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2007: Diary of a Season
Devil Rays 1, Red Sox 0
The Sox ended up taking two of three from the Blue Jays, then went on the road and won three of four in Baltimore. They returned to Fenway Park with a five and a half game lead in the division. Monday night's game was in the four-game package I had that had included Opening Day, so I was in a nice grandstand seat in Section 28. Curt Schilling was pitching, opposed by Scott Kazmir. I was looking forward to seeing Curt pitch, but was annoyed that I always seemed to get the Kazmir games instead of the typical Devil Rays game where we could win in a blowout. Manny Ramirez was out with a strained oblique muscle, and David Ortiz was given a rare day off. That left Dustin Pedroia hitting third and Mike Lowell batting cleanup.
Schilling pitched really well. After a 1-2-3 first, he had a couple of baserunners in the second, but got out of it with a strikeout. He wasn't trying to overpower hitters anymore, and he didn't rack up the strikeouts like he used to, but he finished each of the first three innings with a K and kept his pitch count low. The only problem came in the fifth. Greg Norton hit a leadoff double. The next batter sacrificed him to third, and then he came home on a sac fly. It was a cheesy run, but I certainly thought the Red Sox could make up for it, if not against Kazmir, then at least by getting his pitch count up and getting him out of the game. Julio Lugo reached base in the first (it was ruled a hit, but the centerfielder had his glove on it, so it could have been scored an error) and went to second on a wild pitch, but he was stranded. Jacoby Ellsbury led off the third with a hit, but he was replaced on a fielder's choice, and the runner was left on base. Dustin Pedroia led off the fourth with a single, but he didn't advance. Jason Varitek walked to open the fifth, but a fielder's choice and a double play quickly ended the inning. Coco Crisp singled with one out in the sixth, but he was stranded. Despite throwing 96 pitches through the first six innings, Kazmir was sent back out for the seventh. Bobby Kielty singled and Varitek walked later in the inning, making it the first time the Sox had two baserunners on at the same time, but that inning ended as fruitlessly as the others.
Bryan Corey held Tampa Bay scoreless in the eighth. Javier Lopez and Mike Timlin combined to strike out the side in the eighth, and Timlin had a quick ninth, thanks to a nice catch by Coco and an 8-4-3-6 rundown that doubled off the runner. Coco walked and stole second in the eighth, but Dan Wheeler got both Pedroia and Lowell to strike out looking. Big Papi had come out on deck during Lowell's at-bat, but the inning ended before he got a chance. Papi did get to bat in the bottom of the ninth, pinch-hitting for Kielty. We all stood and cheered, but even a homer would only tie the game, not win it. He ended up grounding out, and the game quickly ended in complete frustration.
Red Sox 5, Devil Rays 4
The next night, the Devil Rays scored four runs in the second and led 8-1 after four, but the Sox came back to win 16-10. The following night, I was back at Fenway in my Tenth Man Plan seats in the bleachers behind the visitors' dugout. Jon Lester was shaky in the first inning. He walked the first batter, and gave up an RBI single with one out. That was followed by B.J. Upton's homer off "the Bellhorn pole," as I denoted it on my scorecard, since Mark Bellhorn had hit a similar homer off it in the 2004 World Series. Later in the inning, a double, single, and walk got the fourth run home for the Devil Rays. "Just because it worked last night doesn't mean you have to do it again tonight!" I yelled, angry at having fallen behind 4-0 again. Lester had needed 32 pitches to get through the first, and he continued to struggle throughout the outing. He gave up a walk and a single in each of the next three innings. Finally, after 93 pitches, he was removed in favor of Julian Tavarez with two outs in the fourth.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, had loaded the bases in the second but couldn't score. Julio Lugo and Dustin Pedroia reached base to open the third, and Big Papi belted a three-run homer into my section, eight or ten rows in front of me. (When I describe to people where my seats are, I always say, "It's right where Papi hits them," but even though I've seen him hit a lot of home runs, he had never hit one into that section when I had been there before.) It made the score 4-3, and the Sox were right back in it. Tavarez did an excellent job of keeping them in it. He ended up throwing three innings, with no hits and only one walk. Manny Delcarmen added a scoreless inning. Hideki Okajima struck out Carl Crawford to end the eighth. Jonathan Papelbon pitched a 1-2-3 ninth.
