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Meltdown

Sunday, September 5, 2010 – Fenway Park, Section 36

White Sox 7, Red Sox 5

When the Red Sox left for a 6-game road trip, they still had a legitimate chance to get back in the A.L. East race despite all kinds of season-ending injuries to key players.  It was a testament to the backups and callups that they were still hanging in there, but their ability to gain enough ground to make the playoffs hinged on strong head-to-head performances against both the Rays and Yankees.  So when they dropped two of three in Tampa Bay over the previous weekend, it felt like they were hanging on by just a thread.  Everything could still work out as long as they did well on the homestand, but they opened with a rainout on Friday night and then dropped both games of Saturday’s doubleheader by a 3-1 score.  While I personally never give up until the math tells me to, the practicality of a comeback actually happening pretty much hung in the balance for Sunday’s game.

The weather was absolutely perfect as I found a free parking spot on the street and went in early.  I knew not to expect batting practice, since it was a Sunday and they had played a doubleheader the day before.  But when we went in, Victor Martinez was in centerfield, throwing B.P. to his son and David Ortiz’s son D’Angelo.  Both kids are 6 years old, and they were dressed in full uniform, down to the little batting gloves.  D’Angelo even had a personalized cap that said “Li’l Papi” on one side and “#34″ on the other.  They used a wooden bat, and they both were switch-hitting.  They each even knocked a couple up over the centerfield wall.

[I also took 2 other videos that show the kids up close: see Victor Jr. and Little Papi.]

They wrapped up when the pitchers came out to long-toss in right field.  Victor was joined by his daughter, and he spent a few minutes chasing the kids around and posing for some pictures.  I was down near Canvas Alley to get pictures, and I stayed there as the pitchers finished up and came in.  Clay Buchholz came over and signed a couple of autographs, but not where I was standing.  A couple of minutes later, John Lackey came by, and I got him to sign my scorecard book.  It’s funny how I hadn’t gotten any player autographs inside Fenway Park in years and years, and now this year I had three.  I think that’s because I go on a lot of Sundays now when there’s no batting practice, which makes them more likely to sign.

Victor Martinez with his son and daughter plus Big Papi's son.

Victor Martinez with his son and daughter plus Big Papi's son.

After that, I went out to Yawkey Way to see the lineups for the game.  I noticed the White Sox lineup didn’t include Manny Ramirez, whom they had just acquired in the past week.  I wrote plenty back in June when Manny made his first trip back to Fenway since his departure from the team in 2008 – how I had loved him when he was here, how I was still hurt from the way he turned his back on me and the team, and how I wasn’t ready to cheer him yet even though I knew someday I would.  But two things had happened since then.  First, the Red Sox had claimed another former hero who had rejected us despite all we did for him, Johnny Damon, off waivers at the end of August.  Even though I knew he wasn’t in his prime anymore and I wasn’t sure we needed another oft-injured outfielder, I prepared myself to forgive him and welcome him back, only to have him spurn the Red Sox a second time when he invoked his no-trade clause and opted to stay in Detroit.  Then, Manny spoke about coming back to Fenway, something he hadn’t done in June.  He apologized, saying he regretted the weeks leading up to his departure and that he’d do things differently if he could, even adding that if the Red Sox had claimed him, he would have wanted to come back.  Really that’s all I needed to make my peace with him, and I was ready to cheer when he came to the plate at the start of today’s game, but it looked like I wouldn’t get the chance.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jonathan Papelbon walk out to the bullpen between innings.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jonathan Papelbon walk out to the bullpen between innings.

It was such a beautiful day when I reached my seat in the centerfield bleachers, it seemed like nothing could spoil it.  Except, of course, the game.  I’d rather not even talk about the game other than to say it was the worst I’ve been to this year.  Josh Beckett labored through his whole outing at a pace that rivaled Daisuke Matsuzaka’s.  I wanted to yell, “Hey Josh, Dice-K just called.  He wants you to pick up the pace!”  The Red Sox’ big blows came from Big Papi (2-run double in the third) and V-Mart (2-run homer in the seventh), who picked up where their sons had left off.  Both hits gave the Red Sox a one-run lead at the time, but even when they were ahead, it didn’t feel like they were winning.  The White Sox had plenty of baserunners against Beckett, and it felt like the Red Sox batters weren’t opening up a big enough lead.  All the while, I was checking the out-of-town scoreboard and saw both the Rays and Yankees trailing in their games.  The Red Sox were being handed the perfect chance to gain some ground.  So when they coughed up the lead yet again in particularly painful fashion in the seventh (two walks, two stolen bases, throwing errors by both Beckett and Daniel Bard, and one cheesy little infield hit) it was pretty discouraging.

Hideki Okajima came on for the eighth, needing to protect a one-run lead, and exited shortly thereafter with a runner on second and only one out.  That’s when Ozzie Guillen went for a pinch-hitter – Manny Ramirez, of course.  That wasn’t the situation I wanted to see him in, because forgiven or not, I didn’t want him doing any damage to my current team.  Terry Francona countered by bringing Jonathan Papelbon in early.  As they battled to a 2-2 count, this had the makings of an epic matchup.  But even that ended anticlimactically when Manny was hit-by-pitch when the ball brushed his uniform.

A not-quite-so-epic battle starts with strike one.

Manny fouls one off in a not-quite-so-epic battle.

Paps got out of the inning, but he had already thrown 15 pitches.  The Red Sox tacked on a run in the bottom of the inning, giving them a 5-3 lead.  The ninth was a completely horrific disaster.  Oh, it started off innocently enough – fly out, walk, runner to second on defensive indifference, strikeout.  But then there was a little bloop to center.  Ryan Kalish sprinted in and dove for it, but missed, and the ball bounced past him for an RBI double.  The next batter hit an almost identical bloop.  Again Kalish dove and came up just short.  That brought in the tying run.  Papelbon’s pitch count was escalating, and he topped out at 48 – his most ever in relief – as he walked the next batter.  Lefty Dustin Richardson was summoned from the ‘pen, but he walked the only batter he faced to load the bases.  Then it was Robert Manuel’s turn.  He was even worse, walking in the go-ahead run on a full count, then walking the next batter on four pitches.  By the time a lineout to short ended the inning, this painfully slow game reached the 4-hour mark.  It ended up the worst game I’ve been to this year, in terms of both gameplay and its importance in the standings.

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