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2008: Diary of a Season

Tuesday, April 8 - Fenway Park, Section 43

Red Sox 5, Tigers 0

Opening Day is the best day of the year, and this one would be even better than most, as the Red Sox would be getting their rings and raising the Championship banner after winning the 2007 World Series. So I was really bummed when I wasn't able to get tickets, even though I used to go to Opening Day all the time back when the team stunk, and on cold rainy days, and the time it was rained out twice, etc. My friends and family all tried the virtual waiting room, the phone, and the lotteries, but were shut out. The same thing had happened to me in 2005 for that ring ceremony, but I went in anyway, got in the day-of-game ticket line, and actually managed to get in (although by then the game had started, so I missed the actual ceremony).

My friend and I were going to try the day-of-game line again this year. We planned to go in the night before for a Lansdowne Slumber Party. I even bought an air mattress that inflates and folds up into a couch, and had packed all my warm clothing. Then sadly she had to attend a funeral on Monday morning, so there was no way I could expect her to camp out on the street Monday night with no sleep. I was set to go in Tuesday by myself at 5 am, and wait in line. But Monday evening she heard from a friend of a friend of a friend who had two tickets that he "couldn't use." I didn't stop long to ponder what strange mental disorder someone would have to have to give up Opening Day tickets; his loss was our gain, and we happily offered to put them to good use!

We went in really early, and took in the sights before the gates opened. Our seats were in the bleachers, almost as far back as the red seat, but that was the best place to be. Not only were there no poles to block our view, but we could see into the dugout to see the players as they came out to get their rings, and we had a great view of the Green Monster as they draped all the flags over it. Plus we were in the sun, and were actually warm. It was the warmest I've ever been at an Opening Day game! After the freezing PawSox game I had been to two days before, we brought a couple of blankets, plus extra sweatshirts, hats, and a scarf that we didn't need. I even went into the restroom and changed out of my long johns.

2007 World Champions The ring ceremony was beautiful. I loved that it was similar to '05; since I had missed that one, I now feel like I've seen it. The Boston Pops played in center field as banners were lowered over the Green Monster for all the Red Sox' Championships: small ones for 1903, 1912, 1915, 1916, and 1918; the giant Wall-sized 2004 one they had used before; and the new 2007 one, which again was as large as the entire Green Monster. Out from behind the banners stepped Champions of the past from all of Boston's sports. Johnny Bucyk, Ken Hodge, Johnny McKenzie, Don Marcotte, and Bobby Orr represented the Bruins, and they were carrying the Stanley Cup. The Celtics sent Danny Ainge, Jo Jo White, K.C. Jones, M.L. Carr, John Havlicek, and Bill Russell with one of their tropies. Carrying the Patriots' Lombardi trophy were Kevin Faulk, Larry Izzo, Lonnie Paxton, and Tedy Bruschi. Retired 2004 Red Sox Curtis Leskanic, Dave McCarty, and Brian Daubach carried in their trophy. They each also carried one of the rings that the current set of Champions would be receiving. Then the players were announced one at a time to receive their rings. Terry Francona and the coaching staff went first, then the players by position - starting pitchers, catchers, infielders, outfielders, relievers, and finally designated hitter David Ortiz. Doug Mirabelli and Royce Clayton, both of whom had retired, returned to get their rings. Then all the players walked together to center field, where Big Papi and Red Sox legend Johnny Pesky raised the 2007 banner up the flag pole.

The Fenway Park facade After the starting lineups, the National Anthem, and a fighter jet flyover, there was one more special guest to be introduced. Bill Buckner made his first trip to Fenway since the 1990 season, and threw out the first pitch. He was unjustly vilified after his error in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. There were so many other things that went wrong in the final two games of that series, and it was his 102 RBI during that season that helped them get there in the first place. But even if he had been solely responsible for their loss, that didn't justify the treatment he got from the press, so harsh that he had to move his family to Idaho to get on with his life. (That was one of the reasons I singled out Tim Wakefield for a picture and a handshake on On-Field Photo Day in 2004, so he wouldn't think people would treat him that way after Aaron Boone's home run in 2003.) It was touching to be able to welcome Buckner back with a warm, prolonged standing ovation. He paused for a minute on the mound, to take it all in, and then threw the first pitch to his former teammate, Dwight Evans.

See the rest of my photos from the Opening Day ring ceremony here.

And then, after all that (and with my throat already sore from all the cheering and screaming) there was a game! And it was a really good game. Daisuke Matsuzaka went 6 2/3 innings, and held the Tigers scoreless. I was convinced after this efficient, effective outing that his second year in the majors was going to see him cut down on the pitch count and live up to his potential as one of the best pitchers in the league. Manny Ramirez impressed, too. He'd be entering free agency after the season (unless the Red Sox picked up his $20 million option years) and was playing with renewed enthusiasm. He made a great catch after a long run to nab a flair off the bat of Edgar Renteria in the top of the third. In the bottom of the third, Manny led off with a fly that eluded the outfielders, and he flew around the bases for a triple. As he pulled into third, the throw sailed into the dugout, and Manny came around to score. The Sox tacked on runs with a couple of sac flies, a bases-loaded walk, and Kevin Youkilis's double, and Manny Delcarmen and Hideki Okajima closed out the shutout for a very fun day.

