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Road Trip to Toronto

August 23-25, 2004

The SkyDome 'grounds crew' SkyDome is the eleventh different ballpark I've been to, and only the second dome. It had all the lack of atmosphere that I expected to find at a sparsely-attended, Astroturfed stadium. After batting practice was over, a zamboni-like carpet-sweeping vehicle came out to vacuum up the basepaths, which I'm sure is not how Abner Doubleday envisioned the game being played! At least the retractable roof gave it a uniqueness factor, so I rank it above the other Astorturf ones I've been to, like Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia and Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati. Tonight the roof was open, as it had been the day before. Not that I wanted to see a game played inside, but I was hoping to see how the roof opened and closed at some point during the series.

Tim Wakefield squared off against Miguel Batista, and the Blue Jays jumped out to a 3-0 lead. One run scored on a wild pitch in the second, another on a home run in the third, and the other on a triple and single in the fourth. Wakefield and Doug Mirabelli were doing a good job of minimizing the damage. Mirabelli threw out Alex Rios trying to steal second, and Wake picked Eric Hinske off first. But it was still frustrating to drive all the way up there when they had a six-game winning streak, only to see them lose the first game and find themselves down 3-0 in the second one. All night I had been yelling words of encouragement to my team, because the acoustics were good, and it was so quiet that if I wasn't saying anything, no one was. As Mark Bellhorn batted in the top of the fifth, I was completely frustrated by the lack of offense, and I decided to try a line we had heard once at Fenway that had cracked my father up: "HIT THE BALL WITH THE STICK!" Bellhorn may not have been the most appropriate batter to impart that wisdom to, because he always took a lot of pitches, but he did lead off the inning with a walk. Johnny Damon followed with a single, and after a wild pitch and Dave Roberts' strikeout, Manny knocked in both runners. The following inning, Orlando Cabrera doubled and Bill Mueller walked, before Mirabelli's three-run homer gave the Sox a 5-3 lead. (When they went on to win the game, and nine more in a row after it, I of course took full credit for my comment being responsible for the streak.)

The visitors' dugout Wake was off the hook for now, but in the sixth, a walk, an error, and a hit batsman loaded the bases with nobody out. Mike Timlin was summoned from the bullpen to face the top of the order in this most dangerous of situations. No problem - he simply struck out Reed Johnson and Orlando Hudson, and got Rios to ground out to end the threat. A clutch pitching performance like that is worth as much as a big hit! Timlin did give up a run the next inning, but we still led 5-4. I was surprised that Ramiro Mendoza came in for the eighth. He had pitched a little better lately than he had at the beginning of the year, but so far he had only been used in games that were blowouts one way or the other. Now here he was in a one-run game, so this would be a big test for him. He ended up doing fine, getting both batters he faced out. Keith Foulke got the final out of the eighth, and finished it off in the ninth.

The roof opens When we arrived at the park on the third day, batting practice was underway and the roof was closed for the first time in the series. It was strange because this was the warmest of the three days (Monday's game had been windy and downright chilly) but it would be interesting to see one game with the roof closed. This time our seats were behind the visitors' dugout, almost behind the backstop screen, on the first base side. There were a lot of other Red Sox fans in the section, and we watched Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz knock ball after ball out of the park, applauding them when they were done. As B.P. wrapped up, the roof began to open. It's made up of three pieces. The first piece - the bottom layer in the picture to the right - is stationary, covering the outfield whether the rest of the roof is open or closed. The middle piece, which covers the majority of the field, opens first, sliding toward the outfield to become the top layer in the picture. Finally the section that covers the stands behind the plate rotates around to the third base side, becoming the middle layer that slides in between the other two. The whole process takes nearly twenty minutes, and the game was underway by the time it finished.

Curt Schilling matched up with Josh Towers tonight. The Red Sox didn't score in the first two innings, and a single, a wild pitch, a groundout, and another single plated a run for the Blue Jays in the second. In the third, Doug Mientkiewicz led off with a single to right field, but was thrown out trying to stretch it to a double. He ended up jamming his shoulder on the play, and had to leave the game an inning later. In the fourth inning, the game got fun. Johnny Damon started off with a ground rule double. Dave Roberts hit a foul popup for the first out, but Manny followed with a home run, giving the Sox a 2-1 lead. Not to be outdone, "Big Papi" Ortiz went back-to-back with him for a 3-1 lead. Bill Mueller singled, and then Orlando Cabrera homered to make it 5-1. Mientkiewicz struck out for the second out. Doug Mirabelli singled, Mark Bellhorn doubled, and Damon walked to load the bases and knock Towers from the game, before Roberts grounded out to finally end the inning.

Big Papi hits another one out of the park From there, Schilling cruised. He gave up a double in the fourth, two singles in the fifth, and two singles in the sixth, but didn't allow any more runs. The Red Sox added another run in the fifth, when Cabrera's sacrifice fly scored Manny, who had walked. In the sixth, they batted around again. Ortiz hit his second homer of the day, a two-run blast that followed another of Manny's walks and landed in the second deck in right. After Mueller and Cabrera reached base again, Mirabelli's single and Bellhorn's second double of the game brought them home. When Big Papi's double knocked in Roberts in the eighth, it was 11-1 Sox.

With a ten run lead, Schilling was lifted after 99 pitches following his strikeout of Greg Zaun (his ninth K of the day) to open the seventh. With so many Red Sox fans in the section behind the dugout, the ovation he received as he came off the field was just like at Fenway. Terry Adams, the former Blue Jay acquired by the Red Sox a couple of months earlier, got out of the seventh, but ran into trouble in the eighth. Three straight singles to open the inning scored a run. Carlos Delgado struck out for the first out, but both runners moved up on a wild pitch. Frank Menechino's groundout scored another run, and after Adams walked Eric Hinske on four pitches, I was yelling, "Come on Terry, don't make us go get Mendoza!" Zaun singled, knocking in another run, and I switched to, "Let's go, Ramiro!" It was Mike Myers who relieved Adams instead, but he gave up a run-scoring single to the only batter he faced. It was 11-5 with two runners on base, when Ramiro Mendoza finally entered the game. He got Chris Gomez to pop up to Kevin Millar in foul territory outside of first to finally end the inning. The Sox got two men on in the ninth but didn't score, and Mendoza retired the side in order in the bottom of the ninth to preserve the 11-5 win.

The nine-hour ride home (twelve for my parents, who had to continue on to Maine) the next day was made enjoyable because we downloaded all the articles about the Sox from the Boston Globe and Boston Herald before we left the hotel, and read them out loud off the laptop in the car. The Red Sox had won eight of their last nine games, and had gone 5-1 on this road trip. They had struggled a lot on the road this year, but this favorable excursion had finally pulled them to 32-32 for the year. Schilling's final strikeout of the night was the 2700th of his career, making him 18th on the all-time list. Big Papi's two homers gave him a career-high 32 for the season, and Manny's 34th round-tripper of the season led the league in that category.

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