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2007: Diary of a Season

Sunday, April 22 - Fenway Park, Section 43

Red Sox 7, Yankees 6

Yawkey Way
Yawkey Way before the game
After my latest rainout (which really was more of a "snowout" or "sleetout") the Red Sox beat the Angels again on Monday, then took two of three from the Blue Jays in Toronto. They returned to Fenway for a weekend series against the Yankees, and won the first two in dramatic come-from-behind fashion. The Yankees were reeling. They had some injuries to the rotation, but nothing like what the Red Sox had had to deal with last fall. Their bullpen was overworked, with Scott Proctor having appeared in 11 of his team's 16 games so far, often for more than an inning. As a result, they went 8-8 to open the year, and found themselves in third place, three games behind the Red Sox. I would have been even happier if they fell behind the Devil Rays, but for now, it was a good start. Tonight, the Red Sox sent their prized off-season acquisition, Daisuke Matsuzaka, against the Yankees' rookie Chase Wright.

This was the Red Sox' celebration of Jackie Robinson Day. Robinson had broken the color barrier 60 years ago, on April 15, 1947. (The Red Sox had planned to have this celebration a week earlier on April 15, but that game was rained out.) To honor Robinson, David Ortiz, Coco Crisp, and third base coach DeMarlo Hale all chose to wear the number 42 in tonight's game.

Big Papi wears number 42
No, that's not Mo Vaughn attempting a comeback - it's Big Papi honoring Jackie Robinson
The game started off on a good note, with Dice-K getting Johnny Damon to pop up and Derek Jeter to fly out. He walked Bobby Abreu, and then plunked Alex Rodriguez (much to our delight). But then Jason Giambi juiced a double into centerfield, scoring both baserunners. In the bottom of the inning, Julio Lugo and Kevin Youkilis walked. I was hoping for a nice three-run homer, but Big Papi and Manny Ramirez both flied out to right, and J.D. Drew struck out. In the third, another Giambi hit knocked in the Yankees' third run. It was frustrating to be behind in this game. We should be winning, and sticking it to 'em with a sweep while we had the chance. With two outs in the third, the Red Sox finally broke through. Manny launched a towering shot over the Volvo sign above the Green Monster. As I stood up and cheered, I couldn't help thinking, "That's nice, but why couldn't he have done that last time up, when there were people on base?" But at least now the Sox were on the board, and had narrowed the gap to 3-1. That brought Drew to the plate, and with a 1-2 count, he hit one into right-center, over the Red Sox bullpen and into the stands. Now I was feeling better! The back-to-back home runs made it 3-2 and brought us back within striking distance. We stayed on our feet as Mike Lowell walked to the plate, and I joked, "Come on, Mikey, tie this thing up." Of course a third home run was pretty improbable, and really any kind of solid hit to keep the inning going would do. But Mikey obliged. He took a strike, then a ball, then hit a monstrous shot way over the Sports Authority sign and onto Lansdowne Street. The game was tied! Back-to-back-to-back home runs was something I had never witnessed before. In the stands, we were ecstatic. We screamed and cheered and high-fived everyone within reach. Jason Varitek was next, and I shouted, "OK, Tek, you know what you have to do!" He didn't waste any time, either. He took ball one, then shot a laser up into the Monster seats. Four in a row! Back-to-back-to-back-to-back! There was pure amazement in the stands, and of course more high-fives. Could Wily Mo Pena keep the streak going? "You can do it, too, Wily Mo," I yelled. He ended up striking out to end the inning, but what we had just witnessed was historic.

Between innings, all the facts flashed up on the Jumbo-Tron. It was only the fifth time in history that a team had hit four straight home runs, and the first time for the Red Sox. The previous time it happened was last year, when the Dodgers hit four straight in the ninth inning to tie up a game. By weird coincidence, J.D. Drew had hit homer number two in that sequence, too. Adding further to the trivia was that the Cleveland Indians had pulled off the feat in 1963, with Tito Francona, father of the Red Sox manager, hitting the third homer of the bunch. That was the end of the night for Chase Wright, and the parade of Yankees relievers began. Colter Bean pitched the next two innings. I was a little confused when I noticed a #46 warming up in the visitors' bullpen. I thought that was Andy Pettitte's number. And sure enough, it was. Even though he had just started two days ago, he entered the game in the sixth inning. Sure, he was their only pitcher who wasn't currently injured, inexperienced, or washed up, but that's the sort of move that's usually reserved for the postseason. Using a starter in the sixth inning of a game in April was a sign of total desperation! It worked in the short term, as he got the top of the Red Sox' order out quickly, but I still hoped he'd burn out later in the season because of it.

