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Friday, April 13, 2012 – Fenway Park, Section 33

Red Sox 12, Rays 2

Opening Day at Fenway Park is always exciting, no matter how the season may start off on the road.  That’s a good thing, because for the second straight year the team got off to a less-than-stellar start, stumbling through a 1-5 opening road trip that left them looking up in the standings at the rest of the teams in the East.  Because of the inglorious end to last year’s season, the off-season felt longer than usual, but it wasn’t just my imagination.  The final home game last season was September 21, and we had to wait until the 13th of April to start up again – making the wait almost seven months instead of the usual six.  Truck Day and Spring Training are nice milestones to help get through the winter (even watching the first week of regular season games on TV feels distant and unreal to me), but getting to Fenway for the first time makes it all real.

Fenway Park, Opening Day 2012.

Fenway Park, Opening Day 2012.

I left my house early to make sure I was able to get a parking spot at the T station, and arrived at Fenway a couple of hours before the gates would be opening.  Most of the players were already inside, but I waited outside the players’ parking lot and saw John Henry and Luis Tiant come in.  I took a walk to circle around the park and missed seeing Big Papi drive up, but when I got back his Bentley with “ORTIZ 34″ plates was parked on the street.

I went in when the gates opened, got my schedule magnet, and went right out to the stands to see the last few minutes of batting practice.  Then I walked around to see what I could find for changes around the ballpark.  In honor of Fenway’s upcoming 100th anniversary, there are a lot more displays of historical artifacts from various eras.  I found “A Nation’s Home Rebuilt” – a collection of items from the 1930’s – under the stands on the third base side, where the World Series logos were last year.  The World Series logos have been moved onto a wall going up the ramp inside Gate A.  Also on the walls as one heads up the ramp is “Fenway’s 1st Decade… Fenway’s 1st Dynasty,” featuring team photos and newspaper headlines on the Championships of 1912, 1915, 1916, and 1918. At the bottom of the ramp, old ticket windows converted to display cases house artifacts from World Series appearances in 1946, 1967, 1975, 2004, and 2007.  (These have been in place for the past couple of years.)  The bullpen cart that used to drive relievers in from the ‘pen is on display inside Gate A, too, as is a “Filmed at Fenway” display showcasing movies that have filmed here.  Just down the first base line from home plate, near Gate D, is a display with memorabilia from the 1940’s, “Fenway and the Greatest Generation.”  Even the medical room behind the right field grandstand has a “Then and Now” display – complete with an x-ray of Ted Williams’ broken elbow from 1950.  In right field near Gate B is another display that was installed last year, “Fenway in the ’60s: The Dream Takes Hold.”  (Photos of these displays will follow in future posts, and I’m also going to try to track down as many of the 100 bronze plaques and historical displays as I can.)

My seat was in the far left field corner, in Section 33.  It’s not the best place to see the flag draped over the Green Monster, but I had a good view of everything else.  After both teams’ starting lineups were announced, members of the Boston Pops and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus performed the National Anthem.  There was an F-16 flyover, and then it was time for the ceremonial first pitch.  Ever since Tim Wakefield announced his retirement, there was speculation that he’d be a good candidate for first-pitch duty.  And the next logical step – even before Jason Varitek had made his decision to retire – was that Tek should join Wake in the honor.  It made perfect sense – both men are gritty, selfless, team-first players who served the Red Sox through the lowest of lows and the highest of highs over the past 15+ years.  And with last season ending with a  fight-to-the-finish road trip, we never had a chance to give them a proper good-bye.  It made so much sense, and I assumed it for so long, that I almost would have been disappointed if it had been anyone else.

Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek return to Fenway Park to throw out the first pitch(es).

Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek return to Fenway Park to throw out the first pitch(es).

But sure enough, Wakefield and Varitek emerged from under the Green Monster flag, and were heralded by the fans as they walked to the infield.  They each threw a pitch – Wake’s caught by Dwight Evans, and Tek’s caught by Jim Rice.  (It’s funny, because every year when they trot out the old-timers I say that if 20 years from now they bring back players from my generation, I’m going to sob like a baby.  But here were two heroes from my era, and I remained remarkably dry-eyed.  I think it’s because I’m still having trouble thinking of them as former players; it wouldn’t have seemed wrong at all if either of them took his usual position on the field to start the game.)  An announcement was also made that they would each be celebrated with their own night later in the season.

Members of the military carry Fenway's Green Monster flag at the end of the ceremony.

