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2006: Diary of a Season
Fisher Cats 1, Sea Dogs 0, 13 inn.
After the devastating series against the Yankees, the Red Sox went on a west coast trip. They somehow managed to win two of three in Anaheim, but they were swept in Seattle and in Oakland. Things had gotten much worse on the injury front, too. Trot Nixon and Jason Varitek were still out, and Alex Gonzalez had joined them on the D.L. When the Sox were in Jon Lester's hometown of Seattle, he went to a doctor with back pain, discovered he had enlarged lymph nodes, and was being tested for cancer. In Oakland, Big Papi announced he was feeling an irregular heartbeat. (I know my own heart skipped a few beats when I heard that. It was as if the old expression "The Red Sox killed my father and now they're coming after me" should be changed to "The Red Sox killed my father and now they're coming after my Papi.") He flew home immediately, and was joined on the flight by Manny Ramirez, who was having problems with his knee, and Wily Mo Pena, who had injured his wrist. Back in Oakland, the Red Sox fielded a lineup that night with only four major league regulars, with the rest being bench players and minor league callups. Then when the team returned to Fenway, they were greeted with the news that Lester did indeed have anaplastic large-cell lymphoma and was starting treatment. That was announced before the game, and that same night in the ninth inning Jonathan Papelbon came out of the game with a shoulder injury. Thus was the bleak state of Red Sox Nation when I drove to Portland to finally see a Sea Dogs game that wasn't going to be rained out.
The Sea Dogs were actually having a very good season. They were in first place in the Northern Division, and their magic number was down to 2 to clinch a playoff spot. Unlike the major league games I had been to lately, the Sea Dogs displayed very good pitching. Tommy Hottovy started, and he went seven innings, giving up only two hits and one walk, while striking out six. Unfortunately, the offense didn't do anything to help him, as the Sea Dogs only had eight baserunners of their own during that time. In the eighth, both teams went to the bullpen, with Kyle Jackson keeping the Fisher Cats off the board, and the game was still scoreless at the end of the ninth. At least the game had started at 6:00, so that even with extra innings it wasn't late yet.
Our seats were fantastic, in the lower section behind home plate. There was a great fan in the section behind us. She was presumably a season ticket-holder, dressed head-to-toe in Sea Dogs garb, who cheered loudly throughout the game. In between "Let's go Sea Dogs" chants, she perfected her battle cry, urging every batter to "Never give up!" When Kyle Jackson had the bases loaded with no outs in the top of the ninth, she told him, "Don't give up, you can do it," and sure enough a cool 3-2-3 double play and a strikeout got him out of it. When Rusty Tucker walked a guy on a full count to load the bases in the eleventh, it was, "Don't worry about that, just get the next guy out. Never give up!" and a popup ended the inning. When Jon Searles had two runners on in the twelfth, she switched to, "You can get out of this. Keep the faith!" and he picked up a crucial strikeout. Her enthusiasm was infectious, and by the thirteenth inning when Mike Bumatay got himself into a jam, we were all yelling, "Never give up, Bumatay, never give up!" Despite our pleas, Bumatay did allow a run in the top of he thirteenth, the first run of the day for either team. The Sea Dogs couldn't score in the bottom of the inning, and the game was over.
But even though they lost that day, the Sea Dogs didn't give up. They ended up making the playoffs, beating the Yankees' affiliate in the first round, and winning the Eastern League Championship. (And when they did, I read in the paper that they sought out the "Never give up" lady during the post-game celebration to acknowledge her efforts.)
Red Sox 3, White Sox 2, 10 inn.
Now that it was September, the Red Sox could call up some reinforcements from the minor leagues. Second baseman Dustin Pedroia and outfielder David Murphy made their debuts, and pitchers Kason Gabbard, Craig Breslow, and Javier Lopez rejoined the team. Meanwhile Trot Nixon, Jason Varitek, and Alex Gonzalez were close to returning and were rehabbing in Pawtucket. With David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez still on the shelf, I joked that we had more major leaguers in the PawSox games over the weekend than we had in Boston. But it wasn't just the lineup that needed help. The Red Sox had traded David Wells to the San Diego Padres at the end of August for minor league catcher George Kottaras. Curt Schilling was missing a start, and Tim Wakefield wasn't back yet, so that meant Julian Tavarez had moved from the 'pen to the rotation, where he was joined by Josh Beckett, Kyle Snyder, Kason Gabbard, and newly-acquired journeyman Kevin Jarvis.
My next game was the night of Labor Day. It was finally time for some of the walking wounded to return. Trot, Tek, and Manny all made their return that night, and were greeted with long ovations when they came to the plate. Big Papi was also getting closer. Doctors had found nothing abnormal with his heart, and he had been cleared to return on Tuesday. I arrived early to Monday's game, and got to watch Papi and the others take batting practice. My ticket was for the standing room area in the new Pavilion level. It was the old "sky box" seats, redone and expanded. Instead of having five rows of seats above the infield in the upper deck, there were now ten. It was four rows of seats, a row of stools at a counter, then four more rows of seats, then another row of stools. Behind the last row was the standing room, with had a nice counter in front that we could lean on and put our stuff down on. I loved it because it allowed me to keep a neat scorecard even while standing. I picked a spot beyond the light tower on the first base side. On the wall to my right was a flat panel TV, which was tuned to NESN during the game. It was cool to be able to look over and see replays during the game, and a little weird to hear Jerry Remy and Don Orsillo narrate everything while I was watching it live.
