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2008: Diary of a Season
Angels 7, Red Sox 5
In the following week, the Red Sox ran into some trouble. The flu had been going through the Red Sox clubhouse. Josh Beckett had to be scratched from his start on Tuesday. David Pauley was called up from Pawtucket to make the spot start. On Wednesday, Daisuke Matsuzaka was also scratched. The Red Sox moved Thursday's starter Jon Lester up a day, and he pitched on three days' rest. But that left Thursday's spot open. There was no one else in Pawtucket ready to step up, so I thought they'd bring Julian Tavarez out of the bullpen for the spot start, but wasn't thrilled at the prospect. So was excited when I turned on WEEI on my way to the park, and heard that Justin Masterson was being called up from the Double A Sea Dogs to make his major league debut. We has seen Masterson in Spring Training, and he was off to a strong start in Portland. It would be fun to see the next prospect in the Red Sox' pitching pipeline, but he was still so young that it was hard to know what to expect.
Because it was a weekday afternoon that was included in my Tenth Man Plan, I arrived early to make sure I'd be able to get a parking spot at the T station. I got to Fenway as the players were arriving. They were headed off on a road trip after the game, so they were all dressed up and carrying suitcases. (As the suitcases were lined up to be loaded on the truck, I noticed that most were the same size, with one shorter than the others. I joked that that one must be Pedroia's.) I went in when the gates opened and watched batting practice before heading to my seat for the game.
Masterson did not disappoint. He allowed a baserunner in every inning, but they were harmless. There were two-out walks in the first and second, a two-out single in the third, and another two-out walk in the fourth. By the time he gave up a leadoff homer in the fifth, the Sox had already put three runs on the board. He ended up going six efficient innings with only two hits and four walks. There were four strikeouts and three fly outs, with all the rest of the outs coming on grounders. The day was warm, the sun was shining, and Masterson left with a 3-1 lead.
And then... the seventh inning happened. The Sox had had some trouble there lately. Jonathan Papelbon was his usual excellent self in the ninth, and Hideki Okajima was solid in the eighth, but with a lot of the starters exiting early, they had had trouble making the transition to the late-inning guys. Javier Lopez started the inning and walked lefty Casey Kotchman to lead off. It irked me that our left-handed specialist couldn't get lefties out, and seemed to always allow the first batter he faced to reach. That was followed by a single, and with two on and no outs, it brought Manny Delcarmen in from the 'pen. But he walked his first batter, and then let a run in on an infield single. There were still no outs, and Okajima was summoned. He promptly gave up two hits, allowing all three inherited runners to score and giving the Angels the lead. I was so disgusted by the whole seventh inning and Lopez in particular, that I changed the lyrics to "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the seventh-inning stretch: "... Root, root, root for the Red Sox. If they don't win it's all Lopez's fault. For it's 1-2-3-4 balls you walk at the old ball game!" It got even worse when David Aardsma allowed another run in the eighth, and Julian Tavarez let them tack on one more in the ninth. Big Papi did blast a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth, but it wasn't enough to prevent a very frustrating loss.
Red Sox 1, Blue Jays 0
The Red Sox were swept in Tampa Bay over the weekend, making it five straight losses, and then had Monday off. On Tuesday afternoon I was sitting at work, when I was asked if I wanted to go to that night's game. I of course said yes, and was told we were leaving in five minutes. Everyone else in the party was a manager, but apparently someone had backed out at the last minute, and they all know I'm a Red Sox fan, so the invitation trickled down to me. I had just enough time to print out a blank scorecard page, since I keep a copy of the file I use for my Scorecard Books on my laptop at work. But without any advanced notice, I certainly wasn't dressed for a night game. Normally for a night game in April, I'd have long johns and my winter Red Sox jacket, with a scarf, hat, and gloves in reserve. But for this game I was dressed in a blouse, dress pants, and high heels, with just a thin raincoat. It had rained all day, and the night was raw and windy. But I'd get over that; the only real problem was that I didn't have my camera with me, because once we got in the car, I found out the seats were in a luxury box.
