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Beating L.A.

Friday, June 18, 2010 – Fenway Park, Section 39

Red Sox 10, Dodgers 6

It’s always fun to go to Fenway two days in a row.  It makes me feel like a season-ticket holder, like no matter what goes on – good or bad – I’m going to be there for it.  So even though a lot of my co-workers were upset about the Celtics losing the championship the night before, I was still riding the high from seeing the Red Sox finish off a sweep of the Diamondbacks on Thursday, and I was excited to be going in again on Friday for the start of a series against the Dodgers.

There was a lot of hype around the series, partly because these two storied teams rarely play each other, but mostly centering around the fact that this would be Manny Ramirez’s first trip back to Fenway since he was traded away at the deadline in 2008.  (A lot of times the less popular games against so-called lesser opponents are more fun, because the focus is on the actual baseball, but the overly-hyped games can be fun too, so I did want to go.)  But because of the anticipated hype, single-game tickets for this series never went onsale individually.  They sold packages I didn’t want to pay extra for and had a raffle I didn’t win, but all that does is put tickets in the hands of scalpers and fans of the other team.  But I do know that they always hold tickets back for day-of-game sales (sometimes as many as a couple hundred) so that just meant I’d pick a day, go in early, and wait in line.  I had Father’s Day plans for Sunday, and I had to work on Friday, so I was planning to go in on Saturday.  As the series approached and the pitching matchups were announced, I heard that Saturday would be Tim Wakefield, whom I’ve seen many times over the years.  Friday, meanwhile, was Daisuke Matsuzaka’s turn in the rotation, but he was on the D.L., so the start was going to 22-year-old lefty Felix Doubront instead.  I had seen Doubront at the PawSox Hot Stove Party in January and gotten his autograph in Spring Training, so I was intrigued by the idea of seeing his major league debut.  So when I got to Fenway Park for Thursday night’s game, I went around to the ticket office and asked if they had anything available for Friday.  They did – there were actually several options for me to choose from – and I got a bleacher seat at face value with no shipping and handling or convenience fees.

Felix Doubront warms up before his major league debut.

Felix Doubront warms up before his major league debut.

With a ticket for Friday’s game already in hand, I went to work during the day and made it to Fenway Park with enough time to get something to eat, and then walked around behind the bullpen as Doubront warmed up.  (In a cool Fenway moment, he got a nice ovation as he entered the ‘pen for the first time.)  A few minutes later, Manny came out for his pre-game sprints, where he was greeted by Big Papi.  The two hugged and chatted for a few minutes before returning to their respective dugouts.

I had mixed feelings seeing Manny again.  Ever since he drilled the first pitch he saw at Fenway as a member of the Red Sox over The Wall for a game-tying 3-run homer on Opening Day of 2001 (my first Fenway opener, too) he was one of my favorite players.  I loved sitting in left field and imitating his patented double-point as he took the field every inning.  I got a kick out of watching him go inside the Green Monster during pitching changes.  I was at Fenway when he ran out to left with the American flag the day after becoming a citizen in 2004.  I was outside the park when he pulled his car over on the side of the road to sign autographs the day after he was named MVP of the 2004 World Series.  I was there when he got the game-winning hit after not being traded on the deadline day in 2005 (”Manny’s back and he’s back big,” declared Don Orsillo).  I was there when he blasted a walk-off homer into the October night to win Game 2 of the 2007 ALDS and declared himself “a bad man.”  I even picked up a high-five from him in Spring Training of 2008.

The dynamic Dominican duo is reunited again.

The dynamic Dominican duo is reunited before the game.

I was also there when he cut off Johnny Damon’s throw from centerfield and the batter wound up with an inside-the-park home run, and when he showed up late to Spring Training, and when – God forbid – he sometimes didn’t run out a ball (seriously, what player always does?).  But all of these just combined with the good things into the whole Manny Being Manny package.  Sure, he wasn’t perfect, but who among us is?  He was fun-loving, had a propensity for big hits, and was entertaining to watch.  I hated that there were people who bashed him because of little things that the media blew out of proportion.  I can’t stand when people boo their own players in their home park.  I defended his defense (remember that year he led the league in outfield assists?) and stuck by him no matter what the cynics and ‘EEI callers said.