Meanwhile, Dice-K had given up a game-tying homer in the fifth and the go-ahead run in the sixth. At the end of the sixth, we all gave a standing ovation to Mariano Rivera as he walked out to the Yankees' bullpen, thanking him for blowing the save against the Red Sox on Friday night. The already-burned-out "Everyday Scott" Proctor entered for the seventh. He gave up a single to Manny and a double to Drew. Then Lowell smacked his second home run of the night, just clearing the top of the Monster, and giving the Sox a 7-5 lead. Proctor was yanked, and Luis Vizcaino and Sean Henn had to finish it up.

File the following under "You Never Know What You're Going To See When You Go To The Ballpark": Our seats were in Section 43, behind the visitors' bullpen, the last section of bleachers before the right field grandstand. In the seventh or eighth inning, all of a sudden dollar bills - maybe twenty or so - started falling from the right field roof table area. I have no idea why there were so many or who would have dropped them. (If they were in centerfield, I might have guessed that someone was throwing a few dollar bills at the traitorous guy who had defected to the Evil Empire for the money, but it made no sense in right field.) As they fluttered down toward our seats, people were jumping up to try to catch them. I thought it was funny that four straight home runs wasn't even the weirdest thing I saw that night!

When Dice-K gave up a hit to the first batter of the eighth inning, he was done for the night. That gave us a chance to give Hideki Okajima an enthusiastic ovation as he entered the game. We had originally thought of him as the "other" Japanese pitcher, someone who was brought here so Dice-K would have someone to talk to. But he had made a name for himself on Friday night, with an impressive performance to pick up the save in a wild win for which Jonathan Papelbon was unavailable. Oki got Giambi to pop up, but then gave up a single and a walk. Brendan Donnelly allowed a run to score, but got out of the inning when Dustin Pedroia made a diving catch of a line drive to second base. We jumped to our feet as the first strains of "Wild Thing" heralded Papelbon's arrival for the top of the ninth, and stayed standing for the whole inning. He got Damon to fly to left, and struck out Jeter. He walked A-Rod on a full count, but then got Abreu to ground out for the final out of a very wild, action-packed game.

Tuesday, May 1 - Fenway Park, Section 28

A's 5, Red Sox 4, 10 inn.

After the sweep of the Yankees, the Red Sox lost the next two games to the Blue Jays. But then they swept a two-game series in Baltimore, and took two of three in New York. When they arrived back home to play the Oakland A's, they were in first place, six and a half games up on the last-place Yankees. Curt Schilling cruised through the first inning, and the Red Sox managed to score three runs without anything more powerful than a single. With one out, speedster Coco Crisp reached on an infield single and stole second. Big Papi hit a single to left, driving Coco to third. Manny Ramirez hit a sac fly to score Crisp. Kevin Youkilis singled, sending Papi to third. Somehow Youkilis, who's not exactly known for being fleet of foot, stole second. The cool part came when Mike Lowell hit a ground ball to short. The shortstop knocked it down and kept it in the infield as Papi scored. By the time he fielded it and threw to first (too late to get Lowell) Youk had scored too - all the way from second base on an infield hit! The Sox tacked on another run in the fourth on Youk's sacrifice fly, and Curt had only given up one harmless run on a solo homer, so everything was going well.

Fenway Park In the seventh, Schilling allowed a second run. After a double and a single, old friend Todd Walker came in to pinch hit. He got a decent amount of applause when he was introduced, as thanks for his contributions to the 2003 Red Sox team. He hit a fly ball to center, and Coco had to make one of his typical, impressive diving catches, ending in a somersault. That got the run home, but Curt got out of the inning without any further damage. In the eighth, Hideki Okajima got a standing ovation when he came in from the pen. He hadn't allowed a run since giving up a solo homer to the first batter he faced on Opening Day, and was now officially acting as the setup man. The Red Sox bullpen was one of the best in baseball, and Okajima was a large part of their success. Tonight he again blew through the opposing lineup, retiring the 3-4-5 hitters in order. His ERA began the night at 0.71 and went down to 0.66. Alan Embree came in for the A's in the eighth, and allowed only a single to Manny. Then it was Papelbon time in the ninth, with the Red Sox holding a 4-2 lead. He entered each night to a standing ovation as "Wild Thing" played while he sprinted in from the bullpen. Then when he'd get to the infield, he'd pause for a moment, then walk slowly and deliberately to the mound. The music would switch to a Dropkick Murphys tune as he threw his warmup pitches. And as good as Okajima's ERA was, Papelbon hadn't allowed a run in the whole first month of the season.

