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A Perfect 10

Sunday, April 26, 2009 – Fenway Park, Section 43

Red Sox 4, Yankees 1

It’s safe to say the first two games of the Red Sox/Yankees series were epic battles. Friday night featured a ninth-inning game-tying homer off Mariano Rivera by Jason Bay and an eleventh inning game-winner by (as I have dubbed him) the Greek God of Walk-offs, Kevin Youkilis. Saturday’s matchup between aces Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett turned into a classic slugfest, as the Sox trailed 6-0, led 8-6, trailed 10-9, and ended up winning 16-11. Both games lasted exactly 4 hours and 21 minutes – marathon affairs that taxed both teams’ bullpens – and both were exhilarating to watch. As I headed in to Sunday night’s game, I could only imagine what wild and crazy things I’d see that day, as the Red Sox tried to sweep the Yankees and win their tenth straight game.

I again arrived several hours early, and used my Red Sox Nation card to enter the park 1/2 hour before the gates open and watch batting practice from the Green Monster. This was the third time I tried it, but it was the first time they were actually taking B.P. when I got there. As we looked around the field, I noticed Youkilis standing to the left of second base, and watched as he fielded a couple of grounders. I assumed he was just talking with a couple of the coaches who were standing nearby, but I joked to my friend, “Look, Youk’s playing shortstop!”

Kevin Youkilis fields ground balls at shortstop during batting practice as the Sox find themselves short-handed in the infield.

Kevin Youkilis fields ground balls at shortstop during batting practice as the Sox find themselves short-handed in the infield.

I also noticed a guy shagging flies in the outfield who was wearing #64 and had his red socks pulled up. In Spring Training, #64 was highly-ranked prospect Michael Bowden, and I remembered him wearing his socks up. I couldn’t see his face from up on the Monster, but if it was Bowden, what was he doing there? Was one of our pitchers hurt? I knew that after the game they planned on sending backup infielder Gil Velazquez back down to Triple A and activating Julio Lugo off the D.L. tomorrow, but that didn’t explain the need for an extra starting pitcher.

When we were asked to leave the Green Monster as the gates officially opened, we went down the left field side into the box seats there. There were only a couple of other fans in that section, and my friend got a ball that bounced into the stands. I was able to get a good look at #64, and saw that it was indeed Michael Bowden, and he was standing with Hunter Jones. That’s when my parents called and explained the roster moves. Gil Velazquez had already been sent down, and Bowden was called up just for one day. After the game, he’d be sent back down and Lugo would still be activated the next day. With the lengthy games of the past two days, Manny Delcarmen, Ramon Ramirez, and Jonathan Papelbon were all unavailable for tonight’s game, so Bowden would help out there. In the meantime, it left them short-handed in the infield, so Youkilis really would have been the shortstop if anything happened to Nick Green.

Michael Bowden and Hunter Jones both saved an overworked bullpen with their performances in this game.

Michael Bowden and Hunter Jones both saved an overworked bullpen with their performances in this game.

After the Red Sox finished B.P., we got our half-priced food and free sodas and walked around to the bleachers. We stood for awhile in Section 40, over in the corner by the triangle, and watched as final preparations were made for the game. One very important piece of prep work was when a bullpen staffer came out and carefully set up the stuffed parrot that watches over the relievers during games.

The bullpen parrot.

The bullpen parrot.

When the game started, everyone was hyped up from the excitement of the past two days. Justin Masterson pitched better than either of the other two Red Sox starters in the series, starting the game with two perfect innings. Andy Pettitte also quieted the Boston offense better than his Yankee counterparts – for a couple of innings, anyway.  The Yankees pushed across a run in the third with two singles, a sac bunt, and a sacrifice fly. And what happened next was ground-breaking. In past years, in games between these two teams, it didn’t matter how far ahead we were in the standings, or whether we had our best pitcher on the mound pitching a great game. As soon as he’d give up that one run, my heart would sink. I’d feel sick. I felt like we’d never get a run to tie it, let alone take the lead. Fenway would fall silent and my stomach would churn. But this time, after the comebacks of the previous two days and everything that’s happened between these teams since the ninth inning of Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, it didn’t worry me. At all. (And everything about the Red Sox worries me!) This time I felt confident that they’d be able to come up with something.

And it didn’t take long. In the bottom of the inning, David Ortiz’s sac fly tied the game. It came after two batters had reached on errors by Yankee third baseman Angel Berroa. (The second error was a throw that was a little wild, but it looked like it could have been handled at first base by Mark Teixeira, who instead dropped it. When the scoreboard posted “E5,” to indicate that it was a bad throw by Berroa, a couple of guys in my section started chanting “E3, E3,” hoping it would be charged to Teixeira instead.)

Dustin Pedroia bats as Jacoby Ellsbury takes a lead at first. The Yankees soon found out what happens when you don't pay attention to Ellsbury on the basepaths.

Dustin Pedroia bats as Jacoby Ellsbury takes a lead at first. The Yankees soon found out what happens when you don't pay attention to Ellsbury on the basepaths.

In the fifth, walks put Jason Varitek and Jacoby Ellsbury on base, and Big Papi’s two-out double off the Wall plated the go-ahead run and pushed Ellsbury to third. With first base open, Pettitte issued an intentional walk to the red-hot Youkilis to face lefty J.D. Drew. The bases were loaded and there were two outs, so we were on our feet to cheer for a big hit. Drew looked at the first pitch, and then on the second pitch Ellsbury broke for the plate and slid in head-first. The ump made the safe sign and the crowd roared. Did I really just see that? Did he just steal home? He did! Fenway erupted. There were no other runners in motion; it was a straight steal of home, the first Red Sox to accomplish that since Billy Hatcher fifteen years ago, and certainly something I had never seen in person before. We cheered until he came back out for a curtain call as the scoreboard showed the replay. Drew lined the next pitch into right field for a double and the Red Sox’ fourth run of the game.

The rest of the game was sweet. When Masterson put two runners on with one out in the sixth, Hunter Jones was called in. He got Hideki Matsui to fly out to Drew in right and struck out Melky Cabrera to end the inning. Michael Bowden pitched two perfect innings, punctuating the outing by striking out Derek Jeter to end the seventh and Robinson Cano to end the eighth. Ellsbury got a standing ovation in his next trip to the plate. Takashi Saito came on for the ninth and allowed a two-out single to Cabrera. Down to their last out, the Yankees sent Johnny Damon (although he’s still Juan Damón to me) up to pinch-hit for Berroa. It was time for one last standing boo-vation as we serenaded the treacherous outfielder. Finally, he sent a drive to deep right field, where it settled harmlessly in Jonathan Van Every’s glove for the final out. “Dirty Water” blared, and it was official. The Red Sox had swept the Yankees, finished the homestand a perfect 9-0, and won their tenth straight game. And we all had plenty to talk about all the way home and at work on Monday.

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