And that’s why I found it particularly heartbreaking when he tried to “Jay Payton” his way out of town, thumbing his nose at those of us who had supported him on the way out.  How could he give up on me, after all the times I refused to give up on him?  Here I had been defending his declining production, saying that while he wasn’t in his prime anymore he was still an important part of the offense, and then when he got to L.A. he cranked it up and showed he could still hit like he did when he was in his prime.  Why couldn’t he have done that here?  As the Red Sox made their way deep into the dramatic 2008 postseason, I kept wondering, how could Manny not want to be a part of this?  As much as I appreciate his role on the 2004 and 2007 World Series teams, I can’t help but think that if he had stayed around and helped us in 2008, we could be celebrating a third in my lifetime.

I know someday I will cheer for Manny.  I like to imagine that the Red Sox will have all the players from the ‘04 team back for Opening Day of 2024.  I’ll be there, and I’ll be wiping back tears and cheering for all of my boys.  I think that hypothetical date 14 years from now sounds about right.  But I’m just not ready yet.  Of course, I also thought that most of the people who wanted to boo him this weekend would be the same people who booed him when he was here, which I certainly never agreed with, and that a lot of the people who would be cheering for him would be Dodgers fans rooting against my team, who I also didn’t agree with.  So for this series, I decided to treat him like any other visiting player – silence when he’s announced, and then cheers when he eventually makes an out.  It might not seem believable based on the number of words I’ve just spent on the subject, but I was actually more interested in finding out how Doubront would do than in seeing anyone on the opposing team.

Manny swings at the first pitch off Felix Doubront and flies out to center.

Manny swings at the first pitch off Felix Doubront and flies out to shallow center.

Over the years, I’ve seen the major league debuts of Jonathan Papelbon, Clay Buchholz, and Justin Masterson, and like the others, Doubront did not disappoint.  He struck out Matt Kemp on four pitches and got Russell Martin to ground out to second on the first pitch.  That brought on a loud mixture of boos and cheers, but it wasn’t for Andre Ethier, who was making his way to the plate; it was for Manny, who was coming out on deck.  Ethier ended up grounding out to end the inning, on just the 8th pitch of the night by Doubront, before Ramirez could get to the plate.

With the crowd already fired up, Big Papi hit a two-run blast in the bottom of the first.  Later in the inning, J.D. Drew lofted one to the top of The Wall, and from my angle it was easy to tell that it had hit the top face of the wall, over the red line, and was clearly a home run.  The umps called it a double, and then when Terry Francona came out to argue, they decided to go check the replay.  A couple of minutes later the verdict came back: a home run for J.D. and a 3-0 lead for the Red Sox.

Doubront had a quick 1-2-3 second, including a flyout by Manny on the first pitch of his at-bat.  He gave up 3 runs in the third, but thanks to a couple of errors, only one was an earned run.  The final out of the third was made by Drew, who made a shoestring catch just before the ball hit the ground, after Manny again swung at the first pitch and drove it to shallow right.  But when Drew’s spot came up in the bottom of the inning, he was pinch-hit for, having strained his hamstring on the play.  Doubront had another easy inning in the fourth, and he struck out Ethier to strand two runners at the end the fifth.

In the bottom of the fifth, things got fun for the Red Sox.  Eight straight batters reached base to start the inning (single, walk, double, single, homer, double, single, hit-by-pitch).  The homer was Adrian Beltre’s, a towering shot over the Green Monster and onto the parking garage across the street, and it featured what is becoming his signature play – a powerful swing where the follow-through leaves him down on one knee and the ball still goes out.  After Beltre’s knee-powered homer, a “Beat L.A.” chant started up in the bleachers.  It seemed a little silly to be using a Celtics rally cry when they had just been defeated the night before, but as one guy shouted, “The city of Boston is mad at L.A., and we’re taking it out on you!”  By the time the inning was over, 12 men had come to the plate and 7 had scored, giving the Red Sox a 10-3 lead.

On Thursday night the scoreboard urged Boston to "Beat L.A." but it wasn't until the Dodgers came to town on Friday that we could actually accomplish that.

On Thursday night the scoreboard urged Boston to "Beat L.A." but it wasn't until the Dodgers came to town on Friday that we could actually accomplish that.

After the long wait in the bottom of the fifth, Doubront was shaky in the sixth.  He gave up two more runs and was knocked from the game, but still finished with a decent line (5 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, not to mention the all-important W) and left to an enthusiastic ovation.  Scott Atchison pitched the next three innings without allowing a baserunner and was instrumental in helping the Red Sox hold the lead.  He even struck out 5 batters, including Manny looking to end the seventh.  Dustin Richardson allowed a homer in the ninth, but Daniel Bard came in with two on in the ninth to finish it off.  With two outs, it came down to Manny.  A homer would have pulled the Dodgers within a run, but Bard struck him out looking to end the game.

June 18, 2010 • Posted in: 2010 Games • Share on Facebook

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