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It Ain’t Just a River In Egypt

Sunday, October 11, 2009 – Fenway Park, Section 4

A.L. Division Series Game 3 – Angels 7, Red Sox 6

Thanks to my Tenth Man Plan, I had the chance to get a ticket to a Division Series game.  I don’t get to pick which game; it’s randomly assigned each year, and this year I was happy to get Home Game 1, which ended up being Game 3.  That way, even if the series ends in a sweep, I still get to go.  This year, the Wild Card-winning Red Sox opened in Anaheim on Thursday and Friday nights, but they dropped both games.

Because I work in IT, a lot of our projects have to be done overnight when computer usage is lowest.  I had such a project going on the weekend of the Division Series, and I had to be at work from 11 pm Saturday night to 3 am Sunday morning.  It was good that they didn’t play Saturday, so I wouldn’t miss anything then, but I was less than thrilled when I heard that Sunday’s game was scheduled for 12:07.  (I loved Terry Francona’s quote on the early start: “Have 12 slices of bacon, a Red Bull, and go get ’em.”  With my head-cold still in full force, my personal motto for the day was more like, “Have 12 ounces of coffee, some Robitussin, and go get ’em.”)

Fenway Park on the morning of Game 3.

Fenway Park on the morning of Game 3.

I got home from work at 3:30 am, and it was almost 4 by the time I fell asleep.  But I wasn’t going to miss out on anything relating to the playoff experience, so I set my alarm for 6:30. My preference would have been to drive straight in to Fenway and park for free at a meter since it was a Sunday.  But I heard there was going to be a half-marathon a couple of blocks down the street from the park, plus a Columbus Day parade in town, and a movie filming on the Zakim Bridge.  All of this meant a lot of road closures, so I figured it would be easier to just take the T.  I left the house at 7:15 and made it to Kenmore Square at 8:45, where I stopped in the McDonald’s to grab a much-needed coffee.

I headed straight to the players’ parking lot, where there were a few other diehards staking out spots.  I figured most of the players were inside already, but we did see Jerry Remy drive in.  A couple of minutes later, Larry Lucchino arrived.  He came over and signed autographs for those of us who were there.  At 9:30, I walked over to Gate C, but they weren’t letting Red Sox Nation people in early for batting practice during the postseason.  So I went around to Gate A, and was one of the first people in when the gates opened.  Batting practice was finishing up, but I got to watch Kevin Youkilis, Jason  Bay, David Ortiz, and Mike Lowell take their swings.

Big Papi is dressed in his postseason finest and ready to go.

Big Papi is dressed in his postseason finest - no doubt borrowed from Bill Belichick - and ready to go.

Despite the 0-2 series deficit, the mood around the ballpark was light and optimistic.  We knew the Sox had twice come back to win a Division Series after losing the first two games (1999 and 2003), not to mention the 0-3 comeback in the 2004 ALCS.  I had been present for home victories in both those ALDS comebacks, and there was no reason to think they wouldn’t be carried on to victory by the home crowd again this year.  I came in with a lifetime 5-0 record in Division Series games, and told everyone, “They’re not going down on my watch.”

The Angels and Red Sox lineups are introduced before Game 3 of the ALDS.

The Angels and Red Sox lineups are introduced before the game.

After the starting lineups and National Anthem, a special guest was introduced for the ceremonial first pitch – Dave Henderson.  When the Red Sox overcame a  3-games-to-1 deficit against the Angels in the 1986 ALCS, Hendu’s 9th-inning home run gave the Sox the lead and his 11th-inning sac fly proved to be the game-winner in the pivotal Game 5.  After throwing the pitch, he hopped up and spun in a circle like he did as he ran down the baseline after hitting his famous home run.

Dave Henderson returns to Red Sox/Angels playoff action as he throws out the first pitch.

Dave Henderson returns to Red Sox/Angels playoff action as he throws out the first pitch. It turns out Tito should have penciled him into the lineup.

The best thing about the playoffs is the atmosphere.  When Clay Buchholz got two strikes against the first batter of the game, the rhythmic clapping started on each pitch until the batter was retired.  After a single and an error on a bad pickoff throw, the second out of the inning was a routine fly ball to center, and we all jumped up as if it was the most exciting thing we’d ever seen.  And once he had two outs and two strikes, we stood up for the rest of the inning, taking great delight in a groundout to second which ended the top of the first.  Our intensity stayed like that for the whole game, and as the afternoon went on, we found ourselves standing more than sitting.

The Red Sox went quickly in the first, and Kevin Youkilis was called out on strikes to open the second.  I was sitting in the Section 4 grandstand, where there are monitors that show the TV feed of the game, including replays that aren’t shown to the rest of the park, and we saw how high and outside the so-called strike 3 was.  The umpiring had been an issue all series, with first base umpire C.B. Bucknor blowing two obvious calls in Game 1.  It came out after the game that Bucknor had twice been voted the worst umpire in the league by the players, and he had been booed lustily in the introductions today.  So when home plate umpire Eric Cooper called Youk out, I yelled, “Hey Bucknor, you’re no longer the worst ump ever!” which got a laugh from the others in my section.

View from Section 4 as Victor Martinez prepares to drive in a run.

View from Section 4 as Victor Martinez prepares to drive in a run.

Buchholz stranded two more Angels baserunners in the second, and Jacoby Ellsbury made an excellent diving catch, Coco Crisp-style, to rob them of a hit in the third.  In the bottom of the third, Alex Gonzalez walked with one out, bringing up the top of the order.  Ellsbury singled, and Dustin Pedroia came through with the big hit I had been waiting all week for.  His double drove in both runners, and Victor Martinez quickly singled him in with the Sox’ third run.  It was fun to finally see some offense, after they scored only one run in the first two games combined.

