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2006: Diary of a Season

Sunday, July 30 - Fenway Park, Section 4

Angels 10, Red Sox 4

The Red Sox ended up losing two of three in Seattle, then winning two of three in Oakland. They came back to Fenway and split the first two games with Anaheim, thanks to an eleventh-inning walkoff by Big Papi on Saturday. Again, I hadn't been able to get tickets to the Angels series when they had gone on sale over the winter, so I decided to wait in the day-of-game ticket sales line again. I chose to go to the Sunday game, because I could drive in and park at a meter on the street without paying, and because Curt Schilling was pitching. The game had been moved from a 2:05 afternoon game to an 8:05 start for ESPN.

The view from Section 4 I went in just after noon and found a prime parking spot on Boylston Street right across the street from the park. There was no one near the ticket window yet, so I went into the McDonald's and read a book (Feeding the Monster, Seth Mnookin's behind-the-scenes look at the Red Sox front office) for an hour. I went back to the park, and saw eight other people in line, so I jumped in behind them. There were four guys in the front, then a family from Louisiana who had flown up for their first trip to Fenway, then me. It didn't take long for people to fill in behind me. The guy behind me had headphones, and as we waited, he told us he heard that the Yankees had traded for Bobby Abreu. As 2:00 approached, several people came by confused about what happened to the game. The guys in the front of the line had to explain to them that it had been moved to 8:00. Around 3:00, Red Sox staffers came out and handed out numbered slips of paper. They returned once an hour to check that everyone was still in line and that no one was cutting. At 6:00, when the gates opened, the ticket sales started. I didn't even need to get standing room; they had some outfield grandstand seats available in Section 4. (I hate the seats in Section 5 through 10, but 1 through 4 are all OK, because they're angled to face the infield.) The guy who had been in line behind me all afternoon ended up with the seat next to mine.

Unfortunately, the game didn't live up to the expectations. Schilling had an off night, giving up a run in the first, two more in the second, and three (on three solo homers) in the third. Manny Ramirez knocked in a run in the first, extending his hitting streak to 15, and David Ortiz drove in two in the fifth, giving him 101 RBI already, even though it was only two-thirds of the way through the season. Those were the only highlights, though. Trot Nixon had to leave the game in the third, in the middle of his at-bat after an awkward swing. The Sox were behind 3-1 at the time with runners at second and third and a 2-2 count. When Trot left, Wily Mo Pena came in, and quickly completed the strikeout to end the inning. In addition to Curt's off night, the bullpen poured fuel on the fire when Jermaine Van Buren gave up four more runs. Even Big Papi didn't hit the seven-run homer I begged him for in the ninth.

When it was over, I turned to the guy next to me, who had also stood on the street all afternoon to get the ticket, and asked, "So was it worth all that effort?" He answered, "Actually, yeah. I just love coming to Fenway." I laughed and nodded, saying, "I know. I'm coming back tomorrow."

Monday, July 31 - Fenway Park, Section 32

Red Sox 9, Indians 8

At least for the next day's game I already had a ticket, so I didn't have to go through all that again! It would be David Wells' first start after going on the D.L., and the team needed him. With Matt Clement done for the year and Tim Wakefield on the disabled list, only Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett were still around from the original five starters. That left Jon Lester, Kyle Snyder, and Jason Johnson to fill in the gaps. The Red Sox' lead in the East was down to half a game, so they really needed a win tonight. As I drove in to the game, I was concerned that Wells wasn't ready yet but was rushing back because we needed him. Then I thought, "It's OK if he gives up a few runs - Big Papi will bail him out!" I immediately realized it was crazy, not to mention unfair, to start thinking that on the way in. After all, David Ortiz had just had a walkoff hit two days earlier. But then I thought, "Well, his walkoffs do seem to come in bunches..."

