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2006: Diary of a Season
Red Sox 9, Royals 3
I work in IT, and we had a major upgrade going on Saturday night into Sunday morning, which meant I had to go in to work at midnight for six hours or so. Meanwhile, my brother and I were going to Sunday afternoon's game, so I had invited him to stay over Saturday night, since he would otherwise have to get up really early to make it down from Maine in time. He arrived Saturday evening, and we watched that night's game on TV (another loss), then I went in to work. I got home from work at 7:30 am, and managed to grab a brief two-hour nap before leaving for the game. Our seats were in the second-to-last row of the upper bleachers, despite having gotten them the first day tickets went on sale. We were actually behind the Jumbo-Tron scoreboard! (That made it strange when we could hear people reacting to things on the scoreboard that we couldn't see. I knew the laughing between innings in the fourth was the Baseball Bloopers clip they always show, and we presumed the cheers were for the score of the Patriots game. Someone near us had a radio, and we did find out that they beat the Buffalo Bills 19-17 in their first game of the season.)
Julian Tavarez was pitching again, and he was starting to grow on me. While I had been unimpressed with him and his co-conspirator Rudy Seanez out of the bullpen all season, Tavarez was rejuvenated when he joined the rotation. He had been a starter with the Cubs and Marlins a few years ago, and now he was happy to be given a chance to start again. His enthusiasm was evident as he gestured dramatically toward first base each time one of his infielders gloved a ground ball. With the distressing turn this once-promising season had taken, the team had little left to play for and the fans had little reason to cheer. It was nice to see someone who still cared. And at this point, with the rotation such as it was, he was pitching like he was the ace. That was the case today, when he got five groundouts, a line drive caught at second, and three strikeouts in the first three innings without allowing a baserunner. The Red Sox offense backed him up with a run in the first, three in the third, and another one in the fourth.
Tavarez hit the wall in the sixth and gave up three runs. In the bottom of the inning, the Sox got all three back, including two on a homer by David Ortiz. It was Big Papi's first home run since returning to the lineup after being hospitalized last month, and it was his 48th of the year, surpassing his career high of 47 from last year. It was now just a matter of time before he passed Jimmie Foxx's team record of 50 which had stood for 68 years. Bryan Corey, Javier Lopez, and Craig Hansen kept the Royals scoreless the rest of the way and finished off a nice, refreshing win.
Twins 8, Red Sox 2
The Red Sox did a little better on their road trip, winning two of three over the Orioles and three of four over the Yankees. Big Papi had hit his 49th home run in New York, meaning his next home run would tie the franchise record set by Jimmie Foxx in 1938. It was amazing, really, to think that in over 100 years of history, none of the great Red Sox sluggers of the past had eclipsed the half-century mark. But this year it was possible, and it brought a buzz back to the ballpark that had been missing for the past two months while the Red Sox had plummeted out of contention.
Curt Schilling was back in the rotation after missing a couple of starts. He gave up a run in the first, but then settled down. David Ortiz picked up a hit in his first at-bat when he singled through the shift into right field, but he was stranded. Jason Varitek tripled and scored the tying run in the second. Schilling allowed several baserunners, but he got out of trouble each time. He had thrown 104 pitches after five innings, though, and came out of the game. Manny Delcarmen pitched a scoreless sixth. It was still tied 1-1 when Big Papi came to the plate in the bottom of the sixth. He got ahold of the first pitch and drove it into the stands in center field. Homer number 50! (For the record, it was 8:56 pm, and the pitcher was Minnesota's Boof Bonser.) His teammates rushed out of the dugout to greet him, and it seemed as if he hugged every one of them. After two brutal months, it was fun to be a Red Sox fan again! We roared our appreciation as he rounded the bases, screamed for a curtain call, and after Mike Lowell quickly grounded out to end the inning, we cheered some more as the replay was shown on the scoreboard between innings.
I wish I could say that the game ended like that. But Craig Hansen had a total meltdown in the eighth inning: double, wild pitch, walk, three-run homer, double. Craig Breslow followed and let another run in, and it took Bryan Corey to induce a double play involving a complicated 3-6-2-5-1 rundown to get out of it. Papi came up in the eighth to a wild ovation and walked on four pitches (as we booed each ball), but that was the end of our excitement for the night. Corey allowed another three runs in the ninth, and what should have been a feel-good historical night ended as yet another loss.
Red Sox 6, Twins 0
I was back the next night, and again, it was all about Big Papi. This time he and his teammates were going against Minnesota's ace, left-handed Johan Santana. Josh Beckett was on the mound for the Sox, and he got them through a scoreless first. Dustin Pedroia flied out to start the home half, and Mark Loretta's ground ball to the first baseman was greeted by cheers - not because of the result, but because it brought David Ortiz to the plate. We hadn't even finished our standing ovation to congratulate him for tying the Red Sox home run record with his fiftieth round-tripper last night, when he took the first pitch he saw from Santana and deposited it into the bleacher seats, and into the record books. That was number 51! We went crazy in the stands as he circled the bases. His teammates again came out of the dugout to meet him, and again he had to hug every one of them.
We even got to do some non-Papi-related cheering in the second inning. Carlos Pena and Gabe Kapler led off with singles. Alex Gonzalez bunted in an attempt to move the runners along. But Santana bobbled it, then threw it away, allowing both runs to score and Gonzalez to wind up on third. Then, after a sac fly plated Gonzo with the fourth run of the game, Big Papi was up again. This time we had plenty of chance to cheer for him and chant "MVP, MVP" while he worked a full count. He ended up walking. His next at-bat was in the fourth, and he hit a single into left field. By the time he came up again in the seventh, Santana was out of the game and Matt Guerrier was pitching. Again we worked ourselves into a frenzy with chanting and cheering, and camera flashes twinkled around the park as everyone tried to get a picture. He worked another full count, then drove another one over the center field wall for number 52! (I laughed when his teammates all had to hug him again. I remembered the Division Series playoff game I went to in 1999 when the Red Sox won 23-7. When they scored their 20th run, someone near us started counting "1, 2, 3..." all the way up to "18, 19, 20!" and we all cheered. Then when they scored their 21st run, we had to count it all out again, and by the time they scored number 22 and 23 we were asking, "Do we really have to count it all out?" But of course we knew the answer was "Yes, we can't stop now!" And that's how it was with Papi's homers. Every one he hit now was setting a new record, and they were going to have to keep getting up and hugging him every time!) Mike Lowell followed with a home run of his own, for a 6-0 Red Sox lead.
Beckett pitched a great game, which was something I had not seen in a long time. He went eight scoreless innings and struck out the side in the sixth. Keith Foulke finished it up, and we finally had a fun, feel-good win. After the game we stuck around for a few minutes to cheer for Papi some more and watch as he was interviewed on NESN.
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