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2006: Diary of a Season
Red Sox 8, Devil Rays 4
On Thursday the Red Sox beat the Devil Rays, and on Friday I was back for my next game. The tarp was on the field when I got there, and the game started 45 minutes late after a rain delay. It seemed to rain every time I went to a game, but for the first time in a long time, it wasn't Matt Clement starting tonight. David Wells was coming off the D.L. after missing most of the year with a knee injury. He had had knee surgery over the winter and seemed to rush back too soon to make a start in the opening week of the season. He then went back on the D.L., and would be making just his second start of the season. The early returns were good. He threw a 1-2-3 first inning, needing only eight pitches to retire the side. He gave up a leadoff double in the second, but then got three quick outs. In the third, there was a line drive back to the mound that he was able to catch for the first out. After an infield hit, a double play quickly ended the inning. Scott Kazmir was pitching for the Devil Rays, and he's one of those young lefties who always seems to shut down the Red Sox offense. Both teams had had a couple of baserunners, but it was scoreless at the end of the third.
Wells gave up a solo homer to Carl Crawford to open the fourth, but he still had a really low pitch count, and his outing was very encouraging. At the beginning of the season I was worried that he was just too old to contribute anything. But right now the team really needed a good solid starter, and the way he was pitching tonight looked like he could be just that. Wells got the first out of the fifth, and then Travis Lee, who had hit a liner back to Wells his last time up, hit another line drive back to the mound. The ball struck Wells on the knee - right on the exact knee he had been rehabbing all year. He crumpled to the ground. Fenway fell silent. My first thought was, "That was the final pitch of his career." After a few minutes, he was helped off the field. Julian Tavarez came in and quickly ended the inning with a double play, but the mood of the game had definitely changed.
In the bottom of the inning, the Red Sox offense finally got going. In David Ortiz's first at-bat, Tampa manager Joe Maddon had applied his "3-4 shift", with the third baseman standing in left field so that there are four outfielders and only three infielders, but Kazmir struck him out. In his next at-bat, there was a runner on first, so Maddon used the traditional shift, and Ortiz grounded out to the second baseman in shallow right. But when Big Papi came up in the fifth, the bases were loaded, so there wasn't much Maddon could do. Papi banged one off the base of the Green Monster in left-center, clearing the bases and giving the Sox a 3-1 lead. That was more like it! Go out there and win one for your injured teammate! Mike Lowell hit a two-run homer in the next inning, and Mark Loretta contributed a sac fly. Tavarez got into trouble in the seventh and gave up two runs, but the Sox got one run right back on Trot Nixon's RBI single in the bottom of the inning. Keith Foulke got through the end of the seventh, but allowed Carl Crawford his second home run of the day in the eighth. With the score now 7-4, a large lead had now turned into a save situation. Luckily, Papi put that fear to rest, driving in an insurance run in the eighth, with a single through the shift into right field. (There really was no way to stop him!)
Thanks to Papi, the only thing left between us and a win was a Rudy Seanez ninth. The first batter singled and took second on defensive indifference. Rudy got two outs, then gave up another hit. That put the tying run on deck, making it a save situation again. With Crawford at the plate, Tito wasn't taking any chances. Jonathan Papelbon came in to a standing ovation and got Crawford to fly out to end the game.
Red Sox 4, Rangers 3
After my last game, the Red Sox finished up a sweep of the Devil Rays, then went on the road. They lost two of three in Toronto, won two of three in Detroit, and won two of three with the fourth game rained out in New York. They were back home on Friday night to play the Rangers, and it was raining again, just like the last time they had been in town. At least this time our seats were in the grandstand under cover, although the three of us were spread out in three different rows. Still, it was nice to be in the grandstand and see the game from a different perspective, since the majority of my games are in the bleachers.
Tim Wakefield was pitching, and it was the first time I had seen him since Doug Mirabelli had returned. He was still getting very little run support, but at least the defense wasn't giving the game away on him every time. Mirabelli may not do a lot offensively (he ended up with three strikeouts in the game) but he's recognized as the only person on the planet who can handle catching a knuckleball, and he's beloved in Boston. A couple of guys behind me got a "Dougie, Dougie, Dougie" chant going every time he came to the plate. Where else but Fenway does the backup catcher receive that kind of love? This time, the Wakefield/Mirabelli tandem were treated to some early support, courtesy of Trot Nixon's first inning three-run homer. Between innings, the Jumbo-Tron announced that today was the 60th anniversary of the longest home run ever hit at Fenway Park. On that day, Ted Williams hit a blast to right field that traveled 502 feet to Row 37 of Section 43, where it bounced off Joseph Boucher's straw hat. The seat has been painted red to mark the spot, and today Boucher's grandchildren and their families were sitting in that section wearing straw hats to commemorate the anniversary.