The game started well, with Wells setting down the Indians in order in the first. Manny Ramirez's homer in the bottom of the inning put the Sox on top 2-0. Unfortunately, it wasn't going to be easy tonight. The Indians scored three runs in the second, but the Sox once again reclaimed the lead in the home half, on Wily Mo Pena's two-run triple. Jason Varitek limped home on the play, though, and was replaced by Doug Mirabelli in the field the next inning. Wells immediately gave up two more runs, as the Indians took a 5-4 lead. Big Papi tied it up with a homer in the fourth, and Pena, subbing for Trot Nixon who had landed on the D.L. after straining his oblique yesterday, homered in the fifth to give the Sox the lead again, 6-5. (Wily Mo singled in his third at-bat, but ultimately fell a double short of the cycle.) Wells made it through the fourth, but surrendered a three-run homer in the fifth. That made it 8-6 Indians, and ended the night for Wells. He had come off the D.L. without making any rehab starts because the team was desperate for starters, but he clearly wasn't ready yet. Kyle Snyder came in and did a great job, holding the Indians scoreless the rest of the way.

I'm always making up scenarios at games about what's going to happen next. If they're down by three in the ninth inning and the top of the order is due up, and I'll say, "OK, the first 3 guys are going to get on and then Manny is hitting one out." Then when the first guy gets out, I change to "So the next three guys will get on and then Varitek will hit one out." In the past I've devised schemes where Tek's first career grand slam would be the game-winner, or some unlikely guy like Craig Grebeck would hit one out. Once I envisioned a whole scene where Manny hit a walkoff into the screen over the Green Monster. I even planned to take a picture from Lansdowne St. of the ball resting in the net, but in real life he ended up grounding out. But now Big Papi was making it just too easy. I didn't even have to get creative any more. This time it took one glance at the scorecard to see that if one guy reached base, Papi would tie it, and if two guys got on, he would win it. (Not "could" mind you - "would"!)

Papi is ready for a walkoff We were standing for the whole ninth inning. Fenway Park went absolutely nuts when Alex Cora led off with a hit. Please, just no double plays, was all I could think. Kevin Youkilis had a really long at-bat, during which time we alternated between "You-you-you-you" and "Let's go You" chants, rhythmic clapping, and the traditional "Youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuk". He ended up walking. There were the two base-runners we needed! It was unbelievable. My voice was already getting hoarse. Could we just skip Mark Loretta and let Papi come up? Of course a bunt would have been disastrous because that would have left first base open. I was still worried about a double play erasing a baserunner. It made me nervous when Loretta swung, and I was relieved when he popped up. One out, both baserunners still on, and Big Papi striding to the plate.

It didn't seem possible for us to get any louder, but somehow we did! First it was "Papi, Papi" then "MVP, MVP, MVP". He took ball one. We screamed with joy. Ball two. We shrieked in delight. On the next pitch, he swung and there it went! Into center field, not a moonshot but a laser, and into the stands! Delirium! I wanted to get a picture of the team leaping up and down at home plate, but they all came out blurry. I guess it's hard to hold the camera steady when you're high-fiving random strangers, flipping the seat down so you can stand on it, jumping up and down, and screaming "MVP" at the top of your lungs! No one left. We stayed in the seats through "Dirty Water" and chanted through his interview with NESN's Tina Cervasio. We cheered as they played it on the Jumbo-Tron. Waiting in line for the ladies' room we could see a monitor with a replay of the home run on the post-game show. That triggered another round of "MVP" chants. Walking down Brookline Ave. to Kenmore Square everyone was still chanting "MVP" triumphantly. Cars driving past on the Pike honked. In the T station, more chants started up. It was a fun, exhilarating game. (And it more than made up for the long wait and pitiful game on Sunday.)

Thursday, August 3 - LeLacheur Park, Lowell

Renegades 5, Spinners 4

Two days after my last game, the Red Sox won on Mark Loretta's walkoff double, making them 3-3 on the homestand, with all three wins coming on walkoff hits. But more damaging than the losses were the injuries; Trot Nixon and Jason Varitek had gone on the D.L. on consecutive days. The worst part about Tek's injury was that it occurred on the night of the trading deadline, so it would be hard to find a replacement now. As the team played their final game against the Indians, I went to Lowell to see the Sox' short-season Single A affiliate, the Spinners. In the car on the way up, I heard that the Red Sox had acquired catcher Javy Lopez from the Orioles for a player to be named later. I lived in Atlanta during the prime of Lopez's career, when he was great offensively, but he was never known for his glovework. And now, several years later, his offensive numbers had declined. But hopefully Tek would be back soon, and in the meantime, it would be cool if Javier Lopez, the lefty reliever, could get to pitch to Javy Lopez, the catcher. That was the only interesting thing that could come out of this.