The Sox still trailed 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth, when Lugo led off with a walk. Pedroia flied out to left. That brought Big Papi, the King of Clutch, to the plate. This year had seemed like an off-year for him. His home run total was down from his record-setting pace of a year ago (his blast in the third inning was his thirtieth of the year) and the Red Sox had only had two walkoff wins the whole year. On the other hand, Big Papi's average was around .320, which would be a new career high for him, and he had been getting hotter in the month of September. We rose to our feet and screamed, chanting, "Papi, Papi!" He worked a 3-1 count. Then he hit a fly into the deepest part of right field. Was it going to be enough? His walkoffs are normally no-doubters, but I watched the right fielder drift back as if he was going to catch it... then turn and back up faster as if it was going to be over his head... then turn again and watch it sail into the first row of the stands! Home run! Sox win! His teammates waited for him at home plate, as he circled the bases, did his familiar helmet-toss, and leaped into the joyous mass of players. "Dirty Water" blared over the loudspeakers. Big Papi was back to his usual clutch self, and all was once again right with the world. And finally I was able to get a good picture of him jumping, arms outstretched, onto home plate:
Yankees 4, Red Sox 3
In all the years I've followed baseball, there's no player I hate more than Roger Clemens. He had had some really dominant years with the Red Sox, but in the postseason, when we needed him most, he could never quite get it done. When he left as a free agent, he said he wanted to be closer to his family in Houston. I was going to school outside of New England at the time, and I could almost sympathize with that - until he went to Toronto instead, just because they offered more money. In his first game at Fenway as an opponent, he struck out 15 and gestured toward the owner's box after the game, but he might as well have thumbed his nose at all the fans who used to support him. Then after two years north of the border, instead of waiting for their young core of players to develop, he got bored and demanded a trade. His first season with the Yankees was the worst of his career, but he wound up riding their coattails and picking up a ring. Over the next few years, it seemed like every time we played the Yankees, he would "coincidentally" come down with a groin pull or a hangnail or some other dire malady that would cause him to skip the series against his former team (and selfishly require his current team to have to juggle their rotation around). What made me hate him even more was his pursuit of his 300th win and his "retirement sendoff" in 2003. He milked that for all he could, and we had to hear from the Boston media how he was the greatest pitcher of all time, even as Pedro Martinez was right under our noses surpassing all his accomplishments. And then of course he "un-retired", went to Houston, started pitching better again once he didn't have to face American League lineups anymore, retired again, came out of retirement... I lost track of how many times. This year he came out of retirement in May and announced he would sell his services to the highest bidder. Despite his obligation to the Astros franchise, where his son was now playing in the minors, they never stood a chance of re-signing him. Actually I was afraid he'd want to play for the Red Sox, because we were in first place and had a great bullpen that would hold onto leads, but by now he couldn't go more than five - maybe six - innings in a game, which would put undue strain on a bullpen, and the 20-plus million dollar asking price was absurd. Luckily for us, he chose the team with the most money over the team with the best chance of winning, and went back to the Yankees for what ended up averaging $1 million per start.
Still, the Red Sox didn't give up, and Mike Lowell's solo homer in the bottom of the eighth made it 4-2. Julio Lugo had a clutch two-out double in the bottom of the ninth to make it 4-3. That was followed by a hit-by-pitch and a walk, which loaded the bases for Big Papi. He worked a 2-2 count, then hit a little popup to end the game. That sickening ending hurt even more than Jeter's atrocity earlier.
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