Members of the military carry Fenway's Green Monster flag at the end of the ceremony.

Josh Beckett started the game off on a good note with a scoreless first.  He spotted the Rays a run on two hits in the second, but it wasn’t long before the Red Sox answered.  Kelly Shoppach turned in to a pitch and took one for the team, Jacoby Ellsbury doubled, and Dustin Pedroia walked to load the bases with no outs in the third.  Adrian Gonzalez’s single tied the game, Kevin Youkilis’s sac fly gave the Sox the lead, and David Ortiz’s infield single brought in some insurance.

Big Papi was actually trying to check his swing, but he ended up hitting a dribbler down the left field line.  With the shift on, there was no one to make the play, and he reached safely on an RBI single.

Big Papi was actually trying to check his swing, but he ended up hitting a dribbler down the left field line. With the shift on, there was no one to make the play, and he reached safely on an RBI single.

The fourth inning looked to be more of the same, when Shoppach doubled and Ellsbury singled him home.  I’m in the habit of focusing my camera on second base anytime Jacoby’s on first.  With a full count to Pedroia, Jacoby took off, and I got a great shot of him as he slid into second.  My camera freezes the picture on the viewfinder for a couple of seconds, so I didn’t see what happened next.  The ball was hit directly to shortstop Reid Brignac, who stepped on the bag for one out, and then leaped to get out of the way of Ellsbury’s break-up slide and threw on to first to complete the inning-ending double play.  But when he landed, he came down directly on Ellsbury’s shoulder – all in a matter of seconds – and by the time I looked up from the camera, Jacoby was on the ground clutching his arm.

Ellsbury slides into second, trying to break up the double play.

Ellsbury slides into second, trying to break up the double play.

Ellsbury dislocated his shoulder in a collision at second base.

The coaches and trainer come out to check on Ellsbury after a collision at second base.

I was still thinking it was a leg injury, because I hadn’t seen the way Brignac had landed right on top of him, but he came out of the game, and when I got home I saw that it was a dislocated shoulder that could keep him out for 6 to 8 weeks.  Losing such a dynamic offensive and defensive player for that long is going to be hard to overcome, and it was a depressing thought for Opening Day, which is supposed to be a festive day full of hope.

Cody Ross moved to center and Ryan Sweeney took over in right.  Ross had already made a great diving catch in right field, and once he got to center he continued to impress by tracking down two more flies to the deepest part of the warning track.  Darnell McDonald got in on the fun with a good sliding catch in the eighth, to help Beckett breeze through another quick inning.  Beckett had only needed 94 pitches for the first 8 innings, so even though I stood up to give him an ovation as he walked off the field after the eighth, I figured he’d be back out for the ninth.

The bottom of the eighth started with a double and two walks to load the bases with no outs.  That brought up Kelly Shoppach, who already was having a great day.  He had been hit by a pitch his first time up, then doubled in the following inning.  In the sixth he singled.  Unlike when Jacoby is the baserunner, it didn’t occur to me to keep my camera fixed on second with the backup catcher who’s never stolen a base in the majors standing on first.  But I should have, and maybe I would have captured the strangest play of the game.  It was a delayed steal – or maybe that’s just him trying to get started – and he slid feet-first several feet short of the bag.  He popped up from the slide, stumbled, and lunged headfirst (face-first, actually) onto the base in a move that was later named the “Shopp, drop, and roll”.  The Rays were so stunned they didn’t even try to tag him out, and he was safe with the first stolen base of his career.  Now Shopp was up again, and he ripped a bases-loaded double to drive in two runs.  The Rays went to the ‘pen, and Sweeney greeted the new reliever with a two-run double.  After Pedroia and Gonzalez singled to re-load the bases – still with no outs – Youk’s single plated two more.  The rout was on, and it was now apparent that there’s no way Beckett would be coming back out for the ninth.  Papi’s double and D-Mac’s walk loaded the bases yet again, and Ross’s sac fly drove in the eighth run of the inning and recorded its first out.  That’s when we noticed the emergency lights flashing in the club level.  It was as if the Red Sox’ smoking offense had tripped the fire alarms.  By the time the inning was over, 14 men had come to the plate and 8 had scored.

With an 11-run lead, it was safe to bring in Mark Melancon to pitch the ninth.  He had been struggling to open the season, so even though he gave up a homer, his ERA actually went down a little.  The important thing was that the Sox were back in Boston, eating the proverbial home cooking and playing in front of the home crowd, and all was once again right with the universe.

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