Thursday, May 29, 2014 – Fenway Park, Section 32
Red Sox 4, Braves 3
After my last game a week ago, the Red Sox lost three more games to run their losing streak to ten, with the tenth being the ugliest of all. But then they moved on to Atlanta, where they won both games. They returned to Fenway for two more against the Braves and again won the opener. Suddenly they looked like the team we thought they’d be and were fun to watch again.
I left work a little early on Thursday to head in to the game, because this was another day where we could get our picture taken with a player in the souvenir store before the game. The player they choose is never a starter, and is usually the most junior member of the team, so it was no surprise to me to see Alex Wilson, the reliever who had been called up when Clay Buchholz went on the D.L. and was sure to return to Triple A in a few days when they called up someone to take that spot in the rotation. He was wearing the American flag shorts that everyone on the team had last year. (Too bad they don’t show in the picture, as it was especially comical in front of the flag backdrop.) When I got to the front of the line, I said, “Oh, I forgot to wear my matching shorts!” He laughed but looked at me like he was a little unsure of whether I was joking or not. This time they did have vouchers to give us with a promo code for a free print, but when I tried to order one later it didn’t work. I refuse to pay $20 for something that’s supposed to be free, so I resorted to photoshopping the word “proof” out of a screen shot. I’d rather have a digital copy than a print anyway.
After Jacoby Ellsbury had left as a free agent over the winter, the Red Sox had tried several players in the leadoff spot, but none were able to reach base consistently. Lately Brock Holt had been hitting so well that he had been moved to the top of the order. While he struck out in his first at-bat tonight, he reached the next four times up with three hits and a walk. With Mike Napoli on the D.L., Ryan Lavarnway had been called up and was playing first base in the majors for the first time after working on it in the minors this year. But I didn’t even get a chance to take any decent pictures of him at his new position, as he was lifted for Daniel Nava before his second at-bat. Later in the game they posted on the video board that Lavarnway had left with wrist soreness. (The next day it was revealed he had broken his hamate bone and would require surgery.)
Jake Peavy pitched well, but as with most of his starts this year, he didn’t get much run support. He gave up a solo homer to Jason Heyward in the third, and another run in the fourth after a balk moved the runner into scoring position. (I could tell from my seat that he was upset after being called for the balk – Dustin Pedroia had to walk him back toward the mound as he stood staring at the umpire – but I didn’t know until I got home that since he’s legally blind without corrective lenses, he was having a really hard time seeing David Ross’s signals, and the balk had been called by the second base ump when he leaned in to squint toward the plate.) It was costly, as the runner came in to score, giving the Braves a 2-0 lead.
The Sox got within a run in the fifth when Brock Holt (who else?) doubled in Ross. But when the Braves scored an insurance run to make it 3-1 in the eighth, it felt unsurmountable. But not to worry – Holt was leading off the bottom of the eighth (and it also helped that Atlanta went to the ‘pen and took starter Mike Minor out of the game). Holt opened with a single into left, and reached second when Justin Upton bobbled it. Xander Bogaerts quickly singled him home. Pedroia reached on an infield single, and then A.J. Pierzynski knocked in the tying run with another single, which was misplayed by another Upton brother, B.J., in center. The Red Sox went on to load the bases and then squander their chances in typical fashion, but the game was now tied.
The rally had gotten Peavy off the hook, and he was done after eight innings. Koji Uehara pitched the ninth. With the score close and the game relatively fast-paced, not many people had left early, so I didn’t go looking for a closer seat until the middle of the ninth. I made my move then, and found an empty row in a loge box section in front of Section 24 for the rest of the game. The Braves brought their closer, Craig Kimbrel, who hadn’t worked in the past three days because the Red Sox had won all three, in to a tie game. He was clearly rusty, because he walked Jackie Bradley Jr. to open the inning, and then walked Brock Holt. Bogaerts, who already had two hits, hit a sharp grounder to third. The third baseman tried to double Holt up at second, but his throw was low and was dropped by the second baseman. That allowed enough time for Bradley to race around and score the winning run. It goes down as an infield single for Bogaerts, with the run scoring on an error, but I’ll take an exciting walkoff any way I can!
Thursday, May 22, 2014 – Fenway Park
Sections 4, 3, 16, and Field Box 35
Blue Jays 7, Red Sox 2
The next day I was on my way back in to Fenway again. I always like going on back-to-back days (in fact this made three out of the last four games for me) because it makes me feel like a real season ticket holder, like no matter what happens, good or bad, I’m going to be there for all of it. In this case, yesterday’s game was in my 10th Man Plan package, and today’s was part of a 4-game Sox Pax that had included Opening Day. But I’d prefer to have a bunch of games at a time when the team’s doing well and playing good baseball. Now the whole team was slumping, and they had just lost six games in a row.
