Welcome Back, Big Papi
Wednesday, May 20, 2009 – Fenway Park, Section 34
Red Sox 8, Blue Jays 3
After wrapping up the weekend with a win against the Rays, the Red Sox headed to the West Coast. They dropped two of three to the Angels, including a 12-inning heartbreaker in which David Ortiz went 0-for-7 and left 12 men on base. Big Papi was in the biggest slump of his career; his average hovered near the Mendoza line and he was homerless so far in ‘09. He was given the Seattle series off to clear his head, and the Sox lost two more. That’s when Cyn from Toeing the Rubber called for a “postcard shower” for Papi. She and her readers had done it in the past to send a little cheer to slumping players, and Big Papi needed us now. So I bought a bunch of postcards, wrote notes of encouragement to the man who had brought many a smile to my face over the past six years, and mailed them off. By my estimate, they would have arrived at Fenway on Wednesday, the day of my next game.
Our seats were in the small section in the corner next to the center field cameras. I was in row 7, seat 1, which is the end seat right up against the wall at the top of an aisle. It was cool that there was a little space between my seat and the wall where I could stick my bag and my beverage without having anything get knocked over.
Brad Penny started the game by getting the first batter to fly out to center. The next batter hit another fly to center that sent Jacoby Ellsbury to the wall before he reeled it in. In the second inning, there was a ground ball and a double before Ellsbury ran down two more fly balls. When two more flies found their way into Ellsbury’s glove in the third, everyone started to take note: “Another 8!”
Jason Varitek put the Sox up with a solo homer over The Wall in the third, and another run came in later in the inning on a double play. Then it was back to the field for the Red Sox, although half of the infielders and two-thirds of the outfielders could have stayed in the dugout to catch their breath. Ellsbury again tracked down two more fly balls, for a total of eight 8’s. The family next to me was also keeping score, and every time there was a fly ball, they’d start chanting “8, 8, 8!” One of his catches had him drift so far into left that he was practically standing next to Jason Bay when he caught it. Another was a popup behind second base that Dustin Pedroia probably could have gotten to if necessary, but Ellsbury called him off and made the catch. In the fifth, he made his ninth putout of the night.
Tek was up again in the bottom of the fifth, and this time he drilled a homer into the bleachers, one section over from where I was sitting. After Julio Lugo grounded out, Ellsbury walked. Pedroia doubled, but Jacoby was thrown out at the plate for the second out of the inning. That brought Big Papi to the plate. He had grounded to first and struck out in his first two plate appearances, but the crowd stayed behind him, cheering and chanting “Papi, Papi” just like old times. He lofted one into center field, and I felt like I was watching in slow motion. It was headed straight for my area, but I couldn’t tell if it was high enough to clear the wall. We all jumped up. I kept muttering, “Please keep coming, please keep coming”… and it did! It bounced into a coil of wires in the far corner of the camera area for Big Papi’s first home run of the year, then dropped back onto the field. The guy in the row in front of me had run down into the camera area, and Toronto centerfielder Vernon Wells tossed the ball up to him. Papi circled the bases while fans and teammates alike showed how happy we all were for him. As he crossed the plate, he pointed to the sky, hugged Pedroia (who had scored ahead of him) and Kevin Youkilis (who was on deck), pointed to the sky again, then headed for the dugout where his teammates attempted a very brief “silent treatment” before all jumping on him in congratulations. The crowd kept roaring. Papi went back up to the top step of the dugout for a curtain call, prompting even more cheers.
But the fun didn’t stop there. Youkilis, in his first game back after a stint on the D.L., hit his second single of the night. Bay followed with a monstrous home run that landed in the parking garage across the street. Mike Lowell went back-to-back with a Monster shot of his own. That made it 8-0 Red Sox and drove Blue Jays’ starter Brett Cecil from the game. Reliever Shawn Camp was greeted by Rocco Baldelli’s triple before Tek finally struck out to end the inning.
Between innings, the guy in the row in front of me who had gotten the home run ball became quite popular. Everyone wanted to take a picture of the ball, and he was letting people pose with it. This continued for several more innings, and while it was annoying when they congregated in the aisle and blocked my view, it was just too cool to be annoyed at for long. And lest anybody forget the other theme of the night, Ellsbury caught two more fly balls in the sixth, for putouts number 10 and 11. My parents called between innings to tell me that the 11 putouts by an outfielder had set a new Red Sox record, and that the major league record was 12.
When Penny finally allowed two runs in the seventh, he was done for the day, and so was the barrage of fly balls to center. Manny Delcarmen induced a popup to second to end the inning, and we all yelled, “Jacoby, you were supposed to catch that one!” Daniel Bard, the flamethrowing prospect who had just been called up for the previous road trip, came in to pitch the eighth. We’d all heard how he was clocked at 100 mph in the spring. This was only the third appearance of his career, and his first at Fenway, so he probably had some nerves. His first pitch was 97 mph according to the scoreboard, but Vernon Wells lined it for a hit. His next pitch was 98, but that was also driven for a single. After a lineout to second, a double plated a run, but then a foul popup to Tek (”No, wait, let Jacoby get it!”) and a popup to Lowell at third (”What, Jacoby, you couldn’t catch that?”) got him out of the inning.
Takashi Saito came in for the ninth. The first batter grounded back to the mound, and the second flied out to left. The next two hitters singled, but Adam Lind hit a fly ball into center. Ellsbury camped under it and made the catch for the final out of the game. That was his 12th putout of the game, and it tied the major league record for an outfielder in a 9-inning game.