Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Rhode Island Convention Center
It’s only three weeks since the final game of the World Series, but the hectic pace of the so-called “off”-season has already begun. My first stop was Providence for the Rhode Island World Series rally. In past championship years, the Red Sox have held rallies in all New England states to celebrate, and this was the current year’s first stop.
The appeal for me was the chance to get a picture with the latest trophy. My tradition after winning the World Series (and it really still amazes me that I can speak about that in the plural) has been to print off a picture of me with the trophy, bring it to Spring Training the next year, and try to get as many players from the Championship year as possible to autograph it. I intend to do the same thing this year, so the sooner I could get a photo op, the better.
The half-hour rally was hosted by NESN’s Jenny Dell, and featured Providence’s mayor and other dignitaries. Dr. Charles Steinberg of the Red Sox gave one of his usual glib speeches. Rico Petrocelli, a hero from the 1967 Impossible Dream team, was on hand to compare that historic season with the current one. And TV personality and Fenway Park P.A. announcer Dick Flavin recited a new poem:
Bring on the magic, trot out the reward,
The prize for all of those runs that we scored.
It’s the Oscar, the Emmy, all rolled into one.
It’s Big Papi’s earrings, the moon, stars, and sun.
It’s the end of the rainbow, our own pot of gold.
It’s three in ten years, but it never gets old.
It’s the highest of honors, above all it towers.
It’s the World Series trophy, and by God, it’s ours!
Then everyone in line was able to get a picture with the World Series trophy. Now that I’ve got mine, I get to embark on my favorite winter/spring mission to get players from the ‘13 team to sign it.
Wednesday, October 2, 2013 – Fenway Park
Red Sox 1, Red Sox 0
With the Red Sox capturing the #1 American League seed for the postseason, they had four days between the end of the regular season and the start of the Division Series. While we watched the wild card playoff games to see who their opponent would be, the team held a series of workouts over the week to keep the players fresh. It was a pleasant surprise when they announced on Tuesday that Wednesday’s workout and intra-squad game would be open to the public. A quick check of my calendar at work found no meetings and no major implementations on the docket, so I put in for a half-day off and planned to go check it out. It was even cooler when I got an email from the season ticket office saying that any Season Ticket Holder, including those with my Tenth Man Plan, could sit in the EMC Club and enjoy complimentary ballpark fare and non-alcoholic beverages.
I arrived just after the gates opened at 2:00 and went straight to the EMC Club. The Sox were taking batting practice on the field. I jumped in the food line first, and enjoyed a footlong hot dog, pretzel, cracker jacks, and bottled water, all free, as I watched B.P. (They also had popcorn, and a cash bar for beer.)
The game itself was scheduled to start at 3:07 pm, to simulate the conditions that are going to be in effect when they play their first game at that time on Friday. The shadows falling between the plate and the mound can make it tricky for hitters to see the ball coming out of the pitchers’ hands, and the glare of the sun sinking toward the horizon over third base can make it hard for the outfielders to pick up fly balls.
For the game, they were split up into two teams, one wearing their red alternate jerseys and the other wearing their blue road alternate jerseys. Since Clay Buchholz and Jake Peavy are scheduled to pitch Games 3 and 4 of the series next Monday and Tuesday, they needed to get some work in now, so they were the scheduled starters. I normally keep score when I go to games, even when they play the college teams or an unofficial “B” game in Spring Training, but even I had my limits. However, I couldn’t help myself from “writing down” some notes on my phone and sending emails to my parents as I watched. I’ll let those emails tell the story.
3:08 - Peavy is warming up in the visitors’ bullpen. They have Dick Flavin announcing (”Welcome to Fenway Park for today’s game between the Boston Red Sox and the Boston Red Sox”) and 2 umpires. For some reason Slugger (mascot of the Double-A affiliate Sea Dogs) is here.
Blue team: Peavy, Ross, McDonald, Britton, Morales, Bradley, Berry, Salty, Carp, Bogaerts, Snyder.
Red team: Buchholz, Napoli, Pedroia, Middlebrooks, Drew, Workman, Breslow, Papi, Lackey, Doubront, Ellsbury, Victorino, Nava, Lavarnway.
Once the game started, the teams all sat in the home dugout together and used just the home bullpen. The unseasonably warm weather (almost 80° in Boston) and loose interpretation of the rules gave it an informal feel of Spring Training.