This game also had a rather inconvenient start time of 4:05, meaning I had to take the day off from work. Since I had the whole day off, I planned to use my Red Sox Nation card for early entrance at 1:35 to watch batting practice. Most of the times that I can get in there early enough for the RSN line are Sundays, when they traditionally don’t take B.P. But with this being a weekday afternoon, I was looking forward to it. It was yet another day that was colder than it should have been for May, and there was rain in the forecast. A light, misty rain was falling as I walked up from the Kenmore T station, but as soon as I got inside the park it started pouring. The tarp was on the field, and there was no batting practice. There was also no way I was going to go all the way up to my seat, five rows from the back of the bleachers, where the wind whips in and it takes forever to get downstairs if it starts to rain. The game wasn’t going to be a sellout; the only trick was finding an empty seat.
I started in the Section 4 grandstand, where there were several rows that were still unoccupied. Jon Lester retired the first batter on a groundout, but then gave up a homer to the second batter, followed by another homer to the third batter. Not an encouraging start, but at least there was plenty of time left. Dustin Pedroia led off the first with a double, and later in the inning Jonny Gomes knocked him in. The second inning is when it got painful. Lester labored, and the Blue Jays batted around. Even the outs did damage: the inning went single, single, sacrifice bunt, single, stolen base, walk, single, single, run-scoring fielder’s choice, and then finally an impressive diving catch by Jackie Bradley Jr. in center field. By the time the inning was over, the Jays had scored 5 runs and led 7-1.
Xander Bogaerts homered in the second, making it 7-2, and then strangely the scoring stopped. Lester had 1-2-3 innings in the third, fourth, and fifth. He gave up a couple of hits in the sixth, but one of the baserunners was caught stealing in a play that was challenged by the Blue Jays but ultimately upheld after a lengthy review. I had slid across the aisle to Section 4 when some people came for my original seat in the bottom of the second. (The joke’s on them – they ended up missing all the scoring in the game.) It did rain while I was there, so I was glad I didn’t go all the way back in the bleachers. That would have made the whole thing even less bearable. At the end of the sixth I figured people would be bailing early, so I walked along behind the back row of grandstand toward the infield. The top of the seventh had two pitching changes (Lester leaving in favor of Burke Badenhop, and then Craig Breslow coming in to get out of it) so I actually had time to walk to the concession stand behind home plate and buy a hotdog without missing any action. I waited in the standing room behind Section 16 for the bottom of the seventh, and then when people started leaving, I found a really nice seat in Field Box 35 for the rest of the game.
As Junichi Tazawa pitched to Melky Cabrera in the top of the ninth, a girl ran onto the field. They must have tightened security in recent years, because I used to see it happen a lot, but it had been several years since I last saw a trespasser, and I got my camera to the video setting just in time. Security tackled her and led her away as the organist played “What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor.” I know they never show these on TV, so the video is provided here as a public service to anyone who missed it.
After that little burst of excitement, the rest of the game went out with a whimper. The Sox went down in order in the bottom of the ninth, and the losing streak now stood at seven.
Wednesday, May 21, 2014 – Fenway Park, Section 43
Blue Jays 6, Red Sox 4
The Red Sox had dropped their past five games, four of those coming at home sweet home. While I knew that the season was still young, I didn’t want them to get into a hole so big they couldn’t dig their way out. This was another one of the games where we could get our picture taken with one of the players in the souvenir store just after the gates opened, so I left work early and got there just in time. The player was Jackie Bradley, Jr., who had braided his hair back up again after playing two games with a big afro. They whisk everyone through the line as quickly as possible, and use the FanFoto photographers rather than our own cameras, so we only have a few seconds to say something when we get to the front. When it was my turn, I said, “You should have kept the ‘fro a couple more days for this.” He laughed and said, “I would have, but it was too hard to maintain.” I was still smirking from the exchange when they snapped the picture, and they caught me before I could officially smile. But they did have vouchers with a promo code for a free print, so I ordered a copy as soon as I got home.
I was back in my usual Tenth Man Plan seats behind the visitors’ bullpen, and the weather was nice for a change. With all the cold games I had been to this season, the 59° game-time temp tonight felt like 70° to me. I didn’t even need my jacket until the sun went down a few innings in.
Unfortunately the game unfolded like many I had already watched earlier this year. Clay Buchholz labored throughout the game. He threw 34 pitches in the second inning and gave up two home runs to Edwin Encarnacion. By the time the Red Sox got on the board it was the fourth inning, when Shane Victorino’s solo homer made it 4-1.
Buchholz didn’t make it out of the fifth. After that we saw Chris Capuano go two innings (giving up another run in the process) and Andrew Miller go 1-1/3 to finish the eighth. Finally, in the bottom of the eighth, the Red Sox got their bats going. With a runner on first and one out, three straight hits by Mike Carp, Xander Bogaerts, and Brock Holt drew the Red Sox closer at 6-4.
The lone bright spots in the game were a couple of defensive plays. The official Pedroia Play of the Day™ (because, let’s face it, there’s always one) was a sliding stop of a sharply-hit grounder in the third. And in the sixth, Brock Holt, playing third despite being a natural second baseman, made a diving play and then a long throw across the diamond. The throw was a little offline, but Carp made a nifty tag to get the out. Later that inning, Holt made another assist on a ground ball, only this time the shift was on and he was standing where the second baseman normally would. He had really impressed since being called up in the previous week for his second stint of the year, but it wasn’t enough to snap the losing streak, which now stood at six.
