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The Man’s a Genius

Sunday, August 30, 2009 – Fenway Park, Section 36

Red Sox 7, Blue Jays 0

My next game was on Sunday, and I was looking forward to seeing Jon Lester pitch.  But on Saturday, I found out there was a snag to that plan.  Tim Wakefield was being scratched from his start Tuesday.  And then there was the weather; it poured all day Saturday and that night’s game was in jeopardy of being rained out.  If it did get postponed, then Clay Buchholz, who was scheduled for Saturday, would go Sunday, and with the team off on Monday, Lester would make the start Tuesday.  That was OK so far, but then they decided that they didn’t want Lester to have the uncertainty of not knowing whether he was pitching on Sunday or Tuesday, so they decided to just move him to Tuesday and leave Sunday’s starter up in the air.

As soon as the rain cleared up and Buchholz started Saturday night’s game on time, we knew they’d have to call somebody up for my game on Sunday.  And in the post-game interview with Terry Francona, we found out it would be Paul Byrd.  Yes, the same Paul Byrd who had played for the Red Sox in August, September, and into October last season, who had then retired to spend time with his family.  The very Paul Byrd whose only experience in the past 10 months had been throwing batting practice to his 13-year-old son’s team, when the Red Sox re-signed him earlier this month.  I remembered he had made some solid starts for us last year, but 4 of his 8 starts – including both of his losses – had come against Toronto.  Was he really a smart choice to throw against the Blue Jays now?  And I worried about Lester waiting until Tuesday – that would be a full week since his last start, and a lot of times guys who go a week between starts end up struggling.

Paul Byrd walks out to the bullpen before the game.

Paul Byrd walks out to the bullpen before the game.

I called my parents to gripe about my bad fortune.  My father predicted that Byrd would pitch a great game, using the phrase we always say when Tito makes a move that we question but then it ends up working: “The man’s a genius.”  I said I’d rather see Brad Penny, whom the Sox had just released a couple of days ago, or even Nick Green, the shortstop who had pitched 2 scoreless innings in a blowout earlier in the month.  My mother quipped, “He’s number 36 and he wears his red socks pulled up.  Maybe you can just pretend it’s Brad Penny.”  Needless to say, I still wasn’t thrilled about the prospect.  I told them, “I haven’t been this excited for a game since the John Burkett era,” back when I seemed to see Burkett laboring every time I went to a game, while Pedro Martinez was racking up wins either the day before or after I was there.

Nevertheless, I drove in early Sunday morning, and got a parking spot at a meter on Comm. Ave. again.  I got in the Red Sox Nation line and went in early, but the Red Sox had decided not to take batting practice.  We did get to watch as the pitchers came out to center field to stretch.

Jonathan Papelbon stretches out before the game.

Jonathan Papelbon stretches out before the game.

When I came down from the Green Monster, I went around to right field to watch the pitchers long-tossing.  I made sure to get some pictures of the newest addition to the bullpen, Billy Wagner, who had been traded to the team a couple of days ago but hadn’t appeared in a game yet.

Billy Wagner, the latest addition to the Red Sox bullpen, was acquired in a trade earlier in the week.

Billy Wagner, the latest addition to the Red Sox bullpen, was acquired in a trade earlier in the week.

Our seats were in Section 36 in the center field bleachers.  It had been cool when I left the house in the morning, so I did grab a sweatshirt for the ride in, but I know that the bleachers are always hotter than the rest of the park, so I had shorts on.  Sure enough, we were in the direct sun all afternoon, and it was hot.  I couldn’t believe how many people had shown up with long-sleeved shirts and jeans, but I was comfortable.

The first batter of the game led off with a single off Byrd, and I was afraid I was in for a long day.  But Byrd got a flyout and two groundouts to get out of the inning quickly.  So far, so good!  He actually was pitching just like John Burkett used to on his best days.  His fastballs averaged about 87 (even Nick Green threw harder than that in his pitching debut) but he was able to keep them off-balance with a variety of junk.

Paul Byrd outdueled Roy Halladay.

Paul Byrd outdueled Roy Halladay.

Still, it was a tall task, asking Byrd to pitch against Cy Young contender Roy Halladay when he hadn’t appeared in a major league game since last October.  I was worried about that, too, with hot-hitting Mike Lowell out of the lineup in favor of Jason Varitek and Rocco Baldelli subbing for J.D. Drew in right.  We were going to need all the offense we could get against the Blue Jays’ ace.  It seemed to me like they were focusing on the upcoming series in Tampa Bay instead of trying to win the current game.  But, as it turns out, the man’s a genius.  Victor Martinez and Kevin Youkilis hit back-to-back doubles in the first to score one run.  Baldelli hit a towering home run off the Sports Authority sign over The Wall in the second.  Youk’s sacrifice fly scored another run in the third, and Alex Gonzalez drove home the Sox’ fourth run of the day in the fourth.  All the while, Byrd kept the Blue Jays off the board while scattering just three hits and three walks over six strong innings of work and earning a standing ovation when he left the game.

The Red Sox got Halladay out of the game early and then tacked on three more runs off the Toronto bullpen in the seventh.  After Manny Delcarmen pitched a scoreless seventh, Billy Wagner made his Red Sox debut in the eighth.  He impressed, striking out the side (albeit with a double mixed in) and earning himself a standing ovation.  Takashi Saito put two runners on in the ninth, but he managed to get through the inning unscathed and wrap up the tidy win.  And on my way down from the bleachers, I made sure to call my parents and say simply, “The man’s a genius.”

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