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2006: Diary of a Season
The Red Sox continued their winning ways by sweeping the Nationals and winning the first two against the Phillies. Saturday's game went ten innings and ended with - what else - a Big Papi walkoff home run, and gave them a 2 1/2 game lead in the East. I was back on Sunday, and it was raining again. It actually wasn't raining all that hard, and I wanted them to just go ahead and play, because it would be a hassle to try to make it up later. This was the Phillies' only trip to Fenway, but both teams did have the next day off. But that would mean I'd have to take the day off from work, and leave the house really early to make sure I got a parking space before all the T lots filled up with commuters. I waited out the rain delay in the grandstand area so I'd be under cover. Matt Clement, who had recently gone on the D.L., was long-tossing in front of the bullpen. Later Josh Beckett came out and threw in the bullpen for his normal between-starts workout. At least they didn't string us along all day with fake "We expect the game to start soon" messages. There had been a negative backlash after several long rain delays earlier in the season in which the team knew they weren't going to play but the fans weren't told. So this time the announcement that the game was rained out and would be made up tomorrow was made before the scheduled start time of 2:05. I called my boss and told him I'd need Monday off.
Red Sox 8, Phillies 7, 12 inn.
I took a vacation day the next day and left the house early. I was able to get a parking space at the T station before the lot filled up, and made it to Fenway at 10:00. I stood outside the players' parking lot to watch them arrive. Johnny Pesky came out, already in uniform, and when he saw the group of fans assembled on the sidewalk, he announced, "Welcome to Fenway Park. This is the best ballpark in the best city with the best fans." He came over and shook hands and signed autographs for a few fans. Then we watched as Coco Crisp, Trot Nixon, Keith Foulke, Josh Beckett, and Julian Tavarez drove in. When the gates opened, I went in and watched batting practice. It was 75 degrees and sunny - a much nicer day to watch a game - and I was glad they had decided to play it today instead of yesterday.
When the game started, it was Tim Wakefield against Cory Lidle. It began as a fast-paced pitchers' duel, but both teams had their chances to score. The Phillies had a runner in scoring position in each of the first four innings but Wake was able to pitch out of it. The Sox had a chance in the second after Manny Ramirez led off with a double. Mike Lowell hit a fly to right-center and the two outfielders converged on it. Every time there's a routine fly ball, I always try telling them, "Drop it, drop it!" or if there are two fielders involved, "Collide!" It doesn't usually work, but this time it did! The centerfielder and right fielder collided and whichever one it was who had gotten his glove on it dropped it, allowing Lowell to make it all the way to second, while Manny had to hold up at third. It was a funny play, but unfortunately both runners were stranded. The game was scoreless at the end of the fifth.
The bottom of the sixth started off in similar fashion. David Ortiz walked and Manny singled, but then Trot Nixon flied out to right. But finally they were able to break through. Lowell's single knocked in a run. Coco Crisp followed with a ground rule double that got stuck in the rolled up tarp in foul territory and knocked in another. Doug Mirabelli and Alex Gonzalez each hit singles driving in a run apiece. Kevin Youkilis's double knocked Lidle out of the game, and an Ortiz groundout plated the sixth run of the inning. Wakefield hadn't gotten much run support all year, so it was nice for him to finally be the beneficiary of a six-run lead. But in the top of the seventh, Mark Loretta dropped a popup to allow the leadoff hitter to reach. Then Wake hit Shane Victorino with a 2-2 pitch and walked the next batter to load the bases with no outs. He was up to 108 pitches, and Terry Francona went to the 'pen. Rudy Seanez came in and gave up a single to the number nine hitter to score a run. I was appalled that Tito kept going to Seanez and Julian Tavarez in situations like this, instead of letting the young guys like Manny Delcarmen and Craig Hansen get a shot. Still, I don't like to boo guys on my own team as they enter the game the way some people do. But I was certainly booing when Rudy departed after giving up a three-run triple to the next batter. Javier Lopez paraded in, and after a groundout scored the fifth run, Mike Timlin managed to actually get out of the inning. But now it was a 6-5 lead, and the rollercoaster was in full swing.
After the offensive outburst in the sixth, the Sox bats quieted down again, and Timlin held the Phillies scoreless in the eighth. In the ninth, Jonathan Papelbon came in to nail down the save. He entered the game having allowed only one run all season. His ERA was a scintillating 0.24 - even lower than his age (25)! But Chase Utley banged a 2-2 pitch off Pesky's Pole, tying the game (and causing Papelbon's ERA to skyrocket to 0.46). A pair of strikeouts and a groundout got them quickly out of the inning, but now it was back to work for the offense. Old friend Rheal Cormier set the home team down in order in the ninth, and fellow former-Red Sox Tom Gordon induced a double play to strand a runner in the tenth. The Sox loaded the bases in the eleventh, but Gabe Kapler hit a fielder's choice grounder that erased a runner at the plate, and Gordon got out of the inning. After Tavarez pitched a scoreless eleventh, Delcarmen and Hansen got a chance in the twelfth. Delcarmen gave up a single and a sacrifice bunt, and after a groundout, Hansen served up a double which gave the Phillies a 7-6 lead. So much for the youth movement!