Sunday, May 18, 2014 – Fenway Park, Section 36
Tigers 6, Red Sox 2
I spent Sunday afternoon at my friends’ house in Rhode Island, and then drove to Boston for the night game, joking as I did that I was taking the “Lou Merloni Memorial Highway” north from Pawtucket. I wasn’t early enough for batting practice, but was in plenty of time for the game. I had been looking forward to this series as a rematch of the very intense and dramatic ALCS last fall. This was the only trip the Tigers would make to Fenway this year, but so far the first two games didn’t live up to the hype, as the Sox had droppped them both.
My seat was in the center field bleachers, only 3 rows back, so I got a good look at Jackie Bradley Jr.’s new ‘do. He had undone the braids he’s had for years and unleashed an afro starting Saturday night.
Jake Peavy wasn’t sharp, but he worked his way out of trouble in the first and the second. Luckily for us, Anibal Sanchez wasn’t as sharp as he had been last October, when he had held the Red Sox hitless in ALCS Game 1 until the ninth inning. Tonight they picked up three singles in the second inning, and actually scored a run to get on the board first.
But it didn’t take long for Detroit to answer back. A one-out double in the top of the third quickly led to a game-tying RBI, and then old friend Victor Martinez followed with a two run homer into the bullpen. The Tigers extended their lead with a sacrifice fly in the fifth. The Red Sox narrowed the gap in the home half – thanks to a bases-loaded infield hit by Mike Napoli – but even that rally was short-lived, as Grady Sizemore hit a liner back to the pitcher, who doubled the runner off third for an inning-ending double play. And once again, as soon as the Sox got a run, they gave it right back. This time it was a pair of hits in the sixth that gave Detroit a 5-2 lead and ended the night for Peavy.
The Tigers scored again in the top of the seventh on a homer by Torii Hunter. The inning finally ended when Victor Martinez hit a foul popup that headed toward the stands between third base and home. A.J. Pierzynski and Brock Holt both converged. From where I sat it looked like the ball had bounced into the first row of the stands, so I was surprised when it was called the final out of the inning. I had decided to use the seventh inning stretch to move around to closer seats for the end of the game, but before I left my spot in the bleachers, I caught the replay on the scoreboard. The foul popup had bounced out of Pierzynski’s glove – but it landed right in the bare hand of Holt for the out.
Holt was filling in for the injured Will Middlebrooks, but he had been showing off his defensive skills at third base, despite coming up primarily as a second baseman. He added another good play in the ninth tonight, diving to stop a sharply-hit grounder, and he stole a base too, making his uniform a nice shade of Pedroia by the end of the night.
I found an empty seat in the Section 25 grandstand for the bottom of the seventh, then moved down to the loge boxes for the top of the eighth, and finally wound up in a field box seat from the bottom of the eighth on. Unfortunately there wasn’t much for me to cheer about by then. Detroit relievers Al Alburquerque, Ian Krol, and Joba Chamberlain pitched the last three innings without allowing a baserunner. This series that had seemed so fun when the schedule came out ended up as a disappointing sweep. Added to a loss in Minnesota to end their last road trip, the Sox had now lost four in a row, something they hadn’t managed to do all of last year.
Tuesday, May 6, 2014 – Fenway Park, Section 32
Red Sox 4, Reds 3, 12 innings
The Sox had a day off on Monday, and then Tuesday I was on my way back in to Fenway for the first game of a two-game set against the Reds. This was my first game of the year in the left field grandstand, and it was the same exact seat I had had for a game last year. In that game, Felix Doubront had been outstanding, but Andrew Bailey gave up a homer in the ninth and the Sox had to pull off a walkoff win. The funny thing is that tonight Doubront was pitching again, but instead of seeing a Bailey homer, I was now watching Homer Bailey, who was pitching for the Reds.
Doubront started off with a 1-2-3 first, and the first two batters reached for the Red Sox in the bottom of the inning. When Big Papi grounded a potential double play ball to third, Shane Victorino hustled from first to just barely beat the throw to second, while Papi was out at first. The Reds chose not to challenge, and replays on the TVs under the grandstand confirmed that he was safe. That split-second was crucial, as Mike Napoli followed with a grounder to first base, which instead of ending the inning allowed Dustin Pedroia to score from third with a rare first inning run.
The Reds got the run right back in the second, and only a 5-2-5 rundown between third and home on a baserunning gaffe prevented them from getting any more. The Sox took advantage of Bailey’s wildness in the third. Jackie Bradley Jr. led off with a walk, and Pedroia followed with a double. With one out, they chose to intentionally walk Papi (in the third inning of a tie game!) to load the bases. That move backfired when Mike Napoli worked a full count walk, forcing in the go-ahead run. Grady Sizemore followed with a run-scoring single, putting the Sox up 3-1.
Now it was up to Doubront to make the lead stand up. He had been inconsistent to start the year, but I remembered how he started off slowly last year too, before morphing into a reliable starter. He allowed two hits in the fourth, then threw a 1-2-3 fifth. When he walked two batters in the sixth and his pitch count neared the century-mark, John Farrell went to the ‘pen. With two runners on and one out, his choice was sinkerballer Burke Badenhop. The move paid off when Badenhop’s first pitch was grounded softly to Pedroia at second and turned quickly into an inning-ending double play.
