Old School Baseball
Sunday, May 22, 2011 – Fenway Park, Pavilion Level Standing Room
Red Sox 5, Cubs 1
The cold, wet, foggy weather continued all week. Friday afternoon finally brought a little sun, and it also brought the Chicago Cubs to Fenway Park for the first time since they lost to the Red Sox in the 1918 World Series. The 93-year absence was much-hyped by the media, and the teams commemorated the matchup with a throwback game on Saturday. They wore uniforms styled similarly to what they wore in 1918 (although it bothered me that they put numbers on the backs even though they didn’t start wearing numbers until 1932, and they also wore completely red socks instead of the authentic white-with-a-red-stripe style). They also had a couple of innings with no music or announcements over the PA system, which actually would have been an interesting contrast to the normal audio assault of noises and advertisements.
When tickets went on sale online this winter, games in the Cubs series weren’t made available with the rest of the games. There was a lottery which I registered for, but when I was finally picked for the “last chance” option, the only seats available were infield grandstand seats which even at face value were more than I wanted to spend. I know that the Red Sox always hold back some tickets until a day or two before the game, so my plan was to wait until the last minute and then get a bleacher seat like I had done for the Dodgers series last year. But a little over a week before the series started, I saw a tip on Jere’s blog that the Sunday night game had just been made available online. Bleacher tickets were among the choices, but I ended up opting for $25 Pavilion level standing room, because it’s a unique view and I hadn’t watched a game from up there in a couple of years. The moral of the story is to check the Red Sox website often, because decent face value tickets are often added in the days leading up to a game.
I wanted to find a parking space at a meter, which is fairly easy for Sunday afternoon games but trickier when the game is at night. When I got to Kenmore Square and saw people in caps and gowns and academic robes, I realized it was graduation day for B.U., so spaces were harder to come by than usual and I was glad I had allowed extra time. I circled around for about 45 minutes before finally finding an open meter on Comm. Ave. near one of the T stops. It wasn’t as close to the park as I usually get, but it was walkable if the game went really late. In the meantime, it was still an hour or two until the gates would be opening, so I took the T in to Boston Common and walked around the Public Garden, taking pictures of the swans, geese, mallards, and ducklings. The day was overcast and the temperature was only in the 50’s, but considering the weather we had over the past week, it was actually not a bad day.
I got back on the T and headed to Fenway (of course, when I got off the subway there were two open parking spots right in Kemore Square that hadn’t been there earlier) in time to be one of the first people through the turnstiles when the gates opened. I don’t like the Red Sox Nation line that goes up on the Green Monster anymore, because even though you can enter 2½ hours before the game and see batting practice, you can’t go anywhere else in the ballpark until Gate C opens 1½ hours before the game, even after B.P. is over. Meanwhile, Gates A and D open 2 hours before the game for everyone, and those people are allowed down close behind the plate. Since my goal is to get up close and take pictures, I opted for Gate A today and was glad that I did. With the game starting at 8:05, we went in at 6:05, and batting practice lasted until 6:25, giving me plenty of time to watch the last two groups of hitters bat and take some nice pictures in the process.
When batting practice ended, there was just enough time to grab a slice of pizza and change into longjohns before heading up to the Pavilion level. The standing room in Fenway’s version of an upper deck is behind the last row of seats, with a counter to lean on, or, in my case, to conveniently hold my scorecard. I was glad I had brought all my warm winter clothes, despite the calendar’s insistence that it was late May, because the temperature was 49° when the game started. It was windy in the back row of the top level, and by the end of the game I had the hood of my heavy sweatshirt pulled up and I even put gloves on, which I normally don’t do because it makes it hard to keep score.
Tim Wakefield took the mound for the Red Sox, filling in for Daisuke Matsuzaka, who had been placed on the D.L. earlier in the week. The 44-year-old veteran had recently become the oldest player ever to appear in a game for the Red Sox, and he was opposed by 25-year-old James Russell. We had lucked out in that respect – Matt Garza, who had been a Red Sox killer in his time with Tampa Bay, was supposed to be starting, but he had been scratched and we got a bullpen game from the Cubs instead. I thought it was cool when I heard that Chicago’s spot starter was the son of Jeff Russell, who had been the Red Sox’ closer in 1993 and ‘94. Wakefield didn’t join the Red Sox until 1995, so they were never teammates, but Wake was pitching in the majors at that time.
While the first two games in this series had been long, slow-paced, high-scoring affairs, this one had a much more old-school feel to it. It certainly wasn’t going to be as quick as any of the games of the 1918 World Series – none of which had gone over the two-hour mark – but it was a better representation of days gone by than we had seen in a while. With the Cubs using the bullpen for the entire game and the Red Sox having blown out their ‘pen in an epic meltdown the night before, both starters stepped up big for their teams. Wake breezed through 1-2-3 innings in the first and second. He gave up a hit in the third, but the runner was quickly erased on a double play, and he set the Cubs down in order again in the fourth. For their part, the Red Sox hitters didn’t do much against Russell, but he started to tire as he headed into his fourth inning of work and they loaded the bases with no outs. Two sacrifice flies finally put runs on the board for the Red Sox, but even that didn’t take very long. The fifth inning started at 9:14 – just over an hour into the game – and Wake had only needed 35 pitches to get through the first four innings. Jarrod Saltalamacchia blasted a long home run in the bottom of the fifth, giving the Red Sox a 3-0 lead and knocking Russell out of the game.
Most of the seats in the Pavilion level are regular stadium seats, but the back row consists of stools at a counter. Four of the stools had been open the whole time, but every time people from standing room tried to sneak in there, the usher would come and kick them out. Finally in the top of the sixth, a couple moved down there, and with the usher nowhere to be found they were able to stay. So in the bottom of the sixth, I made my move and joined them. The stools are downright luxurious. They have backs and they rotate, and they’re far enough apart that people can walk behind the row if they need to get up, rather than having to make everyone else in the row move.
The ironic part is that after standing for the first 5½ innings, as soon as I got to sit down, there were a bunch of reasons to jump up and cheer. First it was Wakefield walking off the mound at the end of the sixth after a key strikeout with a runner on third. Then it was another standing-O for Wake, this time as he came out of the game with two outs in the seventh after finally giving up a run. Next came the seventh inning stretch, followed quickly by Kevin Youkilis’s huge two-run triple into the triangle in center in the bottom of the seventh.
Daniel Bard struck out Alfonso Soriano to end the seventh, then came back for a 1-2-3 eighth. Even though it wasn’t a save situation, Jonathan Papelbon hadn’t pitched in the past couple of days, so he was called in to close it out in the ninth.