3:19 – Glad I’m not scoring! Berry is wearing blue but played CF for the red team. Now he’s moving to RF as Bradley plays CF for blue. Also the blue team was announced with 2 DHs – Salty and Ross. Lavarnway caught for the red team. Mani Martinez, the bullpen catcher, is catching for blue. This is even better than the “B” Game!
3:22 – Blue team scored a run in the 1st. Bradley singled, was bunted over by Ells, and scored on a 2B by Salty. A guy was yelling, “Go for 3!” Yeah, right!
Our reaction as fans was pretty much to cheer every play. Batter got a hit? Yay! Pitcher struck a guy out? Yay to that too!
3:25 – Peavy struck out Pedey and Papi.
At the end of the second, I left the EMC Club and went down to the stands. I wanted to get closer so I could take better pictures.
3:42 – And now Berry, who has been playing in the field for both teams, is on deck. Some red guy is in RF.
The red guy was probably Victorino, who had been playing right field during the half-innings when Berry was in center. But after a while, most of the starters came out and it was down to just the same batters (Nava, Lavarnway, and McDonald seemed to always be up) over and over in the final couple of innings.
4:01 – Lackey, wearing red, just pitched for blue. Now Dempster is wearing blue and pitching for red. The fashion police would not be pleased.
Berry, back in RF, made a diving catch to rob Pedey. Careful! Don’t get hurt!
4:19 – 5th inning (Breslow pitching) ended with only 2 outs after a walk because he had thrown enough pitches. The clue was that after a while there was no on-deck batter. I’m in the 2nd row now, 3B side of the plate.
It was also interesting that instead of the pitching coach or manager visiting the mound during the inning, David Ross went out to talk to Breslow.
4:25 – Also Papi gets to wear his earrings. Bradley just got a hit off Koji.
4:47 – Top 7. Salty playing 3B. Ross at 1B.
Well, I hadn’t seen this one coming. Let’s see what our DHing catchers can do at other positions. As they first took the field, when the infielders normally toss the ball around between innings, they were rolling it to those two instead of throwing. (They each missed one of the practice grounders.) During the inning, nothing came out to either one of them, so we didn’t get to see them in action.
4:51 – Game over in mid 7. They’re playing Dirty Water. “Red Sox win” on scoreboard, LOL. Blue team won 1-0.
I knew they weren’t planning on playing a full nine innings, and that the public part ended at 5:00, so I wasn’t surprised when it ended abruptly. The players looked around for a second as if asking, “Are we supposed to high-five each other? (And if so, who?)” and then headed for the dugout as we sent them off with a cheer.
I know I’m a little behind in writing up all the games I’ve been to this year. It certainly doesn’t help that I went to 5 more games in the past 8 days (not to mention the fact that I have a day job that often spills over into night). So while I work on getting caught up on entries from the past month, I want to share some pictures from the night the Red Sox clinched the A.L. East. The game was a 6-3 win over the Blue Jays, the Red Sox’ 94th victory of the year. And what happened after the game? Well, check out my album on flickr.
Saturday, July 27, 2013 – Fenway Park, EMC Club
Sea Dogs 5, Senators 2
I was watching the Red Sox game on Friday night after a busy week which had included three games at Fenway, when I saw a commercial for Futures at Fenway for approximately the thousandth time. Futures at Fenway is the annual chance to see the Red Sox’ minor league teams play at Fenway Park for discounted “family friendly” prices. I had gone the past two years with my friends who have three baseball-fan kids. But instead of being a doubleheader like in past years, this year featured only one game (the Double A Portland Sea Dogs) and then a concert by the Kidz Bop Kids. Like me, my friends’ kids would have preferred a second baseball game to some concert, and with a busy week of Boy Scout camp ahead, they decided to skip this year. I figured I didn’t need to go, since I get to Fenway a lot and I already had a trip to Portland planned for later in the summer to see the Sea Dogs. But on Friday night it occurred to me that their discounted seats included club areas that I’d otherwise never be able to afford to sit in. I had meant to see if they had any this year, but forgot to look until the night before. I logged on and found that they had seats available in the EMC Club (front row!) for only $30, and it was settled; I was going.
The only hard part was getting in to Boston so early on a Saturday. The game started at noon, which may have been considered family friendly but was certainly not my preferred timeframe. And since I had a seat in a cool section where I didn’t normally get to go, I wanted to get there early enough to explore beforehand. Back in 2012 when the Red Sox celebrated the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park, they had a series of 100 plaques, displays, and historical markers throughout the park, and I had spent the season tracking down most of them. But now I was able to find a couple more that I didn’t have pictures of to add to my collection, like the displays of Silver Slugger awards and Red Sox jerseys through the years. (See my album on flickr for the almost complete set.)