At the end of the seventh, I moved into an empty seat in the field boxes a few sections over, between third base and the visitors’ dugout. Badenhop had had a quick seventh inning too, but Junichi Tazawa faltered in the eighth. A walk, a double, and a single drew the Reds to within a run, and a sac fly tied the game. I was hoping to avoid this kind of parallel from last year’s game in the same seat, but now they were going to need some kind of late-inning magic. Koji Uehara gave us all a scare in the ninth. After an infield hit and a sacrifice bunt, number-nine hitter Tucker Barnhart hit a long fly ball to the warning track in right, but Victorino was able to track it down as the runner tagged. Then the Reds tried a squeeze play, but it was bunted right back to Koji who was able to hold the runner at third. Finally he got Joey Votto to pop up to end the threat. (It’s worth noting that neither Tazawa nor Uehara were sharp last May either. Koji didn’t take over as closer until June, after Joel Hanrahan, Andrew Bailey, and Tazawa had all struggled.)
The Sox had a chance to end it in the bottom of the ninth, but Pedroia was caught stealing and Napoli grounded out with two runners on base. As the game headed for extras, Andrew Miller took the mound. He had two strong innings with four strikeouts, spanning the tenth and eleventh. The Red Sox went down in order in the tenth, and their only hit of the eleventh was the 200th double of Pedroia’s career, but he ended up stranded.
David Ortiz started the bottom of the twelfth, and we all stood up to chant, “Papi! Papi!” He singled through the shift, bringing up “Nap-o-li! Nap-o-li!” who lined a single up the middle. That brought Sizemore to the plate. And after everything we went through at the end of the 2003 season, it sounded a little odd to be filling Fenway Park with chants of “Grady! Grady!” (Might as well get used to it, considering one of the Sox’ top prospects is Mookie Betts. That’s a name that’s haunted me since 1986, but someday soon I’ll be cheering for him.) He swung at the first pitch and drove it into left-center, where it banged off the base of The Wall. Big Papi, who much to my delight hadn’t been pinch-run for, had plenty of time to motor around with the winning run.
For the twelfth inning, I had moved around closer to home plate, but in a seat that I thought had a good view without a lot of people in front of me. But when the final hit fell, a guy in front of me jumped up on his seat to get a better view. I had to follow suit to see over him, and by then Papi had crossed the plate. But I did get a shot of the aftermath, as Grady’s teammates rushed out to first base to congratulate him. It might not have been the easiest way to get a much-needed win, but all is forgiven after a good old fashioned walkoff, and it ended up a fun game.
Sunday, May 4, 2014 – Fenway Park, Section 43
A’s 3, Red Sox 2, 10 inn.
The Red Sox were still stuck in their slow start, but none of the other teams in the A.L. East were running away with it either, and they came into Sunday’s game only 2 games back in the division. They looked to be getting back on track as they took the first two games against the A’s, hitting a grand slam in each game, and a win today would get their record back to .500. This was my first Sunday game of the year, so it was my first chance to drive in early, park for free on the street, and go in with the Red Sox Nation line before the gates opened. I guess I didn’t leave as early as I should have with all the area schools still in session, because when I got there, there weren’t any open spaces on Comm. Ave. where I normally park. I wound up going a few miles down the road to find an empty meter, and then hopped on the T to get back to Kenmore. By that time, the Red Sox Nation line had already gone in, and I was stuck in line behind hundreds of little leaguers who also got to enter early for a ceremony before the game. While they all milled about in the concourse, I went up on the Green Monster to watch what was left of batting practice. The Red Sox don’t usually take B.P. on Sunday afternoons, and Shane Victorino was the only one I saw batting, with just the coaches in the outfield shagging flies.
When the rest of the gates opened, I went around behind home plate. There’s a new mural on the way to the home plate box seats with the front page of the Boston Globe from the day after each of the team’s eight World Championships. The other times I’ve been by there this year, it’s been too crowded to get a good picture. Remember in 2012 when the Red Sox announced that for Fenway Park’s 100th anniversary, they had 100 plaques, displays, and historical markers around the park? I documented 96 of those displays that year (the rest are in areas off-limits to fans) and I’ve been keeping track of new displays ever since. So I am now able to add this display to the list (see the whole album on Flickr), at number 105.
The Little League kids got to parade around the warning track with their teams before the game, and most were wearing their uniforms. When I went down behind the bullpen to watch as John Lackey warmed up, there was a kid near me who happened to play for his town’s A’s team, and was wearing the unfortunate green and gold of today’s big league opponents. He was obviously a Red Sox fan, as he knew who Lackey and A.J. Pierzynski were without an adult having to point it out, but when he got pitching coach Juan Nieves’s attention, Nieves pointed disapprovingly at his hat. The poor kid was mortified, and tried yelling, “But it’s my Little League team,” but Nieves had already looked away. He quickly borrowed his father’s Red Sox hat, and was later able to call out to Nieves agin, this time getting a thumbs-up.