Curt Schilling's wife and kids joined him on the field before the game as he was honored for becoming just the fourteenth player in history to record 3000 strikeouts. But he wasn't able to pitch today, so Tavarez was making the start, and he was pitching on only three days' rest. Let's just say I didn't have high hopes. But he struck out the side in the first, with a harmless single mixed in. The Sox loaded the bases in the bottom half, but couldn't score. Tavarez cruised from there. Maybe it was because he was a groundball pitcher and the White Sox were a free-swinging team, but they couldn't get anything going against him. There was a single in the third, but the runner was quickly erased on a double play. In the fifth Chicago got just their third hit of the day, and the sixth inning lasted only three pitches: a ground ball to short, a bunt single, and an inning-ending 1-6-3 double play. Tavarez had only thrown 74 piches by the end of the sixth. In the bottom of the inning, the Red Sox finally broke through and scored a run on Trot's RBI single.
In the seventh, Jim Thome hit a home run, and when Paul Konerko followed with a double, Tavarez was done for the day. Manny Delcarmen came in and allowed the inherited runner to score, putting the White Sox on top, 2-1. It was too bad that despite how well Tavarez had pitched, he'd had no run support and wouldn't have anything to show for it. I had noticed that there was an empty stool in the row in front of me for the whole game. I wanted to move down out of the standing room area, but I didn't want to jinx anything earlier. But now that we didn't have the lead anymore, I figured it was safe to sit, so I moved down. Manny walked to lead off the bottom of the ninth. He moved up on Nixon's groundout, and then Mike Lowell doubled, driving in Manny with the tying run. After Varitek was intentionally walked, Alex Cora and Alex Gonzalez made outs, so the game was headed for extra innings. I certainly had seen my share of extra-inning games lately, but this one was so fast-paced that it hadn't reached the three-hour mark yet. With Papi scheduled to return to the lineup on Tuesday, I joked that if we played enough extra innings to go past midnight, it would be Tuesday, and they could put Papi in to win the game for us. (I imagined him pleading with Terry Francona in the dugout, "But Tito, it's Tuesday..." like my brother and I used to stay up past midnight on December 23 so we could tell our parents, "You said we could open one gift on Christmas Eve.") But that wasn't going to happen, of course, so someone else was going to have to come up with something.
Mike Timlin pitched a 1-2-3 top of the tenth. In the bottom of the inning, Carlos Pena was due to lead off. He had just been acquired by the Red Sox after being released by the Yankees. He had spent all year in the minors, but had played in the majors in the past with the Rangers, A's, and Tigers. He grew up in Haverhill, MA, as a Red Sox fan, so he was happy to be able to play for his hometown team. Kevin Youkilis had left for a pinch-runner in the eighth inning, and Pena had replaced him at first base in the ninth, so this was his first at-bat of the game. Carlos took ball one, then launched a home run into the right field stands, his first home run for his hometown team, and a game-winner! It's no wonder he ranked it as the greatest moment of his career. And from my vantage point, I was finally able to get good pictures of the team hopping up and down at home plate to celebrate.
Royals 10, Red Sox 9
By the time my next game came, the lineup was actually back to normal. The rotation was still in shambles, though, and Kevin Jarvis was the night's starter. He somehow managed to escape trouble in the first, despite loading the bases. Big Papi got the Red Sox' first hit with a ground-rule double in the first, then picked up their second hit with a two-run triple in the third. He was quickly picking up where he had left off before his health scare, and when Manny Ramirez followed with a single, it was 3-0 Red Sox. Unfortunately Jarvis couldn't hold on, and the Royals scored two in the fourth and three in the fifth to take a 5-3 lead. In the sixth, Jason Varitek hit a double high off the Green Monster, inches from going out. With Mike Lowell on base after an error, it would have tied the game, but instead they were both stranded.
Bryan Corey and Craig Hansen kept Kansas City off the board in the sixth and seventh, but Manny Delcarmen imploded in the eighth, and the Red Sox were down 8-3 going into the bottom of the inning. Ramirez grounded out to start the inning, but then Lowell singled and Varitek launched a homer that this time did clear the wall. Wily Mo Pena hit a double, and Coco Crisp singled him home. Coco stole second while Carlos Pena, hitting for Alex Gonzalez, struck out. Then Kevin Youkilis walked and Mark Loretta drove in a run with a double. That made the score 8-7 Royals, and brought Big Papi to the plate with runners on second and third. We were still standing from Loretta's double, and Mr. Clutch did not disappoint. He lined a single into left, and both runners came home. The Red Sox had come all the way back to take a 9-8 lead! (Papi finished the night a home run short of a cycle. He hadn't homered since returning to the lineup, and he was still stuck on 47, three shy of breaking the franchise record.)
All we needed now was to close it out in the ninth. With Jonathan Papelbon's shoulder injury shutting him down for the rest of the season, Mike Timlin had taken over closer duties. But tonight he started off allowing a single, then hit the next batter. A sacrifice advanced both runners, and, after a strikeout, number-nine hitter Joey Gathright knocked in two runs. It was 10-9 Royals, and a quiet 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth meant we left with a bitter taste in our mouths. I was angry at Timlin, but I was more upset about Tek's double that was almost a two-run homer. Another foot higher, and it wouldn't have mattered what Timlin gave up. What a waste of a six-run come-from-behind rally!
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