Joshua Papelbon pitches for the Lowell Spinners Outside the Spinners' ballpark hung a white flag with a red 25. I assumed it was left over from the night a few weeks earlier when the team had called themselves the "Mike Lowell Spinners" for the night, in honor of the aptly-named Red Sox third baseman who wears the number 25. Jeffrey Farrell started for the Spinners, but he gave up three runs without making it through the fifth. Felix Ventura came in from the bullpen and gave up two more runs. The Spinners picked up a run in the fourth, and catcher Jon Still hit a three-run homer in the sixth, but it wasn't enough. The highlight of the game came in the ninth, when Joshua Papelbon came in from the pen. The younger brother of the Red Sox' closer had been drafted earlier that year, and was being used as the closer for the Spinners. He came into the game 0-1 with a 2.40 ERA and six saves. It wasn't a save situation tonight, since they were trailing, but in the minors they want to make sure people get regular work, rather than waiting around for specific situations. It was fun to see the younger Papelbon pitch. He had a very different style from his older brother. While Jonathan is a power pitcher, Joshua throws submarine-style. (Joshua's twin brother Jeremy, who had been drafted by the Cubs, is also different - he's the only lefty of the family.) But while his style was different, the result was familiar, as he mowed down the opposition. He struck out the first batter. The second batter reached on an error, but the next grounded quickly back to the mound. Papelbon made a nice play to retire him at first, then struck out the final batter of the inning. That was fun, but when I got back to my car I heard that the Red Sox had lost again.

Saturday, August 5 - McCoy Stadium, Pawtucket

Sky Chiefs 3, PawSox 0

McCoy Stadium Two days later, as the Red Sox traveled to Tampa Bay, I went to Pawtucket to watch a Triple A game. Things had gotten worse for the big league club. When Jason Varitek went on the D.L., catcher Ken Huckaby was called up from Pawtucket. Two days later, the Red Sox acquired Javy Lopez in a trade, and to make room for him on the roster, Huckaby was designated for assignment. The very next day, Doug Mirabelli twisted his ankle in a collision at home plate, making Lopez the primary catcher, and meaning the Sox needed to call up another backup. Huckaby had to wait three days to clear waivers before he could be sent back to Pawtucket. That meant they had to call up another catcher, Corky Miller, from the PawSox. Again, they'd need to clear a spot on the 40-man roster by designating someone else for assignment. Since they were currently carrying 12 pitchers, it was likely to be a pitcher who was cut. I was hoping this finally meant the end of the road for Rudy Seanez, who had struggled all year. Meanwhile, with Huckaby still waiting to clear waivers and Miller on his way to Boston, the PawSox had to call up Alberto Concepcion from Double A to play that night's game. (And he had to be careful not to get hurt, since there were no other catchers on the PawSox roster that night.)

Several of the other PawSox players were familiar to us. Both Adam Stern and Willie Harris had spent time on the major league roster earlier in the year. Shortstop Dustin Pedroia was one of the highest ranked prospects in the organization and had drawn comparisons to Kevin Youkilis. And the starter that night, here on a rehab stint, was Keith Foulke. Just before the game started, I got a call on my cell phone from my father. I had asked him to call me when they announced the roster move the Red Sox were making in order to add Corky Miller to the roster. When the phone rang, I was excited. "This must be the Seanez news," I said as I answered. My father didn't even say hello, just, "Bryan Corey." "Bryan Corey?" I repeated in surprise. "Bryan Corey?" my friend echoed when he heard. Bryan Corey had just been acquired in a trade earlier in the week, but it was him, not Seanez, who was being designated.

Foulke had a shaky first, with a double, a walk, and a wild pitch, but no runs scored, and he was much better in a 1-2-3 second inning. After that, Abe Alvarez, who had pitched for the Red Sox in 2004 and 2005, was next. He gave up three runs on two homers in the fifth. Stern had an infield hit and stole a base, Pedroia had one hit in four at-bats, and Concepcion picked up his first Triple A hit with a single in the fifth, but the PawSox didn't manage to push any runs across. And when we got back to the car and put the radio on, we heard that the Red Sox had lost again.

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