Lackey’s first pitch of the game was grounded to third by Coco Crisp. It bounced off Will Middlebrooks’s glove but went right to Xander Boagaerts at short, who was able to throw on to first just in time to get the speedy Crisp. Or did he? Oakland manager Bob Melvin came out to challenge the play. We got to see it several times on the video board, and it did confirm that the ball got there just before Crisp’s foot hit the bag. When the call on the field was upheld, I chuckled because the rule is that managers only get one challenge in the first six innings (unless they’re right, in which case it doesn’t count), and Melvin had wasted his on the first pitch.
It’s a good thing that Crisp was out, because a walk, a stolen base, and a single plated a run later in the inning. The Red Sox were busy doing a whole lot of nothing at the plate against Sonny Gray, and in the third, the A’s threatened again. This time a two-out single was followed by a double down the left field line. As the baserunner rounded third, Grady Sizemore fired to Bogaerts, who relayed the throw to the plate where Pierzynski was waiting. Out! We cheered the end of the inning, but when the replay was shown several times on the board without the usual between-innings stuff, I realized this play was being challenged too. Bob Melvin shouldn’t have been able to use another challenge, but apparently this one could be called for by the umps to check whether the play at the plate was within the rules. It was an “umpire’s review” as opposed to the “manager’s challenge” earlier in the game. Catchers can’t block the plate until they have the ball in their hands, and that’s how this play happened; Pierzynski had the ball in his hand when he blocked the plate perfectly, then slapped the tag on the runner. It was all legit, and the play stood.
The Red Sox tied the game in the fifth on Sizemore’s double. They went on to load the bases with one out, but Jackie Bradley Jr., who had already hit into a double play his first time up, grounded back to the pitcher for an inning-ending 1-2-3 twin killing. Making matters worse, Oakland scored again in the top of the sixth. Lackey wasn’t pitching badly – he had been especially impressive in a five-pitch fifth inning resulting in two ground balls and a popup – but the offense was particularly futile.
Although it was warmer than the other games I had been to, it was a windy day with only brief periods of sun. The wind felt worse in the bleachers, and it rained off and on, making it feel colder than it was. In the middle of the seventh, I decided to move around and find a better seat, and I wound up in Section 17. I stayed in the grandstand in case it rained again, rather than moving right down front. It looked like I had found a good lucky seat when Pierzynski homered to lead off the inning, tying the game at 2. And after a wind-blown fly ball by Jonny Gomes fell in for an E9, they once again had runners at second and third , but again they failed to capitalize. This time Bradley tried a squeeze bunt, but he hit it right back to the pitcher, who looked the runners back before throwing on to first.
In the eighth, pinch-runner Jonathan Herrera was caught stealing to end the inning, and in the ninth, the Sox’ third double play of the day ended the inning with the game still tied.
Andrew Miller, Junichi Tazawa, and Koji Uehara each threw a scoreless frame, and then Chris Capuano came on for the tenth. He got two quick outs, but then gave up a double and walked the next two batters. Burke Badenhop was summoned, but he gave up an infield single that plated the go-ahead run. The Sox still had a chance in the bottom of the tenth, when Will Middlebrooks ended up on second base after his lead-off hit was bobbled in the outfield. But Bradley hit a ground ball to third that erased Middlebrooks, so there was now a runner on first with one out instead of a runner on second with no outs. Even Dustin Pedroia was not immune from the futility, as he grounded into a double play to end the frustrating game.
Tuesday, April 29, 2014 – Fenway Park, Section 42
Red Sox 7, Rays 4
Even with May approaching, the weather wasn’t feeling any more baseball-like. While it was going to warm up later in the week, Tuesday was cold and raw, with highs not getting out of the 40’s. This game was in the four-game “Sox Pax” I had gotten because it included Opening Day, so I was going to be a few rows from the back of the bleachers again, and I knew how windy it had been up there the first time. So this time I went with my heavy winter coat along with my normal Red Sox hat and gloves. The temperature was announced as 42°, with the wind chill at 38° according to my phone. I started in the bleacher seat, but I was keeping an eye on the grandstand sections that would be less windy, planning to move around closer when I couldn’t stand it anymore.
At least the game was a good one to watch. John Lackey had become the Sox’ most consistent starter, and he continued his dominance tonight. A two-out single in the second was the only baserunner he allowed through the first four frames. For their part, the Red Sox had baserunners in each of the first four innings, but as has become the norm in the early season, they weren’t able to get any runs across.
The fifth inning started with promise, when a walk was followed by Jackie Bradley Jr.’s double. And finally they got on the board on Shane Victorino’s sacrifice fly. Unfortunately the Rays answered back with a sac fly of their own in the top of the sixth. I was starting to get really cold, and I could see empty box seats in the infield. It was going to take a long time to walk around, and I didn’t want to miss the Red Sox batting, so I planned to go as soon as the sixth was over. That of course meant that the pace of the game was about to slow down considerably, though I certainly wasn’t going to complain about the reason.
