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2006: Diary of a Season

Sunday, April 16 - Fenway Park, Section 43

Red Sox 3, Mariners 2

Trot Nixon and me My next game was on Easter, and I was back in my Tenth Man Plan seats. I got there when the gates opened and went down beside the Red Sox dugout to watch batting practice. There was no B.P. that day, and I was standing by the dugout when a Red Sox staffer motioned to a group of people near me to come out onto the field. She said to me, "You can come, too," but I laughed and shook my head to indicate that I wasn't with whatever group they were. (The laugh was at the thought of pretending I was with some special group, sneaking onto the field with them, and winding up singing the National Anthem or something!) But then I realized everyone could go onto the warning track. It was On-Field Photo Day, like the one I had been to in 2004. I staked out a good spot behind the ropes just to the left of the Red Sox dugout. The first player out was someone I didn't recognize. The Fenway Ambassador who was with him asked him to pose with me for a picture, and I thanked him, but I felt pretty clueless because I couldn't figure out who he was and thank him by name. He was young, but the minor leaguers would be off playing in their own games, and the clubhouse guys wouldn't be walking around posing for pictures. It wasn't till after he left that I remembered hearing on the radio on the way in that Jermaine Van Buren had been called up from Pawtucket when David Wells went on the D.L., and sure enough, that's who it was. More players came out in the next few minutes and circled around, shaking hands and posing for pictures. With Wells on the D.L., Lenny DiNardo would be starting the next day, so I wished him luck when he came around. I shook Mark Loretta's hand, and posed for pictures with Trot Nixon and Terry Francona. When Jason Varitek came by, a guy near me handed him his cellphone, and Tek got on and said hi to his friend. I was hoping to see Big Papi and Curt Schilling (I even had my "Why not us?" shirt on, which would have been perfect for a picture with Curt) but they both went to the right field side first and never made it around to where I was standing.

Wily Mo Pena When the players went in, I went to my seat. The sun was out, but it was really windy, so I was glad I had my warm jacket, even in the bleachers. It was another Josh Beckett start, and this time he had no first inning struggles. It took him only 12 pitches to get through the first, and the Sox scored twice in the bottom of the inning. It was the third inning when things got scary. Coco Crisp had gotten off to a hot start in spring training and continued it when the season started, reaching base often and stealing a lot. But in the fifth game of the year, he broke his finger sliding into third base on a steal attempt, and he had been out ever since. Trot Nixon had been out since the home opener with a groin strain, and that meant today's game had Dustan Mohr in center and Wily Mo Pena in right. After Ichiro Suzuki opened the third by reaching on an error, Jose Lopez hit a fly ball to right. Wily Mo ran over, but the wind took it and he missed it. It rolled all the way to the wall in right-center, where Mohr finally picked it up. The triple scored one run, and Raul Ibanez followed with a single that tied it up 2-2. On the radio the next day, they were joking that Wily Mo was "fielding for the cycle" - turning would-be outs into singles, doubles, triples, and homers. The trade that sent Bronson Arroyo to the Reds for him had never made sense to me, but it seemed even worse now, especially since Arroyo was off to a 2-0 start and had even hit two home runs already! Not to mention the fact that with Jonathan Papelbon being used as the closer and David Wells on the D.L., there was already a spot for Arroyo in our rotation.

Jarrod Washburn was wild in the fourth, loading the bases with a single, a wild pitch, a walk, and a hit batsman. Alex Gonzalez's RBI single gave the Red Sox a 3-2 lead. Beckett was done after seven, and Mike Timlin came on for the eighth. Ichiro hit a fly ball to left, and Manny Ramirez ran back up against the Green Monster and leaped to make the catch. Lopez followed with a base hit to right. Wily Mo ran over and fielded it cleanly, getting a big cheer from us in right field for not turning it into a triple. The very next play was another fly to left. It looked like it might be foul, but the strong wind blew it back, deep into fair territory. Manny made a long run and dove to catch it. We gave him a standing ovation. He had been fielding really well lately, and I joked that he was inspired to show Wily Mo how it was supposed to be done. For the ninth, Adam Stern came in to play center, and Mohr moved over to right. Papelbon came on for the save, and blew away the side in order to preserve a fun win.

Tuesday, April 18 - Fenway Park, Section 42

Red Sox 7, Devil Rays 4

I was back two days later for a game against the Devil Rays. It was the second of four games in the Opening Day Sox Pax we had bought. All of my April games came from either that package or my Tenth Man Plan, so they weren't necessarily evenly distributed. So far, every game I had been to was pitched by either Josh Beckett or Matt Clement. Tonight it was Clement again, matched up against former Red Sox pitcher Casey Fossum. Clement allowed two baserunners in the first but escaped the inning without any damage. When Fossum retired Kevin Youkilis and Mark Loretta to open the first, that left the bases empty for David Ortiz's at-bat and allowed Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon to use his new shift. The traditional shift for a left-handed batter has the third baseman shift over to shortstop, the shortstop shift over to second, and the second baseman stand in shallow right field. But Maddon's shift had the third baseman standing in left field, and all the other outfielders shifting over. The shortstop and second baseman still moved over, leaving no one at all on the left side of the infield. Baseball's answer to football's 3-4 defense, it came to be known as the "3-4 shift", since there were 3 infielders and 4 outfielders, and because it had been designed for number 34. Papi grounded to the right side of second base, where it was fielded by the shortstop for the out.

