Better Than Going to Work
Thursday, April 9, 2009 – Fenway Park, Section 43
Rays 4, Red Sox 3
The day after the opener the Sox lost their night game, and Thursday they met the Rays in a matinee for the rubber game of the series. This was the first game of the year in my Tenth Man Plan, so I took the day off from work and went in early. I wanted to take advantage of one of the benefits of my new Red Sox Nation card, which allows us to enter 1/2 hour before the gates open and watch batting practice from atop the Green Monster. It was a great idea… until I got up there and realized that with the day game after a night game and a west coast trip ahead of them, the Red Sox weren’t taking BP today. It’s still cool to be on the Green Monster, though, and we got to watch the pitchers long-tossing in right field. We also saw John Smoltz and Brad Penny throw in the bullpen.
At 11:35, when the gates opened, we were asked to leave the Monster. I went down the stairs on the third base side and walked along the back of the grandstand there. The Red Sox are offering half-price concessions for the first hour after gates open during the month of April, so I went looking for some pizza. But none of the stands were open yet. That’s always bugged me, because they should be ready when they open the gates. I ended up going to the souvenir store and picking up a copy of the Media Guide, and by the time I got out to Yawkey Way, the food was ready. I got my pizza slice for $2.25, then found the Designated Driver booth inside Gate A. If you’re over 21 and you’re not going to drink at the game, you can sign up there and get a coupon for a free small soda. (I’m not a teetotaler, but I don’t drink at games for two reasons – it’s too expensive, and games are way too important to waste the whole time worrying about getting up and down a million times for beer and bathroom runs.) So for just over 2 bucks, I got my whole meal at the ballpark! I went back out to the stands to eat, and watched as final preparations were made to the field.
In a pre-game ceremony, Dustin Pedroia was presented the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards he earned last year. Dwight Evans, who finished his career with 8 Gold Gloves and 2 Silver Sluggers and doubled up by winning both awards in 1981, handed them out, and he stayed to throw out the first pitch. There was also a moment of silence for Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart, who was killed in a car crash by a drunk driver on his way home from pitching in Wednesday night’s game.
In the bleachers, it was sunny and warm. It was hard to believe that only two days earlier we were sitting out there wearing every conceivable layer of clothing. This afternoon, I was able to take off my jacket, leaving me comfortable in a t-shirt and thin hoodie.
This was my first chance to see Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2009. He was fresh off winning his second World Baseball Classic MVP, but he hadn’t been in Ft. Myers when I was there for Spring Training. He really frustrated me last year, because we’ve seen flashes of the great potential he has, but then he throws so many pitches that he has to come out of games early and that leaves too much up to the bullpen. But, in the spirit of Opening Day, I resolved to give him a clean slate this year. I decided to trust that he could get out of jams and not get freaked out every time he got into one. He was OK in the first. He gave up a two-out double, and it looked like he had struck out Carlos Pena to end the inning. Dice-K, Tek, and the rest of the infielders started to head off the field, before the ump called ball four and they had to return. At least that only caused him to throw four extra pitches, as he struck out Willie Aybar to end the threat.
In the bottom of the inning, Jacoby Ellsbury bunted for a hit to lead off. During Big Papi’s at-bat, he took off for second, and the throw went into the outfield, allowing him to reach third. J.D. Drew hit a line drive smash that looked like an RBI single – until shortstop Jason Bartlett snared it and ended the rally before it could start.
Dice-K gave up a long solo homer to Matt Joyce in the second, then a 2-run blast to Evan Longoria in the third, and then a solo shot to Shawn Riggans in the fourth. That’s not what I had in mind when I said I wanted him to throw more strikes! He “only” walked three, but he had at least two baserunners in every inning but the second, and he was up to 100 pitches when he was removed with one out in the sixth. The bullpen did a good job of holding on from there. Manny Delcarmen got out of the sixth, but put runners at the corners with one out in the seventh. That brought Ramon Ramirez in, and with one pitch he induced an inning-ending double play. He then added a 1-2-3 eighth.
The problem on this otherwise nice afternoon was Matt Garza. He picked up right where he left off in last year’s ALCS, completely stifling the Red Sox offense. They only managed two hits in the first five innings, and despite two Rays errors, they couldn’t push any runs across. They finally got going in the sixth, when Kevin Youkilis led off with a double. One out later, Jason Bay drove a triple into the triangle, and the Sox finally had their first run.
Once Garza left the game, the Sox started to climb back in it. Mike Lowell’s RBI double in the eighth made it 4-2 Rays, and left runners at second and third with two outs. But Jed Lowrie struck out before they had the chance to get more.
Hideki Okajima made it scary in the ninth. He struck out the first two batters quickly and had an 0-2 count on Carlos Pena. Four straight balls later, Pena was on first, and Okie followed that by walking Aybar. He went to 3-1 on Pat Burrell, before Burrell’s single loaded the bases. When Gabe Kapler was announced as a pinch-hitter, Tito went to the ‘pen and called in Justin Masterson. Gabe hit a long smash toward the triangle in center field, but Ellsbury was able to sprint over and track it down.
Big Papi was due up fourth in the bottom of the ninth, and I have a good track record of seeing walkoffs when I have to use a vacation day from work, so I remained confident. Jason Varitek led off the inning with his second home run of the season. (It was also just his second hit of the year. If they’re all going to be homers, I can handle him going a day or two between hits!) That made it 4-3 and brought the top of the order up. Jacoby flied out to left. When Pedroia came up, I yelled, “You’re not going to let Tek have more home runs than you, are ya?” but my attempt at motivation didn’t help, because he grounded out to third. Now Papi was up, but without the right number of baserunners to send us home happy with one swing. But he walked, putting the tying run on base and bringing up Youkilis, the hottest hitter on the team. He was the right person to be coming up to the plate in this situation. His stats read: AVG .727, OBP .750, SLG .909. I had dubbed him the “Greek God of Walkoffs” after I had witnessed him end two games in that fashion last season, and was ready for him to do it again today. Everyone was standing and yelling “Yoooooouuuuuuuk!” He lofted one into deep center field, where if it dropped, it could at least tie the game, but Kapler ran it down on the warning track.
The day ended up in disappointment, but it was still better than going in to work.