Mike Napoli and Jonny Gomes walked, and Xander Bogaerts worked a full count before flying out. Then after a pitching change, A.J. Pierzynski singled in a run and Will Middlebrooks doubled in another. JBJ’s second double of the night plated two more, and finally Victorino’s double down the right field line (the third of his four hits) knocked in the fifth run of the inning. As soon as Big Papi struck out to end the inning, I headed down from my seat. In the top of the seventh, I settled in the Section 23 grandstand, and for the eighth I moved down to the field box seats right behind the on-deck circle. Usually by the time I move around to good seats, it’s the relievers that I get to see up close, but Lackey was still in the game, as he ended up going eight innings. It was warmer there too, and I was able to take off my hood and my gloves.
Edward Mujica came in for the ninth with the Sox holding a 7-2 lead. But the Rays opened the inning with a double and a walk, and then with one out, Bogaerts’s throwing error on a ground ball let two runs come in. The comfortable lead had somehow turned into a game with the tying run on deck, making it a save situation. John Farrell signaled to the bullpen, and with two outs, Koji Uehara was on his way in. We stood up to clap along with his entrance music, and a guy near me yelled to Ben Zobrist in the on-deck circle, “Three pitches, Zobrist, that’s all you’re getting! Three pitches and it’s ovah!” The first pitch was a swing and a miss for strike one. The second pitch was another whiff. And just as predicted, the third pitch finished up the strikeout and closed out the win.
As we walked down to the T station after the game, we saw the flashing lights of a fire engine down Beacon Street from Kenmore Square. A guy behind me shouted out, “Koji already put out the fire! You guys are late!”
Thursday, April 24, 2014 – Fenway Park, Section 43
Yankees 14, Red Sox 5
The Red Sox were struggling out of the gate with inconsistent starting pitching and sloppy defense, but I’ve been chalking that up to their shortened off-season. (I’m certainly not going to complain about the reason it was so short!) They just need some time to gel as a team, and getting their injured players back in the lineup on a daily basis won’t hurt. Wednesday’s game, which I watched gleefully from home, was a step in the right direction. Besides the Red Sox picking up a much-needed win, the Yankees were humiliated as Michael Pineda was ejected from the game for a very obvious use of a foreign substance, pine tar, which he “hid” in a giant, shiny glob all over his neck. The first thing I did when I got to Thursday’s game was to post this picture on Facebook:
This was my first night game of the year, and I brought all my warm gear in anticipation of it going late into the night. Traffic was heavy as I got close to the T station, and by the time I got to Fenway, made a pitstop, grabbed my food, and headed to my seat, Felix Doubront was already warming up in the bullpen.
The game started off well, with Jacoby “What Would Johnny Damon Do” Ellsbury striking out and Derek Jeter grounding weakly back to the pitcher. But then Xander Bogaerts missed a ground ball for an error, and a double drove home the first run of the game. It got worse from there. In the second, Dustin Pedroia was charged with an error on the the controversial “transfer play” that was new for this year*. In past years, as long as the fielder made the catch cleanly, the runner was out, even if he dropped the ball making the transfer from glove to throwing hand. Now it was more like football, where players were supposed to have control of the ball the whole time. When Pedey dropped it on the transfer, he was charged with an error and the runner was declared safe.
(*MLB changed the “transfer rule” the following week, reverting to the way it’s been in previous years.)
A wild pitch and a double plated two more runs, and then with runners at first and third and Carlos Beltran at the plate, there was more controversy. Doubront threw a wild pitch that skipped to the backstop. The runner on third scored and the runner on first moved to second. I looked down at my scorecard to record the play, so I missed that the umps had sent the runner who had scored back to third, thinking that the ball had hit Beltran. The Yankees invoked the other new rule change this year and challenged the play, alleging that he wasn’t hit. The welcome change to me as a fan is that they announced over the P.A. that the Yankees were challenging the play and showed it in slo-mo several times on the main scoreboard. (This made no sense to me though, since I had missed them sending the runners back, and I thought that the Yankees wanted it to be a HBP… which would have meant the run wouldn’t have scored.) The replay clearly showed that the ball hit the dirt in front of the plate and not the batter, so the call was overturned and the runner scored from third (again, which really confused me, since I had already written it in).
All of that nastiness was in the second inning, and the game was almost an hour old already. I’ll spare you the gory details of the third inning, but suffice it to say that two more errors, three stolen bases, and a homer led to three more runs and a 7-0 Yankees lead.
The one bright spot in the game was the first appearance of Shane Victorino in 2014. He had started the year on the D.L. due to various nagging injuries. In his first at-bat he was welcomed back with a warm ovation, and we got to experience yet another rule change for this year. In an attempt to speed up the games, MLB is limiting players’ at-bat music to only 15 seconds. And Victorino’s anthem “Three Little Birds” is too long to get the whole famous line in. All that fits now are the introductory notes and “Don’t worry-” and we had to finish it up, “…about a thing, ’cause every little thing gonna be alright.” (When his at-bats lead off an inning, like they did tonight in the fifth and the ninth, they can play the whole thing; they just start while it’s still the inning break.) He did his part to make every little thing alright tonight, with a double in the third inning, and he scored the Red Sox’ second run of the game as they pulled to within 7-2.
(Fenway Moment of the Day: In the fifth inning, they showed a marriage proposal on the scoreboard between innings. Normally this would be met by cheers, but the problem is the girl was a Yankees fan, so instead everyone booed and yelled, “Don’t do it!”)
