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2006: Diary of a Season

Monday, August 14 - Fenway Park, Section 34

Tigers 7, Red Sox 4

Fenway view from Section 34 In the two weeks since my last game at Fenway, things had not gone well for the Red Sox. After winning the first game in Tampa Bay, they lost the next five in a row, including an inglorious sweep in Kansas City. They rebounded a bit over the weekend by sweeping the Orioles, and entered Monday night's game only one game back in the division. There were no new injuries to report, but the absence of Jason Varitek was starting to take its toll on a pitching staff full of young, inexperienced guys. Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and Kyle Snyder were in the rotation, and the bullpen revolving door included Craig Hansen, Jermaine Van Buren, and most recently Craig Breslow. How could these guys be expected to realize their potential without the leadership and experience of their Captain? To be fair, Javy Lopez was new to the organization, so he never worked with the kids in spring training, and couldn't really be expected to know anything about them. But the pitchers were starting to seem lost, and Lopez was unable to right the ship.

(This is how I imagined a conference on the mound between Javy Lopez and a young guy like Craig Breslow, who had just rejoined the team tonight, might sound:

Lopez:  Hi, Greg.
Breslow: Uh, actually it's Craig.
Lopez:  Sure thing, Greg. So, um, what does Jason say when he comes out here?
Breslow: I don't know... Stay within myself, don't overthrow, make them hit my best pitch... stuff like that.
Lopez:  That sounds good. Do that.
Breslow: But what about this batter? I'm behind in the count, and the ump's been squeezing me all day. Should I try another curve? Because in the scouting meeting, Coach said -
Lopez:  [Turning to leave] Go get 'em, Greg!
Breslow: [Sighing] Craig. It's Craig...)

Beckett was shaky in the first. Curtis Granderson hit a triple on the first pitch of the game, and three runs scored in the inning, one on a passed ball by Lopez. Two walks plus a couple of hits plated two more runs for the Tigers in the third before the Red Sox even got on the board. The Sox finally got a run across in the fifth, and Kevin Youkilis hit a towering shot off the Volvo sign over the Green Monster in the sixth, but they still trailed. Rudy Seanez, who much to my chagrin was still on the team, put the game out of reach when he allowed two more Tigers runs in the eighth. Breslow actually did well, finishing the eighth and pitching a scoreless ninth. But if the Red Sox were going to get back to first place, the pitching would have to improve, and Varitek wasn't due back for another two or three weeks.

Friday, August 18 - Fenway Park, Section 35

Yankees 14, Red Sox 11

For the past few years, the Red Sox sold tickets to games against the Yankees, as well as Green Monster and right field roof tickets, through a lottery system. We'd register our email addresses and people would be randomly selected to purchase tickets. This year, I was selected to buy tickets to a Yankees game, so I picked a Friday night in August. The two friends who I go to most of my games with joined me, and my brother drove down from Maine. The game was the nightcap of a doubleheader. The first game was the makeup of a rainout in May, and turned a four-game series into a five-game series. The Sox came into the series 1 1/2 games out of first place. The two teams are so evenly matched that neither team was likely to sweep. It would probably end up 3-2 one way or the other, so we just had to hope for the three wins. They had already gotten off on the wrong foot by losing the day game 12-4, but at least Jason Johnson, who had pitched miserably in all his starts, had been designated for assignment after the game, with Keith Foulke activated from the D.L. for the second game.

