jr., had been designated for assignment after only three games with the Red Sox to make room. So I was surprised when the game started and Alex Cora was at third. What's the point of calling Youk up if they're not going to use him? I found out after the game that Mueller hadn't had the back spasms until batting practice, so by the time the decision was made, Youk had already suited up for his game in Pawtucket, and he drove up to Boston with his uniform on. He got stuck in traffic and didn't arrive until just before game time.

Wade Miller was pitching again, and it was starting to get painful to watch him. It was clear he had not fully recovered from the shoulder problems that had cut his season short last year. He was laboring through every outing, pitching slowly and deliberately and throwing a lot of pitches in every inning, giving me flashbacks to the John Burkett era. At this point in the season, I'd rather cut my losses with Miller and give Jonathan Papelbon a chance in the rotation. Miller gave up three runs in the first inning, just like Burkett used to. Luckily, the Red Sox offense was in full gear. With one out, Edgar Renteria singled and David Ortiz launched a two run homer. After two walks, Roberto Petagine's single knocked in the tying run, and Tony Graffanino's hit gave the Sox a 4-3 lead. But Miller gave up another run in the second, tying it back up at 4-4. The Rangers got two hits and a walk off Miller in the third, but thanks to a double play they didn't score. In the fourth they had runners at the corners with two outs, when Graffanino made a great catch of a tricky popup, reaching into the stands and diving onto the rolled-up tarp to end the inning. The Rangers combined three hits and a wild pitch to score another run and take the lead in the fifth, but Graffanino started an inning-ending double play to get out of it.

In the bottom of the fifth, Kevin Millar and Petagine singled, bringing Graffanino to the plate. He had already had two hits and a good defensive play, and I turned to my friends and said, "Watch this. Tony's going to have a big hit here and wind up the player of the game." Sure enough, he launched one over the Monster, giving the Sox the lead again. In Graffanino's next at-bat in the seventh, he was intentionally walked with two outs and a runner at third. He stole second and scored, showing he could help the team in every aspect of the game. I felt bad for Mark Bellhorn after everything he had done in the postseason last year, but he was injured and struggling in his rehab stint, and it looked like Graffanino had earned the spot at second for the rest of the year. Alex Cora had a good game, too, going 2-for-3 with a walk, but Youkilis came in to replace him at third in the top of the eighth. Curt Schilling was still getting a standing ovation as he walked out to the bullpen with Doug Mirabelli in the sixth inning every night (Mirabelli liked to pretend the applause was for him, waving and motioning for the crowd to be seated), but there was no need for the closer tonight. The Sox tacked on two runs in the seventh, and Jeremi Gonzalez, Mike Timlin, and Chad Bradford hung on to protect the win. I put the radio on for the drive home, and heard that Graffanino had indeed been the player of the game.

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