It was hot in the bleachers, and I noticed there were seats starting to open up in the shade behind home plate. I thought about moving, but I didn't want to miss anything. I also really needed to hit the restroom, since the game was going on five hours now. But I certainly couldn't leave my seat while the Red Sox were batting in an extra-inning game, because the game could end at any minute. Of all the extra-inning games I've been to at Fenway, I had never been to one longer than twelve innings. So I decided that if this game headed into the thirteenth, I'd make a quick pit stop and then move around to a better seat. Coco led off the twelfth with a double, but then Jason Varitek, who had hit for Mirabelli in the tenth, flied out and Gonzalez popped up for the second out. Youkilis lined the first pitch of his at-bat off the Green Monster for a double, tying the game. We were on our feet to yell "Youuuuuuuuuk!" and we stayed standing now for Loretta's at-bat. Big Papi would be next, but there were already two outs, so Loretta had to just keep the inning going. He worked a 3-2 count (and worked the crowd into a frenzy) before taking ball four. Up came Papi, who had just hit a walkoff homer to win Saturday's game. As he stood calmly by the plate, the whole Phillies infield had a conference on the mound to talk it over.
The title of this picture is "Now what?":
The Phillies decided to pitch to Papi, which I found a little surprising, even with runners already on first and second. (Did Clay Condrey really think he was going to be the guy who could get Papi out? But I certainly wasn't going to complain.) I almost don't even need to tell you what happened. Condrey started him off with ball one, then came back to get two strikes. He probably thought he had him at that point. But that just doesn't happen at Fenway. The Greatest Clutch Hitter in the History of the Boston Red Sox (as proclaimed on a plaque presented to him by the team's owners last September) lined the next pitch into left-center, and Youk raced home with the winning run! It was the perfect ending to a wild roller-coaster of a game.
Red Sox 4, Mets 2
When tickets went on sale online over the winter, I had gotten stuck in the dreaded virtual waiting room for so long that the whole Mets series was sold out by the time I got through, so I didn't have tickets in advance like I do for my other games. I decided to try the day-of-game sales, and it turns out that actually works! I chose the final game of the series, because that's when Curt Schilling would be pitching. We were approaching the half-way point in the season, and I hadn't seen him pitch in person yet this year. I took a vacation day and got to Fenway around 1:00. (Even that part was easier said than done. When I got to the parking lot at the Lechmere T station, there was only one space left. The attendant told me I could try it, but that the guy ahead of me was leaving because he couldn't fit his car into the space - and his car was smaller than mine! But I was determined, and managed to maneuver it in.) The day-of-game ticket line officially formed five hours before gametime, at 2:00, when Red Sox staffers handed out numbered slips to each person in line at the time. They came back and checked once an hour that everyone was still there - not just saving the spot for someone else - and no one was cutting. At 5:00, they start ticket sales with standing room and whatever other scattered seats exist. When I got to the windows around 5:30, they had standing room, right field grandstand, infield grandstand, and $90 box seats to choose from. I took a standing room ticket and staked out a good spot directly behind home plate. It was fun, because I'm normally in the bleachers, so I don't usually get to see it from that perspective.
Before the game, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, and the returning Pedro Martinez were honored in a brief ceremony. The award had something to do with them being Dominican stars who are active in the community, but it gave us another chance to welcome back The Best Pitcher on the Planet and thank him for seven years' worth of memories. I hadn't been at last night's game, in which he had pitched, so it was nice to still be able to give him a much-deserved ovation.
Once the game started, the atmosphere was intense and loud. There were a lot of Mets fans, more than we usually see for a visiting team. They were loud, but weren't nasty like Yankees fans, but that could just be because we were about to sweep them and they knew they couldn't say anything. (For a while we had dueling "Let's Go Red Sox"/"Let's Go Mets" chants going, until someone started a "Yankees suck" chant, which was joined by both Red Sox and Mets fans.)
The actual game was the best of the year so far. Everything that a team can do in a game, the Red Sox did! The pitching was excellent, with Schilling out-dueling Tom Glavine in a matchup of accomplished veterans. The game was scoreless until Carlos Beltran's two-run homer in the top of the sixth. Mark Loretta hit a solo homer in the home half of the sixth, and Ortiz and Ramirez reached base, knocking Glavine from the game. That's where the good baserunning came in; Manny and Papi both tagged up on a fly to center, moving to second and third. Then Papi was able to score on a sac fly and tie up the game.
The offense then displayed its versatility. With the score tied, Coco Crisp led off the seventh with a bunt single and stole second. Alex Gonzalez bunted him over to third, and Kevin Youkilis's sac fly brought him home with the go-ahead run. I couldn't remember the last time I saw the Red Sox manufacture a run like that! It was a good National League-style run. Then in the eighth, Papi belted a home run deep to straightaway center, for a good old-fashioned American League-style run. But the most impressive part of the game had to be the defense. With the Sox ahead by one in the seventh, Coco made an amazing soaring catch to save what would have been the tying run. He sprinted into left-center as the ball tailed away from him, and flew through the air like Superman to make a catch that would no doubt end up one of the defensive highlights of the year. But every single fielder made at least one great defensive play. Manny and Gabe Kapler both held guys to a single on what looked like a sure double. Curt picked Julio Franco off second, and Jason Varitek made a perfectly-placed throw to catch Jose Reyes stealing. Mike Lowell had to charge a bunt, field it bare-handed, and throw to first in time. Gonzalez had one play where the ball was chopped in front of the plate and took a high bounce. He had to charge in, grab it, and fire to first, making it look effortless in the process. Loretta had a leaping catch of a line drive. Youk dove to his right to grab one, then jumped up and beat the runner to the bag. And then there was the one that got past Youk, but Loretta ranged back to get to it, and Youk scrambled up in time to cover first.
With Mike Timlin and Jonathan Papelbon to nail it down, the Sox completed the sweep of the National League's best team, won their twelfth straight, and tied the major league record for consecutive errorless games. The family of Mets fans in front of me waved on their way out and said, "We'll see you in the World Series!"
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