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2001: Diary of a Season

Sunday, July 29, Fenway Park, Section 36

Red Sox 4, White Sox 3

Nomar's back!

Red Sox fans had waited a long time for this day. Friday we got Bret Saberhagen back. Saturday Carl Everett returned to the lineup. And now on Sunday, Nomar was coming back!

Nomar Garciaparra was hit on the wrist by a pitch in a game just before the 1999 playoffs. The injury nagged him throughout the 2000 season, and then suddenly flared up during Spring Training of 2001. He underwent surgery on April 2, as the Red Sox opened their season in Baltimore. He had been rehabbing for a while, then had played a grand total of four games for Triple-A Pawtucket (hitting over .400), and was pronounced fit to return. Our mantra all season had been, Keep it close and wait for Nomar to get back. While the Sox had fallen out of first place (we weren't counting on having Pedro out, too) they had kept it close. And starting today, anything was possible.

There was a definite buzz around the ballpark that day - almost the same feel as Opening Day. Even callers to WEEI were being positive, and The Return of Nomar was all anyone wanted to talk about in the stands. Still, I knew he had only played four rehab games, and that he couldn't be expected to carry the team right away. We'd have to give him a little time, and expect him to start slowly. But sometimes miracles do happen.

As luck would have it, the first batter of the game grounded one right to shortstop. It took a funny hop, and Nomar bobbled it a little before throwing to first, not in time to get the runner. It looked like a tough play, but he was charged with an error. "Hey, give the guy a break!" someone yelled behind me. After a walk, David Cone retired the next two batters, then struck out Jose Canseco (much to the delight of the crowd) to end the inning. Nomar batted with two outs in the first. He hit a grounder to third and was thrown out. But I didn't care. It was so good to see him back, toe-tapping and adjusting batting gloves and everything else, just knowing that he was in the lineup. Chicago scored a run in the top of the third, but Shea Hillenbrand tied it with a solo homer in the bottom half. Nomar came to bat with two outs in the third, and struck out to end the inning. Cone struck out the side in the fourth, but then allowed a solo homer to Jose Valentin in the fifth, and Chicago took a 2-1 lead. Nomar was due to lead off the sixth. On a 2-1 count, he smacked the ball to center field - into the stands in Section 35, which is blocked off during day games to provide batters with a better hitting background. Just like that the game was tied, and Nomar was definitely back! (The ball bounced back onto the field, so no one from Section 36, where I was sitting, was able to retrieve it.)

The good feeling didn't last long, though, as Bill Pulsipher and Rod Beck combined to give up the go-ahead run in the top of the seventh. When the Red Sox came to bat in the bottom of the seventh, it was 3-2 White Sox. Brian Daubach was hit by a pitch to start the inning. Hillenbrand reached on an error, and Scott Hatteberg walked to load the bases. Chris Stynes was up next, but he popped out to the first baseman. Trot Nixon struck out looking. So many times already this season the Red Sox had squandered chances to score, and this could have been another such moment, but this day was different. Nomar was up next, and he lined a hit straight up the middle, scoring Daubach and Hillenbrand! The crowd went crazy! His homer was exciting, but this hit turned out to be the game-winner, and was my favorite moment in the 2001 season. The bullpen held the lead, the Red Sox won, Nomar was back, and anything was possible!

Saturday, August 4, Fenway Park, Section 40

Red Sox 10, Rangers 4

We were back in Section 40, and David Cone was scheduled to start. The Red Sox had lost all four games I had watched from that section, but they had won the last 11 games Cone started. Something was going to have to change today. My brother worried before the game that we wouldn't get to see Nomar. He hadn't been with me when Nomar made his return the previous weekend, and Jimy had planned to give him the night off on Friday. But Friday's game was rained out and scheduled as part of a separate-admission doubleheader Saturday. We didn't know which of Saturday's games Nomar would be in. Luckily for us, he did play in the afternoon game.

In 1996, I flew from my home (at the time) in Kentucky to Boston, for a friend's wedding. The following day, August 4, I went to the Red Sox game. I had noted beforehand that it would be Troy O'Leary's birthday, so I decided that if he played left field, where I was sitting, I'd try to get a "Happy Birthday" chant going. He started the day in right, then homered in the eighth and moved to left field for the ninth. Fortunately for everyone within earshot, I didn't remember my pledge, and refrained from making a spectacle of myself. So now on August 4, 2001, by brother asked, "So, are you going to sing to Troy?" I assured him that I wouldn't, and it turned out I didn't need to - the Red Sox bats were making plenty of noise.

