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2007: Diary of a Season
Red Sox 13, Orioles 4
My next game was May 12, twenty years and three days after the first game I ever went to at Fenway. On May 9, 1987, I had sat in Section 8, Row TT. And although I now try not to sit in right field unless I have to, a long wait in the Virtual Waiting Room when tickets went on sale online had left me with seats in the Section 8 grandstand, a few rows back from where I had sat for that first game. Before the game, I went down to Row TT and took some pictures. A lot has changed in the past twenty years - the 600 Club and the Green Monster seats are the major additions, and the tall wall behind the bleachers has come down - but a lot has stayed the same. Both were Saturday afternoon sellouts, but I notice the centerfield bleacher sections nearest to the cameras were not covered up for day games in 1987 like they are now.
|Fenway Park, Then and Now
The Red Sox came into the game with a six-game lead in the East, seven games over the third-place Yankees. Curt Schilling was on the mound, opposed by Steve Trachsel. Trachsel has been around for what seems like forever, and has always been a very slow worker. Usually while the Sox are at the plate, the fans will start rhythmic clapping, which begins slowly as the pitcher goes into the set position, then gets faster and faster, ending just as the pitch is delivered. But Trachsel took so much time between pitches that the clapping kept reaching its crescendo and dying out before he started his windup. I joked that he was doing it on purpose to throw us - and the hitters - off. If so, it was working, because the game stayed scoreless through the first three innings. The Red Sox finally broke through in the fourth, when two walks followed by two fly balls combined to get a run in. The Orioles tied it up in the top of the fifth, but the Red Sox got back to work in the bottom of the inning. It wasn't pretty, but an error, a balk, a sacrifice bunt, and a walk set it up for Big Papi and Manny Ramirez. They both doubled, driving in three runs, and knocking Trachsel from the game. He was already over 100 pitches, and the game was past the two-hour mark. It was frustrating when Curt gave up three straight singles to open the sixth. All three runners ended up coming around to score, tying the game and knocking Schilling out.
The Red Sox bullpen did a good job. Javier Lopez got out of the sixth. Brendan Donnelly put runners at the corners with one out in the seventh, but Hideki Okajima quickly got out of that jam and pitched a scoreless eighth. (He had become a fan favorite and was getting "Ok-a-ji-ma" clap, clap, clap-clap-clap chants to the tune of "Let's go Red Sox".) Jonathan Papelbon got an inning of work in the ninth, but by then it wasn't a save opportunity. The Orioles relievers didn't have nearly as much success. Kevin Youkilis drove in the go-ahead run in the sixth, and Alex Cora knocked in two more in the seventh. The floodgates opened in the eighth, as the Sox batted around and hit six singles to score five more runs. Before we knew it, a slow, sloppy, close game had turned into a fun 13-4 romp. And a win, after all, is all I really want out of a game.
By the time of my next game, the Red Sox had increased their lead over the Yankees to 8.5 games. The Detroit Tigers were off to a good start in the Central Division after having reached the World Series the year before. They were the first hot team the Sox had faced in a while, and the series would be a good test for both teams. They ended up splitting the first two games of the four-game series. I went in on Wednesday night for the third game, but it didn't look good. It had rained all day and it was cold and blustery at the ballpark. I didn't go out to my uncovered seat in the bleachers; I stayed in Section 28 on the third base side. That's a wedged-shaped section of the grandstand, and Row 1 has only one seat. It's the widest seat in Fenway Park - about 1.5 times the width of the normal grandstand seats. I sat there in the cold, wishing I had remembered my Red Sox scarf, until the game was called. It was going to be made up the next day at 12:35, so I called in to work and told my boss I'd be taking the day off.
When I got home, there was a message from my friend on my answering machine. He had won tickets to tomorrow's night game, and had invited his brothers to go with him, but one backed out at the last minute. Sure, I was interested in a free ticket! And with my rainout being made up in the afternoon, I'd get a full day of baseball. (My friend has a habit of wanting to see close games when he goes. He said he wanted a 2-1 score, and he wanted to see Okajima and Papelbon. I told him I just wanted a win, but preferably something less stressful, like a nice 10-0 game.)
