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2006: Diary of a Season
Dave Matthews Band concert
My next trip to Fenway wasn't for a game. The Sox were on the road until the All-Star break. After my game against the Mets, they dropped their first game in Florida, snapping their 12-game winning streak. But they picked right back up where they left off, winning the next two to finish the season 16-2 in interleague play. Then it was on to Tampa Bay, where they dropped three of four. The following weekend, as the Sox headed to Chicago, I was back at Fenway for the Dave Matthews Band concert. I've always enjoyed their music, so when I got the chance to buy tickets as a Tenth Man Plan holder, I thought it would be fun. Our seats were in the grandstand behind first base. They would have been great seats for a game, but they were pretty far back for a concert. The stage and two large video screens, one on each side, were in left-center field under the flag pole and the area where the cameras are. No one was seated in the bleachers, but the whole field, excluding the infield, was covered with chairs. I thought it was interesting that to get people onto the field to their seats, they had built walkways over the bullpens. People with seats on the right field side were directed up the ramps that lead to the bleacher seats, then across platforms over the bullpens and the fence in front of them, then down a flight of steps to the field.
Sheryl Crow opened up, and played most of her big hits. The Dave Matthews show was good, and they played a lot of songs that I like. (Though when I saw the set list for the following night's show, I thought I might have liked that better.) But the most important thing was that I was getting text messages on my cell phone updating me on that night's Red Sox game. They were in Chicago, and ended up beating the White Sox 7-5.
A's 5, Red Sox 4, 11 inn.
The Red Sox ended up taking the first two games against the White Sox, but the final one was a brutal 19-inning loss. That brought them to the All-Star break. David Ortiz, Mark Loretta, and Jonathan Papelbon represented the Red Sox, and the American League won. I was back at Fenway for the first game after the break, and my friend had gotten great seats behind home plate. It was my first chance to see highly-touted prospect Jon Lester in action. He had been called up the previous month, but we had been hearing about him for longer than that. He had come up through the minors together with Papelbon, but Lester was a few years younger and was said to have the better stuff of the two. Given how well Papelbon was doing - albeit as a reliever rather than the starting role he had in the minors - I had high expectations for Lester. The only knock on him was that he tended to throw a lot of pitches and have a lot of baserunners. But to his credit, he was awfully good at getting out of jams and minimizing the damage.
All of that proved to be true tonight. Lester needed 27 pitches to get through a scoreless first, in which he gave up a hit and a walk, and 22 more for a scoreless second, also featuring two baserunners. Mike Lowell's homer gave the Sox a 1-0 lead in the second, but Nick Swisher's solo shot tied it in the top of the third. Lester had two more baserunners that inning, and two more in the fourth, but double plays got him out of it each time. Meanwhile, the Sox strung four hits together in the bottom of the third and took a 3-1 lead.
Lester was finished at the end of the fifth. He had only allowed one run, but had thrown 103 pitches, so we'd be seeing a lot of the bullpen tonight. Craig Hansen was the first in, and he pitched a scoreless sixth. Manny Delcarmen relieved him with a couple of men on in the seventh, and he would have gotten out of the inning if a ground ball hadn't bounced off Loretta's glove. It was a rare error for the second baseman, but two runs scored and the game was tied. Mike Timlin and Papelbon kept it that way, but then Julian Tavarez came on for the eleventh. Once a game goes to extra innings, the focus becomes on when we can get Big Papi to the plate. He was due to lead off the eleventh, so if Tavarez could get through it cleanly, our chances looked good. But much to our disgust, he gave up two runs. The Sox rallied in the bottom of the inning and scored one run, but that just made the loss that much more frustrating.
Red Sox 1, Royals 0
My next game was a Wednesday afternoon game that was included in my Tenth Man Plan package. I certainly wouldn't have picked out the inconvenience of a weekday afternoon game myself, but I didn't have a choice, so I took the day off from work and went in really early.
Doug Mientkiewicz was back in the American League, having signed with the Royals after spending his first post-Red Sox season with the Mets. He received a mixed reaction of applause with a smattering of boos. I personally believe in applauding anyone who had anything to do with the 2004 Championship (except of course that traitorous centerfielder in New York), but the boos were apparently a reaction to the fight Mientkiewicz put up over the final out ball from the 2004 World Series. But today he went down quickly against Josh Beckett, and in fact most of the Kansas City lineup did.
The entertainment started in the first, when Mark Loretta singled with one out. The Royals put on the shift with Big Papi due up. He surprised everyone by dropping down a bunt, right down the unguarded left field line, and reached on a hit. Unfortunately Manny Ramirez grounded into a double play to end the inning. But Manny made up for it in his next at-bat, when he homered to lead off the fourth. He made a good catch to end the fifth, too, diving to make the catch and finishing with a roll. Manny's homer accounted for all of the Red Sox scoring, but it proved to be enough for Beckett, who cruised through eight innings, allowing only four hits and no walks. Jonathan Papelbon finished off the win with a scoreless ninth. When I got back to my car, I put the radio on, and found out that Beckett had just signed a three-year extension to his contract.
While the Red Sox were in Seattle, I went to Portland, Maine, to watch the Red Sox' Double A affiliate, the Sea Dogs. It rained all the way up, just like it always seems to do when I go to Portland. The Sea Dogs game was scheduled for 6:00, with the Red Sox playing in Seattle at 4:00. I listened to the first half of the Red Sox game on the radio in the car, then was able to watch on monitors in the concourse once we went into the ballpark. With Tim Wakefield going on the D.L., it was lefthander Kason Gabbard's major league debut. He wasn't one of the highest ranked prospects in the system, so I didn't know much about him. But he was pitching well, giving up only two runs in 5 1/3 innings of work. Unfortunately, the bullpen blew it and the Sox lost. The news didn't get any better when it was announced that the Sea Dogs game was rained out. We stuck around long enough to trade our ticket stubs in for another Saturday later in the season.
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