We sat in Section 40, behind the Red Sox bullpen, in the fourth row. My brother had the aisle seat at the end of the row, and I was next to him. In the second inning, Brian Daubach launched a home run right toward us. I was balancing my scorecard on my lap, with a water bottle and backpack under my feet. I stood up, but wouldn't have been able to catch it. My brother stepped into the aisle, as did his counterpart in row 4 of Section 41. Everyone reached, but it was the guy in Section 41 who had caught it. (One of my pet peeves is when people get a baseball at a game and don't appreciate it. Back in May, I had the chance to sit in the front row near home plate, and two girls were begging for baseballs. They both eventually got one, and were comparing notes - "I got one that Nomar hit, but I lost it, and then I got another one, but I gave it to my cousin, so I hope I get another one." Come on, kids! A baseball from a real live game should be saved and treasured. Maybe I was just jealous because I never got one as a kid, and now who's going to give one to a 28-year-old? I did get one during batting practice once, in Atlanta in 1999, from Red Sox third base coach Wendell Kim, but that's not the same as getting one used in an actual game. Anyway, I like to see that the person who gets it is excited, no matter how old they might be. I guess I just want to know it's going to a good home.) I didn't have to worry about it this time, though. The guy in Section 41 was thrilled to have caught a home run ball. He kept yelling, "I can die happy now!" The camera stayed on us for a while. I was hidden behind the tall guys in front of me, but my brother was visible. My uncle called my mother - "Are you watching the game? Was that David?" - and people he'd never met who were watching the game recognized him from his website. When we sat back down, he realized his watch had broken and fallen off in the process of reaching for the ball.

But the homer parade was only just starting. Later on in the inning, birthday boy Troy O'Leary homered. In the third, Trot Nixon and Carl Everett went deep. Nixon homered again in the fifth, and O'Leary hit his second round-tripper of the day in the seventh. Cone and the Red Sox cruised to a 10-4 win.

Sunday, August 5, Fenway Park, Section 36

White Sox 3, Red Sox 1

I got home from Saturday afternoon's game just in time to watch the nightcap, where the fun continued. This time it was Mike Lansing (filling in for Nomar, who was given the game off) who homered twice, and the Sox went on to win 6-2. Sunday afternoon I was back at Fenway for the third game of this four-game series.

I enjoy sitting in Section 36. It's in straightaway center field, over the 17-foot high wall. The seats face the infield directly, with no poles or fences to block the view. From there, even without my glasses, it's possible to tell when an ump calls a strike that's way out of the strike zone. When I sat there for Nomar's comeback game, the people around me were appalled by some of the calls. I laughed, because we were all the way out in the bleachers, but when I got home and watched the tape I had made of the game, Jerry Remy kept making comments like, "I don't know where that pitch was supposed to be. The strike zone has been all over the place today." So I guess we do have a good vantage point. There's also a good view straight down into the Red Sox bullpen. So if I have to sit in the bleachers, Section 36 is my preference.

The only thing Section 36 can't provide is shade. The game-time temperature was listed at 80, but it was hotter in the sun, especially for someone like me who arrives at 11:30 in the morning and stays till the last out is made. There were no clouds, and it was very humid, which is not a good combination if you don't want to leave your seat during the game to buy a $3 bottled water. I had brought two bottles with me, but they were gone before the game started. I used to live in Atlanta, and I attended a lot of games there, many of which were very hot. (Especially one in July, 1999.) But this game at Fenway was the hottest I've ever been to. If I had been under the shade of the grandstand roof, it would have been a beautiful day for a game, but the bleachers were brutal. Even worse, I had come to the game myself, so I ended up squashed in a seat surrounded by sweaty strangers. I did feel a little better when two thin, trendy-looking high-school-aged girls near me said, "Look at this seat - my whole back is sweating!" Apparently I wasn't the only one who found it a little warm out there.

Luckily, there was a good game to capture my attention and keep me from thinking about the heat. Manny hit a first-inning blast that was measured at 455 feet, not as long as a couple I had seen him hit, but still impressive. Trot hit a triple, and Doug Mirabelli had two doubles and three RBI. Lansing and Stynes also added doubles. The Texas pitcher who made it all possible? Darren Oliver, who would be traded to the Red Sox after the season for Carl Everett. But that day it worked to our advantage. Rolando Arrojo was pitching for the Sox. He had taken Pedro's spot in the rotation, and had pitched just like Pedro. He hadn't allowed more than two runs in any of his five starts, but had just one win to show for it, since he had received very little run support. This time he pitched six innings, and allowed only one run while striking out eight. After Bill Pulsipher allowed two more runs in the seventh, Ugueth Urbina, who had been acquired from the Expos for Tomo Ohka in a trading-deadline deal the previous week, was called in. He struck out Randy Velarde to end the threat and the inning. In the eighth, Ugui struck out the heart of Texas' order - Alex Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro, and Ivan Rodriguez - to the delight of the crowd. Derek Lowe closed out the game in the ninth. The Red Sox went on to beat the Rangers again on Monday night, completing the four-game sweep.

Sunday, August 12, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore

Red Sox 12, Orioles 10

My final road trip of the season was to Baltimore to see the Red Sox play there. It turned out to be a wild game, and it left my road record for the season at 4-1. My pictures are on the Road trip to Baltimore page.

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