Red Sox 2, Tigers 1
The next day it had stopped raining, but it was still cool, overcast, and windy. I wanted to make sure I'd get a parking spot at the T station, so I made it to Fenway early and stood outside the players' parking lot before the gates opened. Julian Tavarez, who was starting the first game, came over and signed a few autographs when he arrived. I thought it would be cool to have him sign my scorecard for a game he would be pitching, but I wasn't able to get him. When the gates opened, there was no batting practice, and the grounds crew was just taking the tarp off the field. Most of the Red Sox pitchers were in the outfield throwing long-toss. After all the others finished and went in, the two Japanese pitchers, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima, remained on the field and kept throwing for an additional fifteen minutes. When the game started, I went out to my seat. It was cold and windy, but I resisted the urge to put a sweatshirt on under my jacket. After all, I needed to save at least one layer to add for the night game, when it was sure to be colder.
The game was fast-paced and well-played. Manny Ramirez drove in a run in the first, after some heads-up baserunning by Coco Crisp, who somehow made it from first to third on a groundout. Kevin Youkilis knocked in a run in the third. Meanwhile Tavarez pitched arguably his best game of the year. He went seven innings, allowing only one run on a couple of walks and a couple of singles in the fifth. When Tavarez is on, he can be fun to watch, as he gestures wildly to first base on every groundout. Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon finished it up, each pitching a 1-2-3 inning. (Uh-oh, I thought. This was the kind of game the friend I was going to the nightcap with would have wanted to see, and now it was unlikely that either Okajima or Papelbon would be available for the second game.)
Red Sox 4, Tigers 2
After the first game was over, I walked up Boylston Street to the Prudential Center mall. I went into the Barnes & Noble bookstore, found the sports section, and spent the next couple of hours reading Red Sox-related books. I ate dinner in the mall and used their restroom to change into my longjohns, before walking back to Fenway just in time to meet up with my friends for the second game. Our seats in the Section 5 grandstand were about the worst possible ones in the park. They're out in right field, but angled so that they face directly into centerfield. (I told my friend that was his fault, because he had said he wanted to see Okajima and Papelbon, and now here we were with an excellent view of the bullpen, but we could barely see the infield, and a pole blocked the mound. "You should have said you were excited about seeing the infielders," I joked.) But really, we were just happy to be at Fenway Park. It's like the airline commercial which proclaims that "a bad day in Florida beats a good day almost anywhere else." That's how it is at the ballpark - a bad seat at Fenway beats a good seat almost anywhere else. Besides, they were free, and Curt Schilling was on the mound. (Or so we heard. We couldn't actually see him.)
Schilling wasn't at his sharpest, but he pitched his way out of trouble, leaving the bases loaded in the first and the second. Kevin Youkilis drove in a run in the bottom of the first to give the Sox the early lead, but the Tigers came back with a run in the third and another run on a questionable call in the fourth. It looked to us like Brandon Inge's ball had hit off the top of the Green Monster, in front of the first row of seats, and was originally ruled a long single. After some discussion, and an argument by the Tigers, it was changed to a home run, giving the Tigers a 2-1 lead. (I told my friend that was his fault, because he had said he wanted a 2-1 game.) We couldn't see much of the infield from our seats, but we had a good view of right field. Eric Hinske was out there tonight, and he had had some trouble with some wind-blown fly balls earlier in the night. I was jokingly referring to him as "Eric Mo" because his fielding was reminding me of Wily Mo Pena. My friend told me to give him a break because he really was a converted infielder who hadn't played in the outfield very long: "He's not really an outfielder, he just plays one on TV."
There are monitors under the roof in the outfield grandstand sections, and it was helpful to see the replays, especially for the fielder's choice 5-2-5-1-6-3 rundown in the fifth inning. That was the second out of the inning, and it left a runner at second base. Mike Rabelo hit a drive down the right field line that looked like it might be a homer just past Pesky's Pole, or a double at the least. Hinske ran over and dove into the air. He made a great catch to end the inning and save a run or two, but landed face-first on the warning track gravel. We cheered wildly as we watched the replay on the monitor, waited for a few anxious moments as he lay on the ground, then cheered some more as he walked off the field with the help of Terry Francona and the team's trainer. Amazingly, Hinske stayed in the game, even coming up to bat in the bottom of the inning. He reached on an error and came around on Alex Cora's hit to score the tying run. Hinske came up again in the seventh with two outs and a runner on first. This time he homered into the bullpen, breaking the tie and giving the Sox a 4-2 lead. He got a huge ovation as he came out to right field for the top of the eighth. (I've heard Coco Crisp say in the past that he'd rather have a game-saving catch than a game-winning hit, and the same question was posed to Hinske after the game. He said he enjoyed his game-winning homer a lot more, because it hurt a lot less.) Brendan Donnelly and Javier Lopez made it through the seventh and eighth, and we got to see Hideki Okajima pitch a 1-2-3 ninth for the save. And that wrapped up a very full, very fun day at the ballpark.
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