Tuesday, May 15, 2012 – Fenway Park, Section 33
Red Sox 5, Mariners 0
The Red Sox picked up wins in the final game against Cleveland and the first game against Seattle. On Tuesday I was back, as the Sox wrapped up their brief series with the Mariners in a “getaway day” game with a strange 4:10 start time. For me, that’s the least convenient time to start a game – it’s too early to be a night game and too late to be a day game. The weekday commuters have already filled the parking lots at the T stations by the time I get there, and they haven’t left yet. I actually had to wait outside the parking lot for someone to leave before I could go in and take their space. Luckily I had allowed plenty of time to get there for just that reason. On weekdays gates open 1½ hours before the game, which isn’t early enough to see the Red Sox take batting practice, but I was there in plenty of time for the day’s opening ceremony, which was set to honor and thank Tim Wakefield for his 17 years with the Red Sox.
My seat was back in the left field corner of Section 33, part of the 4-game package I had that included Opening Day. The roof over the grandstand goes as far as Section 32, but Section 33 is uncovered, so naturally there was rain in the forecast. And even though it was only mid-May, this was the final game of the only trip the Mariners are making to Boston this year, so if it did rain, they’d have to just play through it to get the game in.
The rain held off at the beginning, and the ceremony was very touching. With Don Orsillo as emcee, Wakefield was welcomed onto the field with his family. Some special guests joined them on the field – Wake’s college coach; knuckleballer Charlie Hough, who mentored him throughout his career; his former batterymate Mike Stanley; and his teammate through two World Championships, Mike Timlin. (When Stanley came out, I couldn’t help but wonder where Wake’s longtime personal catcher Doug Mirabelli was for all this. I had had the same thought on Opening Day when Wake threw out the first pitch, but Mirabelli wasn’t there for that, and he hadn’t returned for the 100th Anniversary of Fenway last month, so I assumed he must be doing something that makes him unavailable for events like these.) Big Papi delivered a speech, and then dozens of kids from the Franciscan Hospital, where Wake volunteered so much time for many years, made their way in – some on crutches and some in wheelchairs – from centerfield to greet him on the mound in an emotional moment. Wake took the mic and thanked the Red Sox organization “for giving me the best 17 years of my life;” his former teammates, “you guys always had my back and I’ll always have yours;” and the fans, “every time I took this mound I gave everything I had, and every time I walked off you guys always gave me a standing ovation, and I will cherish the memories that we shared together.”
The last order of business was for Wake to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Orsillo said that they had originally planned to have Doug Mirabelli catch him (A-ha! So they did try to get him!), but that his plane had been delayed and he wasn’t able to make it. (That made sense – the weather was bad and I had no idea where he’d be flying in from – and it at least explained why he wasn’t there. I thought back to the crazy day in 2006 when Mirabelli was playing for the Padres and Wake was struggling throwing to his new catcher, Josh Bard. The Red Sox and Padres made a trade that morning to send Dougie back to Boston, but it took all day to fly across the country and Wake was making an important start against the Yankees that night. The Red Sox sent a police escort to the airport that night to fetch him, and he changed into his uniform in the back of the cruiser and made it to Fenway just in time for the first pitch. As today’s crowd gave an “Awww” to the news that he wasn’t coming, I said, “What, no cop car?”) But then Orsillo continued, “Wait a minute…” The garage door in centerfield opened up, and out drove a police car, blue lights flashing, onto the warning track. Mirabelli stepped out with his daughters and walked across the field to his old at-bat music “Live Like You Were Dying.” I thought it was sheer genius to recreate that silly yet legendary moment, and I couldn’t believe I had completely fallen for the gag.
The rain picked up as the game started, but it was just a drizzle early on. Josh Beckett had skipped a start 10 days ago with a sore lat and then got clobbered in his first start back. So it was a relief to see him come out strong today. He was perfect through the first three innings, striking out six of the first nine batters he faced. (There was a bit of suspense while the umps reviewed a long fly ball by Justin Smoak near Pesky’s Pole, but it proved to be foul, and he wound up whiffing.) The Mariners got their first baserunner on an infield hit in the third, and although they’d go on to pick up 3 other singles against Beckett, he finished the day with 7 dominant innings and 9 K’s.
David Ortiz launched a homer in the bottom of the third to give the Sox the lead, and they added to it with Mike Aviles’s double and Ryan Sweeney’s groundout in the fourth. Papi’s next at-bat led off the fifth, and with an exaggerated shift on, he dropped a perfect bunt down the third base line and reached safely, much to the delight of the crowd. Adrian Gonzalez followed with what looked like a 3-6-3 double play, but the umps ruled that the shortstop came off the bag too soon and Papi was safe at second (much to my delight; I don’t think that play gets correctly called enough). But the speedster didn’t stop there – he moved up to third on a wild pitch and scored on a hit by Will Middlebrooks.
The other inconvenient part of a 4:00 start is when to eat. If it’s a 1:30 or 7:00 start I can just grab a bite before the game, but eating at 3:00 is too early, and I knew I wouldn’t be home until 8:30 or 9. I hate to get up from my seat during the game because I don’t want to miss anything, so I figured I’d grab a hotdog from a vendor when one came by. But sitting in Section 33, I was on the furthest aisle over in left field, and no hotdog vendors ever came our way. I waited until the sixth inning for a vendor to come by with something other than lemonade or chowder, but I also know that they start closing the concession stands in the eighth, and that lines are usually long in the seventh when people make their last-call beer runs. So in the middle of the sixth I decided to make a run for it. I had been thinking about hotdogs all afternoon, but the stand behind the third base grandstand had a long line. I wound up running downstairs to a pizza stand with no line, and making it back to my seat without missing more than a couple of pitches. As soon as I sat back down, the rain – which had been alternating between mist, drizzle, and light rain all afternoon – got steadier, and I moved over to an empty seat under cover in Section 32. (Those seats were getting rain blowing in from the side, but at least it wasn’t precipitating directly onto my pizza slice.) Whoever had those seats never returned, so I stayed there for the next couple of innings.
When the casual fans abandoned ship in the eighth, I moved down to the field box seats along the third base line. By now the rain was the heaviest it had been all afternoon, but I was fine once I put my rain poncho on, and the view there was great. Jarrod Saltalamacchia doubled to lead off the eighth, and two outs later Aviles doubled him home. With the Sox up 5-0, it wasn’t a save situation, but Alfredo Aceves hadn’t pitched in a couple of days, so the closer came on for the ninth. Aceves had no problem retiring the side in order to wrap up the win. It may not have been the most comfortable game, but it ended in a quick 2:53… just the way Wake would have done it.