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A Final Tune-Up

Sunday, October 4, 2009 – Fenway Park, Section 43

Red Sox 12, Indians 7

After sitting through three straight losses – in the rain, cold, and wind – earlier in the week, I was coming down with a cold.  As for the Red Sox, they were faring better now that the Blue Jays had left town and the Indians came in, and they won the first three games of the series.  Sunday’s game marked the end of the regular season, but the Red Sox were bound for the postseason, and thanks to my Tenth Man Plan, I knew I’d be back in a week for Game 3 of the Division Series.  The starter for my playoff game was likely going to be Clay Buchholz, and today gave him one last start before then.  Even though I figured they wouldn’t take batting practice, I went in early so I could get a free parking spot on the street.

Justin Masterson returns to his old haunt, and watches batting practice with bullpen coach Gary Tuck.

Justin Masterson returns to his old haunt, and watches batting practice with Gary Tuck.

When I got in, no one was taking B.P.  The pitchers were stretching in the outfield, and there was a girl taking ground balls at second base.  I figured she was the daughter of one of the coaches.  (I joked that maybe she was auditioning for a roster spot.  It looked like Nick Green wasn’t going to be recovered from a disc injury in his back in time to help out in the playoffs.  Jed Lowrie’s wrist injury still nagged, so he was no guarantee, either.  That left Chris Woodward, who was currently away from the team to be with his wife as she delivered their baby, as the only other option.)  When she finished up, Green came out and took grounders at short.  Then I spotted Justin Masterson, who had been traded to Cleveland at the trading deadline for Victor Martinez, wearing his Indians uniform and heading toward the outfield.  All the relievers gathered round to greet their former teammate with hugs, and he chatted with bullpen coach Gary Tuck while they did their throwing.

Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury during batting practice.

Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury during batting practice.

It turned out that the Indians had decided to skip batting practice, so the Red Sox were hitting in the later time slot, which means we got to watch the whole thing.  I went down close to the plate and got some good photos of the guys as they waited between rounds.

Kevin Youkilis chats during B.P.

Kevin Youkilis chats during B.P.

Before the game, several players were honored for their accomplishments during the season.  David Ortiz had set the Major League record for home runs by a DH.  He was presented a plaque by Hall of Famer Jim Rice.  Jonathan Papelbon had overtaken the club lead in career saves, and was given a bullpen phone (!) by Bob Stanley, whose record he had surpassed.  Jacoby Ellsbury had broken the Red Sox’ single-season stolen base record, and Tommy Harper, owner of the old mark, was on hand to present him with the base he stole on the night he broke the record.  Tim Wakefield had passed the franchise record for games started, and he was given a plaque by Luis Tiant.

Jacoby Ellsbury stole his 70th base of the season, making that the new single-season Red Sox record.

Jacoby Ellsbury stole his 70th base of the season, making that the new single-season Red Sox record.

When the game started, Buchholz gave up a home run to the first batter.  (This was my fourth game of the week, and the third that had featured a first-inning homer.)  But this time Buchholz settled down and got through the rest of the inning, then set the Indians down in order in the second.  Meanwhile, the Sox got some early runs of their own.  Jacoby Ellsbury singled and stole second.  After Victor Martinez walked and Kevin Youkilis singled, Big Papi had a big hit to drive in 2 runs.  Jason Bay’s sacrifice fly drove in a third.  In the second inning, Alex Gonzalez homered to give the Sox a 4-1 lead.

When the Red Sox re-acquired Alex Gonzalez in August, they knew they were getting an excellent defensive shortstop. But no one realized he'd bring such an offensive spark to the lineup.

When the Red Sox re-acquired Alex Gonzalez in August, they knew they were getting an excellent defensive shortstop, but no one realized he'd bring such an offensive spark to the lineup.

Unfortunately, Buchholz struggled in the third.  Cleveland batted around, scoring 5 runs in the process, to take a 6-4 lead.  As each run crossed the plate, we became more and more convinced that we’d end up seeing Daisuke Matsuzaka instead of Buchholz in Game 3 of the playoffs next week.  In the fourth, this final game of the season started to resemble a Spring Training contest.  Once the starters each got a couple of at-bats, they were replaced, with Jason Varitek and Jed Lowrie coming in for Martinez and Youkilis.  Ramon Ramirez came in to pitch, and the rest of the afternoon would belong to the bullpen.

J.D. Drew hit two home runs, proving he was heating up just in time for the postseason.

J.D. Drew hit two home runs, proving he was heating up just in time for the postseason.

J.D. Drew drilled a solo homer in the fourth, getting the Red Sox a little closer.  In the fifth, Ellsbury reached on a dropped third strike.  He was done for the day, as Joey Gathright came in to pinch-run.  (Tito likes to do that on the final day of the season – take people out after they reach base or while they’re in the field, so we can cheer them on their way back to the dugout.)  Dustin Pedroia followed with a home run over the Green Monster, giving the Red Sox the lead again.  (The next inning, he was removed.  Lowrie shifted over to second, and George Kottaras came in to play third, the first time he’s ever played any position other than catcher.)

Drew’s second homer of the day, leading off the sixth, gave them some insurance.  Later in the inning, after there were already two outs, Gathright and Kottaras singled.  Varitek walked to load the bases, bringing up Jed Lowrie.  He blasted a grand slam into the bullpen, giving the Red Sox a 12-6 lead and seeming to put to rest any concerns that he might not be healthy enough for the playoffs.

Jason Varitek takes a few swings before what could end up being his final game at Fenway.

Jason Varitek takes a few swings before what could end up being his final game at Fenway.

After the first batter of the eighth walked, Tito sent Dusty Brown in to catch.  It was a strange time to make a substitution, so it took a second to realize what was going on before we gave the Captain a standing ovation as he walked off the field.  It didn’t really hit me until after the game that if his option for next season doesn’t get picked up, this could be his final regular season game at Fenway.  (I hope he does return for one more year, even though it’ll have to be in a backup role, because he’s been here so long I can’t imagine a season – or a pitching staff – without him.)

The ninth brought us one last time to sing “Shippin’ Up to Boston” as Jonathan Papelbon entered.  It wasn’t a save situation, but with the playoffs not scheduled to start until Thursday, he needed some work.  It took him only 12 pitches to retire the side in order and send the Red Sox off into the postseason on a high note.

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