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2007: Diary of a Season
Red Sox 13, Braves 3
The Red Sox and Braves were rained out on Friday night, and I was back again on Saturday. Since Friday's rainout had turned Saturday into another doubleheader, I wondered who I'd get to see in the afternoon game and who they'd save for the nightcap. I was happy to hear that Daisuke Matsuzaka would be pitching the game I was going to, while Devern Hansack was going to be called up from Pawtucket for the second game. The Braves decided to save John Smoltz for the night game, while Anthony Lerew would be making only the third start of his career in the afternoon game. It was 56 degrees and drizzling, but it was fun to arrive at the game and admire the division standings on the Green Monster scoreboard. The Red Sox had a ten-game lead over the rest of the division. I knew it was still early, and I certainly knew about the 14-game lead that had been squandered in 1978, but I didn't care. A ten-game lead meant they could fall off their torrid pace a bit and still have room to breathe.
Julio Lugo got the game off on the right foot with a leadoff homer in the first. Kevin Youkilis continued the fun with a two-run homer in the second. And Mike Lowell turned it into a laugher with a grand slam in the fifth. Dice-K cruised, holding the Braves to just five singles in their first six innings and lasting through the eighth. When the Red Sox added five more runs in the sixth for a 12-0 lead, a mock tomahawk chop chant broke out. Manny Ramirez tacked on a solo homer in the seventh, and the Sox cruised to a 13-3 win. I was really glad that I had gone to the afternoon game when I got home and watched them lose 14-0 in the nightcap.
Red Sox 5, Indians 3
The Red Sox won the final game against the Braves, then went on the road, where they dropped two of three to the Yankees and swept the Rangers. When they returned to Fenway, so did I. I had picked this Memorial Day night game because it was the first game of the year against the Indians, meaning that Trot Nixon would be making his return trip to Boston. The original "dirt dog", Trot had been with the team through a lot of ups and downs, and the intensity with which he played gave us fans the impression that he cared as much as we did. The Red Sox honored Trot and his wife Kathryn before the game, presenting them with the Boston Red Sox Jimmy Fund Award, an award that's granted annually to organizations or individuals who have committed ten years or more to the Jimmy Fund's mission. Kathryn threw out the first pitch.
Trot got a warm reception when he took his spot in right field in the bottom of the first, and a long standing ovation before his first at-bat in the second. He singled, but fortunately Curt Schilling was able to get out of the inning before any damage was done. In the top of the third, the first two Cleveland batters reached base. Casey Blake ripped a ground ball quickly toward third. Mike Lowell was there to grab it and step on the bag to retire the lead runner. He threw over to second, where Dustin Pedroia stepped on the bag to get the second out, then fired on to first. Blake just barely beat the throw to first, making it a rather unceremonious 5-4 fielder's choice, but that's the closest I've ever come to seeing a triple play. In the bottom of the fourth, Kevin Youkilis led off with a double, which extended his hitting streak to 20 games. J.D. Drew and Jason Varitek also doubled in the inning, giving the Red Sox a 2-0 lead. Manny Ramirez's homer in the fifth made it 3-0.
Good defensive plays by Youkilis and Varitek kept the Indians off the bases in the fifth, but Schilling didn't need much help from his defense tonight. The Tribe was able to sneak in a run in the sixth, but Curt went seven strong innings, striking out ten along the way. In the bottom of the seventh, Youkilis came to the plate with no one on and one out. With Big Papi getting a night off, Youk was hitting third. He was on such a hot streak that he could go into any spot in the lineup and deliver, and tonight was no exception. This time he drilled a hit into the triangle in centerfield. It just missed going into the bullpen for a home run, but hit off the side of the bullpen wall and rolled along the base of the centerfield wall as the outfielders gave chase. The "Yoooooouuuuuuk" chant started as soon as the ball hit the ground. Youk didn't slow down as he rounded second and headed for third, and the "Yoooooouuuuuuk"s intensified as we saw that he was being waved home! He made it in, and scored standing up, for the inside-the-park home run. Yoooooouuuuuuk! Pedroia had heated up, too, lately. His third hit of the night contributed to an insurance run in the eighth. More cheers went up when the Yankees' 7-2 loss went final. A win by the Red Sox tonight would push the New Yorkers 13.5 games back in the division. And although the Indians scored a run off J.C. Romero and Javier Lopez in the eighth and another off Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth, the Red Sox were able to hold on for the win.