Suite K2 is on the Pavilion level, and is one of the new boxes that was redone for this season. It was very nice, with hardwood floors, leather furniture, and a big-screen TV. They had all the chicken fingers, steak tips, hot dogs, sausages, popcorn, and pizza we could eat, with beer, wine, soda, and water in the fridge. When we walked in, Luis Tiant was greeting everyone. Inside, there was a row of stools in front of the giant windows that overlook the field. Outside, there were two rows of seats that went with our box. The window is actually a large garage door, which could be opened in nicer weather. The tarp was on the field, and there was a brief rain delay before the start of the game, so we had plenty of time to eat before it started. But once they announced the starting lineups, I made everyone in my group move outside, and told them in no uncertain terms that real fans stay outside the whole time.
Most of Jon Lester's outings this season were slow-paced contests with a lot of walks and high pitch counts so that he didn't last beyond the fifth. But tonight was completely different. He walked one in the second and one in the fourth. Lyle Overbay's single in the fifth was the first Toronto hit of the night, and Lester had an economical 62 pitches at the end of the inning. It's fortunate that he was at his best that night, because he was opposed by Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay, who was equally tough on the Red Sox batters. One of my co-workers is a real cynic when it comes to the Red Sox, which is the opposite of my attitude. He kept predicting dire things, saying that Lester was about to lose it any minute now, and every Sox hitter was a strikeout waiting to happen. It started getting funny when every prediction he made was proven wrong. "Vernon Wells is going to hit a homer," he'd say, just as Wells grounded out to end the inning. "Varitek always strikes out," he'd moan, right before Tek singled. He's also one who likes to leave games early if it's late or chilly. But the person he drove in with never leaves early. So every time one of the cynic's predictions was proven wrong, I'd turn and say, "I hope you're comfortable, because this game is going fifteen innings!"
The game was still scoreless going into the ninth. Lester had thrown 95 pitches through eight, so Jonathan Papelbon took over. He gave up a two-out double to Scott Rolen, and then Wells smoked a drive to second base. Dustin Pedroia dove to save the run, then jumped up and spun around in time to throw Wells out at first. We jumped up to applaud that play, and stayed standing for the bottom of the ninth. Halladay was still on the mound for the Jays, and he quickly got the first two batters out. That brought up Big Papi, and he launched one down the right field line, well above the foul pole... but it hooked just foul. He ended up walking, and moved to second when Manny Ramirez singled. Kevin Youkilis bounced one straight up the middle. It went through into center field, and Vernon Wells bobbled it just long enough to let Papi motor around from second in time to score the winning run. Youkilis was dubbed the "Greek God of Walks" in Michael Lewis's book Moneyball because of his plate discipline and high on-base percentage. But after he drove in the winning run for the Red Sox that night, I started calling him the "Greek God of Walk-offs."
Blue Jays 3, Red Sox 0
Wednesday night's game had almost the same end as Tuesday's, but this time it was Jason Varitek's single to Vernon Wells in center that drove home the winning run in the ninth. On Thursday, I was back as the Red Sox went for the sweep. Tim Wakefield had a good outing. He went seven innings, and despite allowing 6 hits and 4 walks, he was able to strand most of the runners and minimize the damage. The Blue Jays were able to sneak across a run in the third on a couple of singles and a stolen base, and they added another on a sacrifice fly in the fifth. In the seventh, Alex Rios's homer gave the Blue Jays their third run.
The problem was that A.J. Burnett pitched into the eighth for Toronto, and completely shut down the Red Sox offense. They managed only three hits - all singles - and although they also had five walks, they hadn't managed to get a runner to third base. I still held out hope, though, because the Red Sox had had walkoff wins in each of the past two nights. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Brandon Moss walked. Coco Crisp hit a drive deep to right, but it was caught for the final out.
I wrote down the "9" in my scorecard, stuffed it in my bag, and headed for the exit as the sad organ music that they play at the end of a loss started up. Our seats were close to the ramp that goes down to the concourse, so we had almost left the stands when I heard someone behind me say, "Wait, why are they all still on the field?" I looked back toward the field, and sure enough all the players were still there. We were really confused. Coco was back at the plate, and the organ music had stopped. We stepped back into the row with our seats. The only thing I could think of was some sort of interference at the plate, but when I got home I found out that they had called a balk on the pitch. All I knew at the time was that it gave Coco another chance. When he singled to keep the inning alive and bring the tying run to the plate, I was sure they'd capitalize on their second chance and have another dramatic win. Jed Lowrie worked a 3-2 count, giving me hope that he'd keep the game going, but then he struck out to end the game. And this time it was actually over. It was bad enough to lose the game, but having to witness the final out twice made it even more painful.
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