From there, Clement settled down and started pitching well. The bottom of the order loaded the bases with two outs in the second, but Alex Gonzalez flied out to end it. In the third, Youkilis and Loretta both made outs, so the bases were empty and the 3-4 shift was on again. This time Big Papi doubled off the Green Monster. (Back to the drawing board, Joe Maddon! Next time make the shortstop hang onto the ladder on the Monster, and stick the second baseman halfway up Pesky's Pole, if you want someone to have a shot at catching it!) Manny Ramirez followed with a double, and the Sox were on the board. Clement was throwing a shutout and only had 78 pitches at the end of the sixth, so it was no surprise that he came back for the seventh to face the bottom of the Devil Rays' order. But he gave up a homer to Ty Wigginton and then back-to-back doubles by Toby Hall and Tomas Perez, and the Devil Rays took a 2-1 lead.

Wily Mo Pena walked to start the seventh. It was his second of the game, and considering that at the beginning of the season he swung at everything and seemed to always strike out, it looked like the regular playing time (along with a lot of work with hitting coach Papa Jack) was helping him at the plate. Gonzalez sacrificed him over, and he went to third on a wild pitch. Youkilis walked. Loretta hit one to right, and Youk had to hold up to see if it would be caught. It wasn't, and he was thrown out at second while Loretta was safe on a 9-6 fielder's choice. Meanwhile, Wily Mo scored on the play, tying the game back up. With Loretta on first, Maddon couldn't do any silly shifts this time, and Papi doubled again, sending Loretta to third. Manny followed with a single, knocking in both runners for a 4-2 lead. In the eighth, Clement walked the first batter on four pitches and was done for the night. Mike Timlin allowed back-to-back doubles, and it was tied 4-4.

Mike Lowell doubled to lead off the eighth. Trot Nixon pinch-hit for Dustan Mohr, and he walked. Adam Stern had entered the game as a defensive replacement for Wily Mo in the top of the inning. (He played in center, and Mohr moved to right.) Stern was a Rule 5 pick from 2005. That meant he had to be on the 25-man major league roster (or the disabled list) for the whole season, or they'd have to offer him back to his original team, the Braves. They had managed to hide him on the D.L. for most of 2005, so he hadn't spent enough days on the roster to officially drop the Rule 5 status yet. He needed 17 days in the majors at the start of 2006 to complete the Rule 5 transaction. After April 19, he would officially become the Red Sox' property, and they could send him to the minors if they wanted. In the spring, he had starred for the Canadian team in the World Baseball Classic, including hitting an inside-the-park home run and making a great catch in Canada's win over the U.S. Now with Coco Crisp and Nixon injured, he had an opportunity to get some more playing time. He was speedy, a good fielder, and had actually improved at the plate lately. This time, though, he hit a grounder to third, where Lowell was thrown out. Gonzalez struck out for the second out. But Youlikis followed with a two-run double, and Loretta knocked him in.

The Red Sox had a 7-4 lead, so now all that was left was Jonathan Papelbon coming in and closing it out. He had been perfect in save opportunities this season. He hadn't given up a run yet, and hadn't even allowed very many baserunners. He struck out Joey Gathright on three pitches, but then gave up a hit to Carl Crawford, who wasted no time taking second on defensive indifference. Jorge Cantu whiffed for the second out, but the next two batters walked, loading the bases. Russell Branyan was next, and he looped a fly ball to shallow center. Stern charged in, but it didn't look like he could get there in time. At the last second he dove, managed to scoop up the ball just before it hit the ground, and landed with a somersault. Game over! If he had played it conservatively and let it drop, it would have scored one or two runs. But once he dove, if he hadn't caught it, it would have gone all the way to the wall and cleared the bases, tying the game. As it happened, it was an exciting play that saved the day. Ending the game with a difficult and improbable defensive play can be just as dramatic as a walkoff win!

Thursday, April 20 - Fenway Park, Section 43

Devil Rays 5, Red Sox 1

Fenway Park, April 20, 2006

Jason Varitek's Gold Glove My next game was two days later, back in the Tenth Man Plan seats again. I had read in the paper that there would be a ceremony before the game to honor last year's Gold Glove and Silver Slugger recipients. I figured I'd have a better view in the standing room area behind home plate than in my usual bleacher seat, so I stood there before the game started. Former Gold Glove winner Frank Malzone was on hand to present the trophies to Mike Lowell, who had won his with the Marlins, and Jason Varitek. It was cool that Tek's was shaped like a catcher's mitt, while Lowell's was a third baseman's glove. Tek stayed on the field while Jim Rice presented him with his Silver Slugger award. Next Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz received their Silver Sluggers. Big Papi was also given the Player's Choice Award for AL Outstanding Player (further proof he should have won the MVP). I stayed in the standing room area for the first inning, just long enough to get a couple of pictures of a view I rarely get to watch a game from, then headed to my seat.

Tonight I finally got to see someone other than Josh Beckett and Matt Clement. Tim Wakefield was pitching, and he cruised through the first three innings without allowing a baserunner. (The guy next to me didn't arrive until the fourth inning, just as Wakefield walked his first batter of the game. He announced loudly, "Well if he's going to be walking everyone, it's going to be a long night!" I was annoyed, and wanted to tell him that it was the first baserunner, but I didn't want to jinx the fact that he hadn't given up a hit yet.) Wake had been the recipient of terrible luck this year. In keeping with that trend, the next batter, Travis Lee, doubled. It was the first hit, but it knocked in a run. Worse yet, Lee proceeded to steal third and score on a passed ball. That was another problem with Wakefield starts this year. With Doug Mirabelli traded away, Josh Bard became Wake's personal catcher. Unfortunately, he didn't have the hang of the knuckleball yet, and all the passed balls were getting costly. Bard wasn't much better at the plate, and that was another characteristic of Wakefield's starts - poor run support. His previous start had been a complete game 3-0 loss. Tonight he went eight innings, again allowing only three runs. But Dustan Mohr's solo home run was all the support he would get. Compared with the exciting game two days ago, this one was a complete dud.

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