That wasn't going to continue forever, though. He gave up a single to Bobby Crosby to open the inning, and then a shocking two-run homer to rookie Travis Buck. It just wasn't supposed to happen like that! That tied the game. The Red Sox tried to mount a comeback in the ninth when Eric Hinske doubled with one out. That brought up Dustin Pedroia, who was struggling badly with a .182 average for the first month of the season. Alex Cora came in as a pinch hitter, and he had been surprisingly good lately in picking up the slack for Pedroia. A light-hitting backup infielder who had hit only three home runs in his first two years with the Red Sox, Cora had been getting clutch hits on a regular basis over the past couple of weeks, including a game-winning triple in Toronto, and a triple and a homer in New York the past weekend. I joked that we should chant "MVP" when he entered with the tying run on second tonight, but he was intentionally walked. (It was his first ever intentional walk in the American League.) But unfortunately Julio Lugo and Coco Crisp couldn't knock in the run, or even extend the inning long enough for Papi to get to the plate. Brendan Donnelly, who also hadn't allowed a run of his own all year, gave up back-to-back doubles in the tenth for a 5-4 A's lead. That was that, and it made for a bitter end to what had been a fun game.

Thursday, May 3 - Fenway Park, Section 43

Red Sox 8, Mariners 7

Dice-K pitches to Ichiro
Daisuke Matsuzaka pitches to Ichiro Suzuki

The Red Sox beat the A's on Wednesday night, and then I was back again on Thursday. This was the makeup of the game that had been rained out in the first week of the season. It didn't exactly get off to an auspicious start, however, when Daisuke Matsuzaka walked the bases loaded to start the game. That was followed by a fielder's choice, a hit batsman, a double, and two Julio Lugo errors. Five runs on one hit, just like that. (Actually, one of the errors was later changed to a hit, but that only served to make all five runs earned instead of unearned.) Luckily, Dice-K settled down and retired the next ten batters in a row, while the Red Sox returned the favor and tied the game back up with a five-run second inning. The big hit was Lugo's two-run double, and even Dustin Pedroia got into the act with a bases-loaded walk. In the fourth, Manny Ramirez launched a huge home run over the Coke bottles. He had started the season slowly, but I had told a couple of co-workers that very morning, "Manny should hit two home runs for me tonight; that will get him back on track." And now his monstrous blast gave the Sox a 7-5 lead.

The entertainment of the night came in the bottom of the sixth. Big Papi walked to lead off the inning, and then Manny struck out for the first out. That brought up Kevin Youkilis, and he hit a ground ball to second base. The second baseman flipped to first to get Youk, but Papi was only half-way to second base. The first baseman flipped it to the shortstop, Yuniesky Betancourt, who was standing right in Big Papi's path. There was nothing Papi could do to avoid being tagged as his momentum carried him forward, so he stopped in his tracks, waited until Betancourt tagged him, then reached out and gave a big bear-hug to the diminutive shortstop. (I scored that a 4-3-6-H.) The entire crowd of over 37,000 broke out laughing. We weren't laughing, however, when Dice-K gave up another two runs to tie the game up again.

It was still tied in the bottom of the eighth when Manny came up again. He worked a full count, and this time he knocked one out to right. It was his second homer of the game (I couldn't wait to remind my co-workers of my prediction) and it gave the Sox an 8-7 lead. All that was left now was to close it out in the ninth. Since Jonathan Papelbon had been injured last September, the team was taking extra care this year to make sure he wasn't overworked. That meant he wasn't available tonight, after having pitched a lot lately. J.C. Romero came in with a runner on base in the ninth, and recorded the final three outs of the game for the save.

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