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2004: Diary of a Season
Red Sox 8, Blue Jays 4
The day after my right field roof game, I was back for the first game of a series against the Blue Jays. My friends and I splurged and got great seats behind first base. It was much better than our usual bleacher spot! It was cool but humid, with a light, misty rain. Our seats were covered, so we were fine, and it never rained hard enough that they had to stop the game, but the grounds crew did make trips out between every inning to treat the mound and basepaths with drying agent.
When the Red Sox come up in the bottom of the first, first base coach Lynn Jones and third base coach Dale Sveum are always announced. Sveum had been getting booed in his introduction on this whole homestand, because of a game in Tampa on their last road trip, where Dave Roberts was thrown out at the plate in the ninth inning. He had represented the tying run, and there were no outs at the time, and the hit had gone to center field where Rocco Baldelli has a decent throwing arm. Sveum had taken a lot of heat for waving Roberts in from second, but he stood by his decision and said he'd do it again. Yesterday, Kevin Youkilis had been thrown out at home. At least there had been two outs at the time, but it had resulted in a collision with the catcher and Youkilis had suffered a leg contusion. He was out of the lineup tonight. Bill Mueller played third, and instead of tapping Ricky Gutierrez for second base, Doug Mientkiewicz got his first career start at second. I had heard the lineup on the radio as I drove in, so I wasn't surprised when I got there. I also heard that he had played only one inning at second base in his career. While he was a Gold Glove first baseman, second base in an entirely different dynamic, and with sinkerballer Derek Lowe on the mound, the infielders would be busy.
Sure enough, Mientkiewicz didn't have to wait long. After Lowe struck out the first batter and allowed a single to the second, Doug fielded a grounder and started a 4-3 double play. In the second inning, Carlos Delgado walked, and then Frank Catalanotto hit a grounder to second. Delgado tried to run over Mientkiewicz on his way to second base, but Doug was able to apply the tag for the fielder's choice. The Red Sox got on the board first, on Orlando Cabrera's sacrifice fly. After the Jays tied it up in the fourth, Jason Varitek's sac fly and Cabrera's RBI single gave the Sox a 3-1 lead. In the fifth, Kevin Millar had a two-run double, and the Sox never looked back. It did get scary in the seventh when Lowe gave up three runs, making it 5-4, before finally getting out of the inning. Keith Foulke came on for the eighth, and Francona sent Gutierrez in to play second, while Mientkiewicz finally got a break and shifted back to first. In the bottom of the inning the Sox got some needed insurance. Mueller singled, Mientkiewicz doubled, and Johnny Damon tripled. Roberts followed with a double, and Foulke finished off the Blue Jays in the ninth for an 8-4 win.
Red Sox 6, Tigers 1
The Red Sox returned home from Toronto to open a four-game series with the Detroit Tigers. They won the first three games, and I was back for Sunday afternoon's game. I hadn't been to Fenway in almost two weeks, and in that short amount of time, everything about the team had changed. The Sunday game two weeks ago was cold and rainy. The Sox stranded a lot of runners and lost a frustrating 5-4 game to fall 10.5 games behind the Yankees. Now, two weeks later it was sunny and hot, not the hottest game I've ever been to, but one of those muggy Boston afternoons when just sitting in the bleachers is enough to make us bake. They had won 11 of their last 12 games, and coming into the game were only 4.5 back in the East and ahead of Anaheim and Texas for the Wild Card. On weekend games, I don't have to come from work, so I like to get there as soon as the gates open. Usually the Red Sox are finishing up batting practice and the visiting team is getting ready to start by the time we get in, but today the Tigers had apparently decided to skip B.P. because of the heat, and we got to see the Sox the whole time. I went down behind the Red Sox dugout to watch.
It was good to see Trot Nixon on the field with the team. After missing the first two months of the season with a back injury, he had returned in June but had spent the end of July and all of August on the D.L. with a quad injury. He had his hat on the whole time, but I could see the really bad mohawk he had under the hat, when he turned around. I watched him interview with a TV crew, hopefully to tell them he'd be back in the lineup soon. When I looked back over at home plate, I saw one player hit some good drives, a couple of which went over the Green Monster. Looking through the cage, I saw when he turned that it was #65, Ino Guerrero, the coach who normally throws batting practice. David Ortiz had brought Guerrero along to the All-Star game to throw to him in the Home Run Derby. I figured that since it was so hot, B.P. must be optional for the players, and he must have decided to use the chance to take a few swings himself. I was impressed with a few of the shots he had hit, until I got home and looked at the pictures I had taken. That's when I realized it had been Manny Ramirez wearing Guerrero's practice jersey! (And no wonder I didn't recognize the person who was throwing to "Guerrero" - it was the real Guerrero. Oh well, I guess that's just Manny being Ino! A few days later I read in the paper that he had taken B.P. in Kevin Millar's jersey that day.)
We were pretty far back in the bleachers, but at least we weren't sitting in a puddle (which might not have been too bad today; it might have cooled us off) and we had a good, clear view of the field. 24-year-old Wilfredo Ledezma faced off against veteran Tim Wakefield, and neither pitcher allowed a hit until the third. The Tigers had had a baserunner in the first when Jason Smith reached on a wild strike three that got past Doug Mirabelli, but Wake quickly picked him off first. A couple of batters later there was another comical moment. Wake's pitch to Carlos Guillen was over Guillen's head, but as he ducked out of the way, it glanced off his bat and bounced foul. It was ruled strike one, even though it was well out of the strike zone and he hadn't tried to swing. The Tigers finally broke through for a run when Craig Monroe hit a solo homer off Wakefield in the fifth. In the bottom of the fifth, the Red Sox finally got started. Ledezma got two quick outs, but must have tired. Gabe Kapler singled and stole second. Johnny Damon walked, and Mark Bellhorn had an infield hit to load the bases. Manny singled, driving in two, and David Ortiz singled in another run. Millar's infield hit drove in Manny for the fourth run of the inning, and the only reason the inning ended was that Ortiz was thrown out at the plate when he tried to score from second on Orlando Cabrera's base hit. Big Papi injured his shoulder in the collision at the plate. Although he didn't have to leave the game, the shoulder continued to hurt him throughout the rest of the season. Dale Sveum's windmill was really starting to get dangerous.
Bellhorn added a two-run homer in the seventh. (He had really heated up at the plate ever since I had implored him to "Hit the ball with the stick" in Toronto.) Wake cruised through the eighth, allowing only three hits all day and striking out seven. It was really hot in the bleachers, and the kids in the row in front of us had squirt bottles with a fan on top, and it was refreshing when they went to spray themselves and got us instead. The players must have been hot, too, because at the end of the eighth inning, Mike Timlin got out a garden hose and started spraying water onto the fans sitting behind the bullpen. That was the section where our Tenth Man Plan seats were, but we weren't down there this time. Today our seats were almost three-quarters of the way back behind that section, but everyone in the whole section stood up and cheered. Curtis Leskanic pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to wrap up the sweep with a sun- and fun-filled win. The Yankees lost, and the Sox were now only 3.5 games out of first. There were five weeks left in the season, and the division title was well within reach. All they had to do was gain one game per week.
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