Burke Badenhop came in to relieve Doubront in the third, and pitched into the sixth, allowing only one hit and one walk in that time. But in the seventh, Craig Breslow struggled, leading to another horrific inning in which the Yankees scored five more times on five hits, three walks, and the Red Sox’ fifth error of the night. Yes, that’s right – their fifth error – and they finished with only four hits on the night.
We took advantage of the seventh inning stretch to move around to the first base side and find better seats to watch the rest of the game. We actually were treated to a little rally, as the Red Sox scored three runs (thanks in part to a Jeter error, which never gets old), but that was just delaying the inevitable. As the Red Sox went down quietly in the bottom of the eighth, I noticed one of the video boards announced, “Now warming, Carp, 0-0, 0.00″. I nudged my friend: “Look who’s pitching the ninth!” The game had gotten so out of hand that outfielder/first baseman Mike Carp was taking one for the team and sparing the rest of the bullpen from this debacle.
We cheered as he jogged in from the bullpen and met David Ross on the mound. His first batter was Mark Teixeira, and he walked him on a full count. He was throwing a few fastballs around 80-83 mph, but mostly 66 mph knuckleballs. (Or maybe they just call it a knuckleball if it comes in at less than 70 mph.) Brian McCann was next, and Carp got him to ground into a double play. When he got two strikes on Brett Gardner we all jumped to our feet and started clapping, trying to will an inning-ending strikeout. He ended up walking Gardner, and then the next two batters too, though he had two strikes on most of them. “Get him some pine tar!” I yelled, which was good for a couple of chuckles from the people around me. When he walked Jacoby Ellsbury it forced in a run. Fans were having fun getting on the ump about the strike zone, yelling, “He’s squeezing him!” and booing every ball. Finally, mercifully, Kelly Johnson hit a foul popup, and Ross made the catch to end the inning.
Victorino led off the bottom of the ninth, and as the first few notes of “Three Little Birds” played, I yelled out, “I hate to say it, Shane, but I’m starting to get a little worried!” The Red Sox went down in order in the ninth, putting the horror show out of its misery four torturous hours after it had started. I’ve been to enough games that this wasn’t the worst one I’ve ever seen, but at least Carp’s pitching gave us something to cheer about and softened the blow a bit.
Wednesday, April 9, 2014 – Fenway Park, Section 43
Red Sox 4, Rangers 2
With all the pomp and circumstance of Opening Day, it doesn’t always feel like the season has really started until I make it to my second game. But now that I’ve returned to Fenway five days later, it feels like baseball is back and part of my routine again. I saw online that this was going to be one of the games where we could meet and get a picture with one of the players before the game. With the game time at 4:05, I took the whole day off from work, so I was able to get there right when the gates opened at 2:35, and I found out that the player was infielder Jonathan Herrera. The photo session was in the back of the souvenir store, and while the ones I had gone to last year had had short lines, by the time I got through Gate D, the line already stretched the length of the store. In order to get everyone through as quickly as possible, they don’t allow us to take pictures with our own cameras. They use the FanFoto service which normally charges $15 plus S&H for a 5×7 print. I’ve done these sessions before and they usually give us a voucher with a promo code so we can get the print for free (except the voucher price is always 50 cents short, as if they don’t know that they raised their S&H price). But this time they supposedly “ran out” of vouchers, even though this was the first player photo session of the season. Instead they asked us to write down our email address so they could send us the promo code for the (almost) free print. I haven’t gotten the email yet, and I’m not paying $20. So until then, here’s an artist’s rendition of me meeting Jonathan Herrera:
It was my friend’s first game of the year, so we walked around to look at some of the new things. There’s a new bar behind the third base grandstand. It has some big TV screens, but people who sit on the stools have their backs to the field.
We were in our familiar Tenth Man Plan seats behind the visitiors’ bullpen for the first time this year, and the afternoon was warm and sunny. We can see the new board that shows the temperature from those seats. It was 56° to start the game, and with the sun I was comfortable in a long-sleeve T-shirt for the first 5 innings.
Jake Peavy had a couple of baserunners in the first, but he worked his way out of trouble, and then settled down and pitched really well. He struck out eight, including the side in the fourth. Meanwhile, the Red Sox, who haven’t exactly gotten their offense rolling yet in the young season, were able to piece together an unearned run after a throwing error in the third. But they also hit into two double plays and had a runner caught stealing, and at the end of the sixth they clung to a 1-0 lead.
Peavy gave up a homer to Mitch Moreland leading off the seventh which tied the game. His good outing was in danger of being wasted, and it got worse when Andrew Miller gave up a double to open the eighth. The runner ended up moving to third on a groundout and scoring on a sac fly to shallow center. Jackie Bradley Jr. made a pretty good throw home, but it was a little high and just a tad late, and the Red Sox now trailed 2-1.
