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A Tale of Three Games

Frequent visitors to my site will know that I used to live in Atlanta. I went to a lot of Braves games, but I rarely got to see the Red Sox, and they're the only team I care about. So of course I lined up on a warm Atlanta day in February, 1999, to purchase tickets to all three Red Sox games there. It's the only reason I tolerated interleague play! Read on for my pictures and accounts of the three-game series...

My brother flew down from New Hampshire for the weekend to see the games with me. I was a little disappointed before the series, when it was announced Pedro Martinez would not be pitching. It was the weekend right before the All-Star Game, and with Pedro's spot in the rotation due to come up on Sunday, Jimy Williams elected to give Pedro an extra day off, because everyone knew he'd be starting the All-Star Game. I'd only seen Pedro pitch once, and that was in 1998 in Atlanta. He won the game, but it was when he had the stomach flu, and it wasn't vintage Pedro. I wanted to see the real Pedro for myself. Then as the weekend got closer, Nomar Garciaparra became day-to-day with a groin injury. He had missed the Sox' last six games before the Atlanta series, and it was doubtful he would play. But I was still excited to be able to see my team, even if it was without my two favorite players.

As we drove down Friday on Interstate 75/85, we were behind a car with a "Boston Red Sox" frame around a vanity plate that was distinctly that of a diehard fan. We waved our Red Sox hats to the driver. He maneuvered beside us in the stop-and-go rush hour traffic, and we chatted for a minute. Yeah, we're going to the game. Yes, we're originally from Massachusetts. It wasn't quite like the banter between fans on the T on the way to a game, but not bad for Atlanta!

We got to Turner Field more than two hours before game time. Gates open three hours before the first pitch, but the stands are blocked off until two hours before. The Braves force everyone to wander around their plaza with its concession stands and interactive games. It's their attempt at ballpark atmosphere, but it's not Yawkey Way. We headed to the Red Sox bullpen, where Jin Ho Cho was throwing. At the stroke of 5:40, fans are allowed to enter the seating areas, and there was a mad dash to stand beside the Red Sox dugout in the hopes of getting some autographs. Cho, Jason Varitek, and Darren Lewis came out and signed for a while. But mostly the players were taking batting practice, and were busy going about their work. Nomar took batting practice, but he never did any fielding, and I knew he would not be in the lineup that night. At 6:40, fans were asked to leave the area by the dugout so that those who had tickets could sit down. We headed up to our seats, a few rows behind the right field foul pole. Here's our view of the game, right down the first base line:

Veras bats in Friday's game

Friday's game featured Bret Saberhagen vs. Braves rookie Bruce Chen. Chen was a last minute replacement for another Braves rookie, Odalis Perez. The game started out ominously, as the Braves scored one run in the first and two in the second, thanks to some repeated sloppy fielding by Chad Fonville, who was given the start in place of Jose Offerman. But in the third inning, Wilton Veras, called up when John Valentin was beaned, drilled a solo home run to left field, making the score 3-1. That's Veras at the plate in the picture above. Then in the fourth, Damon Buford and Mike Stanley went back-to-back with solo shots of their own, tying the game at three. I breathed a sigh of relief, but there was still a long way to go. As the game progressed, Fonville remained an adventure at second base, with Stanley also having trouble handling the ball at first. But Sabes was excellent, and didn't allow any other Braves runs. Saberhagen almost became the first Red Sox pitcher to get a hit this year, but Braves centerfielder Andruw Jones make a spectacular diving catch of Bret's popup to shallow center to end the fourth inning.

To start the fifth inning, Chad Fonville led off with a walk. Darren Lewis batted next, wanting just to move the runner along. After fouling off several pitches, he hit a drive to right-center just past the dive of Andruw Jones. Fonville scored, and Lewis made it to third. He later scored on a sacrifice fly, making the score 5-3, Red Sox. Now all we had to do was keep it that way. The Braves scored another run in the seventh, on a solo home run by Chipper Jones, but Derek Lowe came in and pitched well, and the score stood at 5-4. Andruw Jones made another amazing play, crashing into the outfield wall to rob Troy O'Leary of a sure extra-base hit.

Friday's score: Red Sox 5, Braves 4 Tim "Flash Jr." Wakefield was called into early action, and pitched a scoreless eighth. Now all that stood between the Red Sox and victory was the bottom of the ninth, with the bottom of the Braves order due up. The Braves sent up pinch hitter Otis Nixon (hitting his age, I surmised, at .172). The former Red Sox outfielder hit a comebacker to the mound, but Wakefield's throw to first hit him in the back, and the tying run was aboard. Keith Lockhart (no relation to the conductor of the Boston Pops) came in as a pinch hitter and struck out. One down. Walt Weiss, the Braves' shortstop, was next, and he walked on a full count. Second baseman Bret Boone flied out to shallow center. Two away. Then Atlanta fan-favorite Chipper Jones strode to the plate. Besides his home run in the seventh, he had two other hits already that night. Nixon and Weiss successfully completed a double steal that put the tying and winning runs in scoring position. Disaster was imminent. With Wake's knuckler fluttering before me on the field, butterflies fluttered in my stomach. But the 68-mph knuckleball was too much for Jones to handle. He whiffed, and victory was ours! The 49,636 at the game was the largest crowd in Atlanta since last August when Mark McGwire came to town, and I know at least two in attendance who went home delighted!

For more pictures from Saturday's and Sunday's games, read on...

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This page and all photos copyright © 1999-2001 by Kristen D. Cornette.