The evil centerfielder stands in Our seats were in center field, but I was annoyed to be seated behind a woman with a huge sign that read, "I think Johnny rocks, in pinstripes or Red Sox". Johnny Damon was the only member of the 2004 champions who I wouldn't cheer for. He was, of course, a traitor for going to New York, but it was more than that. He was a total sellout. He had started the whole long-haired "idiot" theme that represented everything that the Yankees are not, and it was that anti-Yankee attitude that allowed us to finally beat the Evil Empire in '04. When he arrived in Boston, he was just a baseball player, but in his four years here, he had turned into a phenomenon. It was the fans of Boston who had made him who he was - like my friend's two-year-old who enjoyed crashing into furniture pretending he was making a leaping catch in center field, or all the kids who wore long wigs and #18 jerseys on Halloween, or the people who took time out of work or school to watch him shave - and he thumbed his nose at all of us on his way out. So no, I wouldn't be cheering for him. I was doubly offended by the woman's sign in front of me because it perpetuated the "pink hat" notion that girls are only at baseball games to sit there and look cute and fawn over the hot baseball players, not have any knowledge or passion for the game itself or its history. (If this so-called fan wanted to celebrate the 2004 team, a simple "Thanks for the memories" sign would have done, and when Mike Myers, who had also played for the Sox in '04, entered the game later on, she should have cheered for him too.) So every time she held up the sign, I reached my arms up over it, made a double thumbs-down sign, and booed. I was not alone in that sentiment. Most people booed, and there were some guys a few rows in front of us who waved dollar bills at Damon every time he took the field. Several people had old Damon jerseys that they had modified, by changing the A to an E to spell Demon, or by adding an EY at the end to spell Da Money. I went with my "Johnny WHO???" T-shirt, and wrote his name down as Demon on my scorecard.

Because of the doubleheader, the start time was moved back an hour to 8:05. It was the day of the Jimmy Fund telethon, which raises money annually for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Jimmy Fund patients took the field with the players before the National Anthem, and they announced during the game that the telethon had raised over $2.7 million that day. The pitchers for the nightcap were Jon Lester and Sidney Ponson, two very deliberate pitchers who throw a lot of pitches and allow a lot of baserunners. It started off fine, with Lester getting quickly through the first, and David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez teaming up to drive in a run in the bottom of the inning. But in the second, Lester unraveled, while the Yankees batted around and scored five runs. He was up to 62 pitches at the end of the second, and with the bullpen already heavily used in the first game, it did not bode well. Still, the Sox were able to climb back and tie it up, with three runs in the second and one more in the third.

Johnny Demon himself hit a two-run homer in the fourth ("I hope you're happy," I muttered to the woman in front of me) marking the end of the night for Lester. (What we didn't know at the time was that he had been in a fender-bender on Storrow Drive on his way into the game, and would soon be getting checked out for back pain.) It was also the end of the night for the fan in right field who threw the home run ball back onto the field, but he got high-fives from all the fans he passed by as he was being escorted out. And when the Red Sox loaded the bases with no outs in the fourth, that was the end for Ponson, too. The Sox got two runs in the fourth to tie it, and three more in the fifth to take a 10-7 lead, while Julian Tavarez of all people quieted the Yankee bats for a few innings. (It didn't quiet things down in the stands, though. A few girls in front of us were thrown out after they repeatedly flashed the visiting centerfielder.) But then Craig Hansen took the mound in the seventh and loaded the bases with one out. Mike Timlin was next, but he had nothing, and he allowed all three of Hansen's runners plus four of his own to score. Just like that, the Yankees had a 14-10 lead. Big Papi didn't give up, blasting a home run (his 43rd of the season) in the ninth, and Manny had five hits, but it wasn't the offense that was the problem. Foulke actually pitched well in two scoreless innings, but it was his fellow pitchers who had let us down.

A late night at Fenway It was 12:52 am when the game ended, four hours and forty-five minutes after it had started. A normal 9-inning game should be three hours. If slow-working pitchers are involved, or if a lot of runs are scored and pitching changes are made, or when patient-hitting teams like the Red Sox and Yankees play each other, it might stretch to four hours. But put all of those factors together, and you get almost five hours - the longest 9-inning game ever in the history of baseball! We figured the T was long gone at that hour, but my friend had a friend who was working in the area, and we all bummed a ride back to the Lechmere T station, where my friends and I had parked. From there, I drove my brother over to the Wellington T station, where he had left his car. It was 2:00 when I dropped him off. Luckily we're both night-owls, because I had an hour ride home from there, while he had three hours to go. It all just made me hate Johnny Demon and his stupid, evil team that much more!