Kendry Morales made it 3-1 with a solo homer in the fourth.  It landed in the seats in the Section 43 bleachers, near where my Tenth Man Plan seats are during the regular season.  People in the area started chanting, “Throw it back, throw it back.”  That always bothers me, because if the person does throw it back onto the field they’d get thrown out of the game, and why would someone wish that on a fellow fan?  The guy did throw it back, and from right field, we watched as security located him.  The chant changed to, “Let him stay, let him stay,” and to my surprise, they actually did.

In the bottom of the fourth, J.D. Drew cashed in his annual Big Postseason Hit.  It was a homer off the support structure around the center field cameras, and it gave the Sox a 5-1 lead.  Buchholz continued to put guys on base, but he continued to get out of the threats without any further damage.  In the stands, we kept up our intensity with the cheering, chanting, and rising to our feet every time there were two strikes on a batter.  It took a bunch of cough drops, but my voice held out despite all the cheering (not to mention the singing of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” “Sweet Caroline,” and “Shippin’ Up to Boston”).  I didn’t even feel tired.  I decided that I was definitely going to come back tomorrow night for Game 4.  I didn’t have a ticket, but I planned on getting in the day-of-game ticket line like I had done in 2007.  It was scheduled for an 8:37 start, which would mean another night of only a few hours sleep, but it was all worth it to be a part of the action.

When Buchholz loaded the bases with no outs in the sixth, thanks in part to a controversial balk, Daniel Bard came in.  He quickly got a double play, although a run came in the back door, and then a strikeout to get out of the inning with a 5-2 lead.  Bard struck out 2 more in the seventh, then Billy Wagner came on for the eighth.  He allowed a bloop ground rule double that actually bounced off Youk’s glove and into the stands behind first base.  Two outs and a walk later, Jonathan Papelbon was called in to get out of the inning.  He had pitched 26 postseason innings over 17 games in his career, and he had never allowed a run.  He had saved 38 games during the regular season, and had been his usual lights-out self throughout the second half.  But his first pitch to Juan Rivera was lined for a hit, scoring 2 runs (charged to Wagner) and cutting the lead to 5-4.  Then a well-timed pickoff caught Rivera off first to end the inning and preserve the lead.

Mike Lowell drove in a key insurance run in the eighth.

Mike Lowell drove in a key insurance run in the eighth.

With the score closer than we liked, we needed some insurance.  So we were on our feet with two outs in the eighth, when Big Papi singled.  He was replaced by pinch-runner Joey Gathright, who promptly stole second.  Mike Lowell came up with a huge hit, driving in Gathright and giving the Red Sox a much-needed 6-4 cushion.

As Papelbon came back out for the top of the ninth, our chants turned to “Beat L.A.,” and we stood for the whole inning.  He got Maicer Izturis on a foul popup and pinch-hitter Gary Matthews Jr. on a fly ball for the first two outs.  He threw two strikes to #9 hitter Erick Aybar, as we screamed and cheered.  Aybar singled, but we kept on cheering and clapping.  Paps got two strikes on Chone Figgins, but ended up walking him.  He had two strikes on Abreu, but then gave up a run-scoring double that made it 6-5.  That led to an intentional walk to the dangerous Torii Hunter, whose 3-run homer had done in the Red Sox in Game 1, to load the bases for Vladimir Guerrero, the once-great slugger and notorious free-swinger whose best days seemed to be behind him.  He had appeared overmatched earlier in the series, but this time he delivered a crushing, heart-breaking single into shallow center.  Two Angels crossed the plate, taking the lead – not to mention the hopes and dreams of the 38,704 in attendance – with them.  We were stunned.  I don’t think any of us saw this coming.  On paper, the Red Sox’ bullpen was far stronger than the Angels’, and it was supposed to be one of our strengths in the series.  It was silent as Hideki Okajima trotted in from the bullpen and we tried to process what just happened.  A guy near me started muttering about Calvin Schiraldi, which, unlike seeing Dave Henderson, was a reference to 1986 that I didn’t want to relive.  Okie quickly ended the inning with a fly ball to right, but that left it up to the bottom of the ninth.

With Alex Gonzalez due to lead off the ninth, Tito sent Jed Lowrie up to pinch-hit.  That seemed strange, but Lowrie did have a walk-off hit in Game 4 against the Angels last year which had clinched that whole series for the Sox.  He flied out weakly to center, but that brought the top of the Red Sox order back up.  Ellsbury was supposed to reach base and then steal his way around, but instead he popped up foul for out #2.  That left it up to Pedroia, who had already done his part with a big hit earlier in the game.  He had a 1-2 count, then lofted a lazy fly ball to center, and that was that.  We were done.  I looked away before I could see the Angels celebrating on our field.  It was silent and people were filing out, but I couldn’t really grasp that the season was over.  It was just way too soon for that!  The ultimate insult was when the scoreboard put up the standard message that they display after every Red Sox loss: “We thank you for joining us today and hope you will visit us again soon at Fenway Park.”  Soon?  I wanted to come back for Game 4 tomorrow, but now I couldn’t return till Opening Day on April 5!  Suddenly I felt very tired.

I waited in line for the ladies’ room feeling pretty sorry for myself at having to watch a game like that on only 2½ hours of sleep.  But then I overheard two women talking behind me.  One said she had had a standing room ticket, and she came in when the gates opened at 10 and hadn’t sat down the whole time.  She was jealous of all the “seat people” who were in front of her who kept standing up the whole time to cheer.  The other woman said she had actually run the half-marathon in the morning before coming to the game.  So I guess we were all hurting as we trudged off into the off-season.

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