The Sox were running out of chances when Bradley led off the eighth with his third walk of the day (the seventh overall for the team). A.J. Pierzynski pinch-hit for Jonny Gomes and blooped a wind-blown hit into no man’s land down the right field line. Grady Sizemore pinch-ran, and Dustin Pedroia hit into a fielder’s choice that erased Sizemore and moved Bradley to third. As David Ortiz came to the plate, the Rangers went to the ‘pen to bring in a lefty, Neal Cotts, who had struck him out in all five prior meetings. With one out and a runner on third, I was just hoping for a ball in the air, but Big Papi had other ideas. He launched a 1-1 pitch out toward us in right field. It was one of those swings where we could tell he had gotten all of it, and we all jumped up. The only question was whether it would stay fair or hook foul. I’ll admit I lost sight of it against the bright, cloudless sky, and it was so high that I wouldn’t have been able to tell from my angle in the bleachers where it was when it passed over Pesky’s Pole. I actually looked away from the ball to turn back toward the infield, where I saw the umpire signal fair. The three-run bomb gave the Sox a 4-2 lead, and we all high-fived each other as Papi rounded the bases. (I tried to get a picture as he crossed the plate, but it came out blurry from all the jumping and cheering. Don’t worry, I won’t do an artist’s depiction of that. Just picture his classic pose that we’ve all seen more times than we can count.)
Soon we realized Rangers manager Ron Washington had come out to ask for a review of the play. With the new rules in effect this year, the umps need only don a headset and consult with MLB officials. I was glad to see the replay shown on the scoreboard in center; in the past they haven’t been allowed to show replays of controversial calls, which has become sillier in recent years when half the ballpark can see monitors carrying the TV feed of the game. Now we all get to see it, and there was no way to conclusively reverse it, so when Mike Napoli’s at-bat began we knew that they had let the call on the field stand. After that it was Koji Time, and Uehara had a quick, clean inning to dispose of the Rangers and preserve the win.
*Update: I did in fact receive an email with the promo code, and it covered the whole cost of a 5×7 print, including shipping. Here’s the picture – I really think I nailed it with my drawing, don’t you?
Friday, April 4, 2014 – Fenway Park, Section 42
Brewers 6, Red Sox 2
I had good luck over the winter when the four-game Sox Pax went onsale, and I managed to get through the Virtual Waiting Room early enough to get a package that included Opening Day before they sold out. So while I didn’t need to wait in the day-of-game ticket line this year, I still went in to Fenway early. It was my 14th Fenway Park opener, but it was also the third World Series ring ceremony of my lifetime, something that just ten years ago I thought I’d go my whole life without seeing at all.
I bought a Media Guide in the souvenir store, and then headed around the corner onto Van Ness Street. I waited for a little while outside the players’ parking lot, but I figured most of the players were already inside, and any celebrities arriving for the ceremony would be pulling in later. So I continued down Van Ness and onto Lansdowne Street, then completed the lap around to the front of the park again.
At 11:00, I went to Gate C, where the Red Sox Nation line usually forms to go in a half hour early. Some Opening Days they do let us in early, but some they don’t. Today they didn’t, so I waited till 11:35 when all the gates opened and went in, picking up my annual schedule magnet on the way. There aren’t too many changes to the ballpark this year. Most of the updates involved adding 2013 to the list of World Series wins on displays throughout the park.
One of the things that supposedly has changed this year is the third base deck behind the grandstand. I couldn’t get in there to see it, because it was blocked off for a large private party. But I did glimpse an ice sculpture of the World Series logo, and Larry Lucchino hob-nobbing with the guests. I was glad to see that the pizza was still $5, and I got my coupon for a free soda at the Designated Driver booth inside Gate C, so even though they expanded their menu options with a lot of new expensive items, it’s still possible to grab something to eat without breaking the bank.
At 12:30, I went up to my seat in row 45 of the bleachers, five rows from the back wall. (For reference, the red seat that marks Ted Williams’ 502-foot home run was eight rows in front of me in row 37.) The ring ceremony started shortly after 1:00, and it lived up to the hype. From the highlight montage, to the marathon bombing survivors delivering the rings, to cheering the players as they were introduced, to the tribute to fallen firefighters, to Pedro, Tek, and Lowell carrying in the trophies, I was teary-eyed through the whole thing.
And then, after the emotional ceremony ended with Tim Wakefield, Kevin Millar, and a bunch of kids saying “Play ball,” there was a game to be played too. While the morning had started off sunny, it clouded over during the ceremony, and by the time the game started it was already feeling cold. The wind was whipping in from behind the bleachers steadily throughout the game. There’s a new video board on the right field facade, which I couldn’t see from my seat in the bleachers but I got a look at later on, that showed the temperature was 41°, and there was a definite wind chill factor going on in the back rows of the bleachers. After the Brewers took a 2-0 lead in the second, I put on my knit winter hat. The Red Sox answered with a run on a walk, a hit, and an error in the second, and tied it with a Will Middlebrooks homer in the third. In the fifth, I finally gave in and put on gloves, which made keeping score difficult and clapping impossible. With the game still tied at the seventh inning stretch, I made my move around to the infield grandstand to find an empty seat that wasn’t as windy, and wound up in Section 16.
It was a little better without the wind, and I pulled out the fleece blanket I brought in case the game went extra innings. Unfortunately a disastrous four-run ninth inning by Edward Mujica made that a moot point, and the Sox dropped the game. I hope they get less sloppy once it’s not freezing cold out, because I’d sure like to see another one of these ring ceremonies next year!