Rockies 7, Red Sox 1
The next two weeks weren't the best for the Red Sox. They split the final two games against the Indians, then lost two of three against the Yankees and three of four to the A's, before rebounding by winning two of three in Arizona. They returned home and split the first two games against the Rockies. Despite their recent cool-down, the Sox still held an eight game lead over the Yankees in the division. The matchup for tonight's game was Jeff Francis against Josh Beckett, who came into the game leading the league with a 9-0 record. The lineup looked a little different tonight. With J.D. Drew, Julio Lugo, and Coco Crisp all struggling offensively, Terry Francona was shaking things up a bit. Drew, who hadn't been hitting but was still taking plenty of walks, had moved up to hit leadoff. Dustin Pedroia, who had overcome a dreadful April and was named Rookie of the Month for May, moved up to the number two spot. Crisp and Lugo moved to the bottom of the order. And Kevin Youkilis, whose hitting streak had stopped at 23 but was still hitting well, batted in Drew's fifth spot. I heard the lineup on the radio on the way in, and thought it made sense as a way to get the guys who were in slumps going again.
Red Sox 1, Giants 0
There was a lot of hype leading up to the Red Sox' series with the Giants. This was going to be Barry Bonds' first time playing in Fenway Park, and although he wasn't in danger of passing Hank Aaron's home run mark over the weekend, he was only eight homers away. All the talk on the radio was how people were going to make signs and t-shirts with asterisks on them to express that his steroid-enhanced records shouldn't count, but when I got there, it was much more tame than I thought it would be. There was even a smattering of applause when he took batting practice, even though he only swatted a couple out. I was pretty appalled by the "I just want to be able to say I've seen him" attitude. He's a fraud and a cheat - why would anyone care whether they've seen him or not? I was much more interested in seeing Dave Roberts, 2004 World Champion and author of The Biggest Stolen Base in Red Sox History, who was returning to Fenway for the first time since picking up his World Series ring.
When the game started, Roberts led off - after a long standing ovation - with a walk. Daisuke Matsuzaka retired the next two batters, and that brought Bonds to the plate. Terry Francona called for an intentional walk, and the Giants fans near me started to boo and say, "Pitch to him! Don't chicken out! Give him a fair chance!" I couldn't resist responding, "You're right, it's not fair. Dice-K's not even on steroids!" That got a laugh from the Red Sox fans in the section. The strategy worked, as the next batter quickly grounded out to end the inning. The reaction each time Bonds came up was a lot of loud booing, but while we certainly didn't like him or anything he stood for, the boos seemed to lack the emotion that we put into "Sterrrroooooids" chants directed at Yankees like Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield.
Dice-K cruised through the second and third, and Bonds was up again in the fourth. This time a different Giants fan near me was still griping that the Red Sox had "chickened out" by pitching around him in his first time up. I leaned over and asked, "So how come Barry's DH-ing today? Is it because he knows he can't play left field at Fenway? Is he afraid of the Green Monster? What a chicken!" (Sometimes, you've gotta do what you've gotta do to stick up for your team.) This time Bonds flied out to center.
In the bottom of the fourth, Manny Ramirez launched a home run, giving the Sox a 1-0 lead. The way Matsuzaka was pitching, that would end up being enough. The only real trouble he ran into was in the sixth, when he faced Bonds with runners at first and second with no outs, but he got him to ground out to second. Two outs and a hit batsmen later, the bases were loaded, but Dice-K struck out Rich Aurilia to end it. Hideki Okajima came on for the seventh, and gave up a hit and a walk to open the inning. That brought Bonds up again, and it was a little scary when Oki started him off 2-0. But he came back with three straight strikes, including a knee-buckler that left Bonds standing there looking at strike three. Jonathan Papelbon nailed down the save with a 1-2-3 ninth.
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