There's usually one defensive play in every game that makes everyone turn to the person sitting next to them and say "Wow" as they applaud. I mark them with an asterisk in my scorecard. Tonight, it was Kevin Youkilis's play on a Brad Wilkerson bouncer in foul territory behind first base. That got a 3*1 in the scorecard. Then there was a 5*3* to open the eighth inning, which had Mike Lowell making a difficult play look easy at third, and then Youk stretching to take the throw just in time to beat the runner. Was I getting too liberal with my asterisks? I think it's just that the defense was really that good. Lowell at third and Alex Gonzalez at short made brilliant plays on a regular basis. Mark Loretta was an accomplished glove man at second. And I was especially impressed with Youk's play at first, considering he was making the transition from third to first this year.
Wakefield had a good outing - seven innings, two runs, four hits, and one walk. I was happy to see Craig Hansen in for the eighth. I was sick of Rudy Seanez and Julian Tavarez blowing every game, and I wanted to see more of the young guys like Hansen and Manny Delcarmen. Hansen had just been called up from Pawtucket, but he wasn't very sharp tonight. After a couple of hits, Jonathan Papelbon was called on to close the door. He gave up one hit, but it drove in a run (charged to Hansen) that tied the game, and was Papelbon's first blown save of the year. It hardly seemed fair to charge him with a blown save, since it was only the eighth and it wasn't his fault there were baserunners already on, but such is the life of a closer. Big Papi had just batted in the seventh, so the other guys in the lineup were going to have to do something to break the tie. Manny Ramirez led off the eighth with a walk. Trot's fourth hit of the game sent him to third, and Lowell's sac fly brought him home and gave the Sox the lead again. Papelbon struck out the side in the ninth and wound up getting the win.
Red Sox 6, Nationals 3
The rest of the weekend against the Rangers featured the longest rain delay in Fenway history (how did I manage to miss that one?) and a rollercoaster doubleheader in which Big Papi hit a walkoff home run in the first game and the Sox were shut out by John Wasdin in the nightcap. Then it was on to Minnesota, where they suffered a three game sweep made even more insulting by a ground rule that turned one of Papi's giant blasts off a speaker on the Metrodome ceiling - a home run in any outdoor ballpark - into a measly single. But in Atlanta, they played better, sweeping the Braves before returning home to face the Nationals. In keeping with what seemed to be my destiny of seeing all Matt Clement's starts, it was again his turn in the rotation. But he had finally gone on the D.L. with shoulder issues, and the Red Sox had claimed Kyle Snyder off waivers from Kansas City. Anytime we get a player who was discarded by the woebegone Royals, it gives me concern, but Snyder had been a top prospect a couple of years ago before a series of arm ailments and surgeries had set him back. I still had yet to see Curt Schilling pitch this year, but Snyder couldn't be any worse than Clement had been.
It was a warm, sunny day, and it was the first game I had been to in a long time where I could actually watch batting practice. Usually the tarp was on the field and B.P. was rained out, but tonight it was perfect baseball weather. Snyder wasn't bad at all. He gave up solo homers in the first and third, and a single run in the second. But he kept the team in the game for five innings, which is all we could ask. He was opposed on the mound by Tony Armas, Jr., son of the former Red Sox outfielder from the 1980's, and the player to be named later when the Red Sox traded for Pedro Martinez from the Montreal Expos. He didn't fare as well as Snyder did, and the Red Sox were able to get the lead back. Coco Crisp and Alex Cora knocked in runs in the second, and Gabe Kapler and Kevin Youkilis knocked in runs in the fourth. This was Kapler's first home game since recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon suffered the previous September. He got standing ovations when the lineups were read, before his first at-bat, and after the game-tying double.
In the eighth, we saw another familiar face, when Damian Jackson came in to play center field for the Nationals. He was the backup infielder/outfielder for the Sox in 2003, and is remembered for his collision with Johnny Damon on a popup in the playoffs that year (and also for the fact that Grady Little insisted on playing him in every Derek Lowe start - even the playoffs - even though he wasn't much better defensively than Todd Walker). I was sitting in center field, only four rows back, and one guy near me greeted him with, "It's OK, Jackson, Johnny's gone now!" Jonathan Papelbon had saved the last three games in a row, and I had heard on the radio on the way in that he would be unavailable for tonight's game no matter what. So it was fortunate that the Red Sox tacked on a run in the seventh and Manny Ramirez hit a solo homer in the eighth. The usual suspects paraded out from the bullpen, and in a pleasant twist, Jermaine Van Buren, Javier Lopez, Rudy Seanez, and Mike Timlin each pitched a scoreless inning to preserve the win for Kyle Snyder. I was so happy about the win that when I got to work the next day, I took down the "HAZ-MATT is making me CLE-MENTAL" sign I had hung outside my cubicle after a frustrating loss last month, and replaced it with one that said, "Kyle Snyder Fan Club - Charter Member".
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