Sunday, August 20 - Fenway Park, Section 43

Yankees 8, Red Sox 5, 10 inn.

At least I didn't have to get up and go in to the next day's game. It was painful enough to watch their horrible Saturday afternoon 13-5 loss on TV. (The only good thing that day was that Rudy Seanez was finally designated for assignment.) But Sunday, I was back again, with this ticket coming from my Tenth Man Plan. This time I drove all the way in, since Boston parking meters are free on Sundays. I circled around a bit and managed to find a space on Comm. Ave., almost a mile down the street from Fenway. But that would do; with another 8:05 start, there was no guarantee the game would be done in time to catch the T back. Curt Schilling was going against Mike Mussina, and again the game started well for the Red Sox. The Yankees went down in order in the first, and the Red Sox put four straight hits together in the bottom half for a 2-0 lead. After allowing a leadoff double in the second, Curt got three quick outs. It had been raining since the game started, but as the Red Sox batted in the second, we saw lightning, and the grounds crew came out and crouched near the tarp. As soon as the Sox were done batting, the umpires signaled for the tarp, and we went underneath the stands to wait out the rain delay.

Curt Schilling and Doug Mirabelli An hour later, the game resumed, although it kept raining for the next two innings. Both starting pitchers came back out after the layoff, and both teams went down quickly in the third. But in the fourth, Jason Giambi (whom we reminded of his steroid use all night long) hit a three-run homer to give the Yankees the lead. But Doug Mirabelli's RBI single tied it up, and Big Papi's solo homer gave the Red Sox a 4-3 lead in the fifth. Papi was already up to 44 home runs, and seemed a lock to break the Red Sox' single-season home run record of 50, set by Jimmie Foxx in 1938. (We didn't know it at the time, but Papi had spent the previous night in the hospital, being treated for fatigue and heart palpitations. It didn't show at all, as he went 6-for-20 with two home runs in the five-game series and didn't miss any games.)

Kevin Youkilis knocked in an insurance run in the seventh, and it looked good when Schilling finished the seventh and left with a 5-3 lead. Mike Timlin started the eighth, but he gave up a single to Johnny Damon and hit Derek Jeter. That brought Javier Lopez in to face the left-handed Bobby Abreu, but he walked him, loading the bases with no outs. Jonathan Papelbon was called in early, and he gave up a sacrifice fly but then struck out two batters to get out of the inning with the lead. But in the ninth, a double, a wild pitch, and a single tied the game. We weren't too worried, though, because Big Papi was due to lead off the ninth. He lined a double into right field, and Manny Ramirez, who had already been on-base four times that night, was intentionally walked. After Youk's fielder's choice erased Papi, they intentionally walked Mike Lowell to load the bases with one out. Eric Hinske, who had just been acquired a few days earlier, pinch-hit for Gabe Kapler, but he struck out. Mirabelli quickly grounded out to end the inning. This game, which had already started late and had an hour-long rain delay, was now headed for extra innings.

Craig Hansen came in for the tenth, but gave up a home run to steroid-boy Giambi on the first pitch. Two batters later, Robinson Cano's home run made it 8-5 Yankees. It was completely pathetic! Big Papi did get a chance to bat in the bottom of the tenth, but there were two outs and only one baserunner, so there was no way he could win it or even tie it. He flied out to end the game. It was 1:20 am when the game ended, and 1:45 by the time we walked all the way back to my car. My friend had just had eye surgery and wasn't able to drive yet, so she had taken the commuter rail in and I offered to drive her home. It was 2:30 when I dropped her off at her house, and 3:30 when I finally got home. And yes, I made it to work the next day, armed with a whopping 3 1/2 hours of sleep. Needless to say, I wasn't in a very good mood, but the good thing about working with other Red Sox fans is that my co-workers were all sympathetic because they were as upset as I was. Sadly, we were even more appalled as we followed the fifth game of the series online at work that afternoon and saw the Sox lose yet again, this time 2-1, and fall 6 1/2 games back in the division.

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