Thursday, April 10 - Fenway Park, Section 43

Red Sox 12, Tigers 6

The moon rises over the Green Monster Two days later, we were back for our first game of the year in our Tenth Man Plan. Before the game, Mike Lowell was placed on the D.L. with a sprained thumb. Infielder Jed Lowrie was called up from Pawtucket, although he wouldn't get into the game tonight, so we didn't get to see him make his major league debut. Tim Wakefield made the start for the Red Sox. While he typically pitched deep into games, tonight he threw an uncharacteristically high number of pitches. While the game stayed scoreless through the first three innings, Wake walked four and hit two in that time, and had already used 73 pitches. In the fourth, the Tigers got their first hit of the game, and managed to push across two runs as Wakefield neared the 100-pitch mark.

The Sox got four runs on three hits and two walks to take the lead in the bottom of the fourth, but Wake was done after five, meaning the rest of the game would be in the hands of the bullpen. With Jon Lester not able to go deep in the game the day before, the bullpen was starting to get taxed. Manny Delcarmen gave up a run in the seventh to cut the Sox' lead to 4-3, and Hideki Okajima had to come in to get the last out of the inning. In the bottom of the inning, the Red Sox hitters gave the team a little breathing room, as Sean Casey's single and Manny Ramirez's double drove in four more runs. The guy next to me was appalled when Julian Tavarez came out to start the eighth instead of sending Okajima back out there. I tried to explain that with a five-run lead, it was OK to let Okie rest a bit given that we'd be playing the Yankees over the weekend: "When Matsui's at the plate tomorrow night and Okie's not available because he pitched tonight, who do you want them to bring in then?" (In an earlier conversation, he had revealed he had never heard of Jed Lowrie, despite him being one of the biggest prospects, so I didn't put too much stock in his complaints.) But Tavarez didn't exactly help me make my point. He was rocked for three runs, making it a much slimmer 8-6 lead, and forcing Jonathan Papelbon to come into the game in the eighth. And even though the Sox tacked on four more runs in the bottom of the eighth, Paps returned to the mound for the ninth. (Luckily the guy next to me always bails early, so he wasn't around to ask me, "After Okajima strikes out Matsui tomorrow night, who's going to be available to pitch to A-Rod?" The difference, of course, is that when they took Okie out, Papelbon was available to bail him out if needed. If Paps didn't come back out and his replacement struggled, there were no more reliable relievers left to back him up.) Papelbon had no trouble closing out the Red Sox win, and it ended up not mattering over the weekend. Okajima retired both batters he faced on Friday night, and Papelbon picked up the save on Saturday, as the Sox took two of three from the Yankees.

Sunday, April 20 - Fenway Park, Section 41

Red Sox 6, Rangers 5

Jacoby steals a base
Jacoby Ellsbury takes off for second as Jed Lowrie bats.
The Red Sox headed out on the road, where they swept a two-game series in Cleveland and split two games in New York. They returned the following weekend and won the first two games against the Rangers. We were back for Sunday's game, with seats in the upper bleachers. Tim Wakefield was pitching again, and this was a much more typical start than the last time I had seen him. He gave up a home run to Ian Kinsler to lead off the game, but got out of the inning on only eleven pitches. The Rangers squeaked out a second run the next inning, on two singles, a sacrifice bunt, and a groundout. Wake was otherwise cruising, and had used a ridiculously-low 46 pitches through five innings. But just like a typical Wakefield start, the Red Sox bats were completely silent. It didn't help that the home plate bum - oops, I mean ump - tossed Manny Ramirez when he argued a called third strike in his first at-bat. The only healthy backup outfielder was Joe Thurston, a career minor leaguer who had appeared in a handful of games with the Phillies and Dodgers. He had been called up a few days earlier when Alex Cora went on the D.L., and he was now forced to bat cleanup for the rest of the game. Five hits and two walks through the first five innings gave the Sox plenty of baserunners. Jacoby Ellsbury stole two bases, teaming up with Julio Lugo for a double steal in the fifth. But they couldn't knock a run in. In the sixth, Wake gave up a three-run homer to Milton Bradley, and the Sox were suddenly facing a 5-0 deficit.

The key to this game was that Wakefield hung in there. He may have given up five runs, but he ended up going eight innings, saving the overworked bullpen from any further damage. With both Daisuke Matsuzaka and Jon Lester rarely lasting more than five innings in their starts, the bullpen was logging more innings than usual, and it was starting to show. But finally, Wake's tenacity (not to mention my own) was rewarded. Jed Lowrie doubled to lead off the seventh, and Big Papi drove him in for their first run. After Thurston was hit by a pitch, J.D. Drew drove in another. Suddenly there was hope again! In the eighth, the Red Sox sent ten men to the plate. They drew closer with Lowrie's RBI double and Papi's run-scoring hit. Dustin Pedroia pinch-hit for Thurston, and tied the game with a huge triple. After two walks loaded the bases, Sean Casey took ball four to force in the go-ahead run, and the Red Sox were in the lead! With Wakefield now in line for the win, Jonathan Papelbon nailed down the victory in the ninth.

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This page and all photos copyright © 2008-2009 by Kristen D. Cornette.