It was also Dog Day, and fans were encouraged to bring their canine best friends to the game. There was a pre-game Dog Parade going on when I got outside to my seat. I was in the front row, and the seat itself was padded and had a cup holder. (Everything in the club area was nice. The ladies’ room even had a TV that was showing the MLB Network.) Because I went right upstairs to the Club level and stayed there the whole time, I never walked around and saw where the designated dog area was during the game.
Keith Couch got the start for the Sea Dogs. I remember seeing him a couple of years ago when he was in Single A with the Lowell Spinners. Today he gave up a run in the first (a triple followed by a sac fly) and another in the second (two walks and a single), but after that he settled down and pitched really well. His teammmates got those runs back and more in the bottom of the second. After two hits and a walk loaded the bases with one out, Shannon Wilkerson’s groundout drove in the first run, and then a double by Heiker Meneses plated two more. Wilkerson added to his nice game with a diving catch in center field.
Once the Sea Dogs took the lead, Couch went on cruise control. Other than a two-out double in the fourth, he didn’t allow another baserunner the rest of the time, finishing with a strikeout to end the seventh. The Sea Dogs continued to pad their lead. Travis Shaw homered into the Red Sox bullpen* leading off the fourth. And Garin Cecchini manufactured a run in the seventh. He started with a walk, stole second, advanced to third on a wild pitch, and came home on another wild pitch. Sea Dogs relievers Miguel Celestino and Matt Maloney took it from there, shutting down the Harrisburg Senators in the eighth and ninth.
* During the game I noticed that the Sea Dogs, who were the home team, were using Fenway Park’s visitors’ dugout and bullpen, while the Senators used the home dugout and bullpen. That struck me as strange, and I recalled that at the games in the past two years, the Red Sox affiliates had all used the Red Sox home dugout. I tweeted Sea Dogs radio announcer Mike Antonellis to ask why. He replied that the Red Sox clubhouse was off-limits during the season, and only the visiting team’s clubhouse was available for use during today’s game. So the Sea Dogs took the visitors’ clubhouse (which has a tunnel that leads to the visitors’ dugout, which has phones that connect to the visitors’ bullpen). The Senators were allowed to use the Red Sox dugout, but they had to dress elsewhere.
Wednesday, July 24, 2013 – Fenway Park, Loge Box 161
Rays 5, Red Sox 1
I came into work on Wednesday still riding the high after Tuesday night’s exciting win, and the news got even better when I found out that people in my group were invited to go to that night’s game. I rounded up a co-worker and used my lunch break to go home and get my camera and scorecard. We left work at 5:00, but traffic was so bad that we didn’t get to Fenway until 6:30. Luckily that was plenty of time to meet up with our host and grab something to eat before heading to our seats down the left field line.
Thanks to a win last night, the division lead was back up to a game and a half, but there were still two games to go in this pivotal series. Tonight the Red Sox were going up against David Price, who was notorious for shutting them down in the past. But I like to think I’m not afraid of any team’s pitchers. The Sox had already beaten Price once this year (before he went on the disabled list), and Felix Doubront had pitched a really good game against the Rays in June. The game started with good pitching and defense on both sides. Doubront struck out two in the first (though a walk and a hit caused him to throw 28 pitches). In the second, he needed only five total pitches to get three grounders to second base – one of which became the now nightly Pedroia Play of the Day™ when he made a diving stop. But Price was even better. In the first three innings, David Ortiz’s single was the only ball to leave the infield. During that time, the Rays’ pitcher picked up three K’s and induced three comebackers to the mound.
Doubront was the first to give. With one out in the third, the next two batters reached on singles (one of which was almost caught by Jonny Gomes in right) with an errant pickoff throw in between that left runners at the corners. The next batter bunted and Doubront fielded it and threw home. The runner on third wasn’t going, so the batter was safe at first. (That’s a sacrifice plus a fielder’s choice, for those scoring at home – or, in my case, at the ballpark. Even though he reached safely, it’s not a hit, because he was trying to give up an out. He gets credit for the sacrifice, and the fielder’s choice comes in because they could have gotten an out at first if they wanted to, but chose instead to prevent a run. It makes sense now, but I had to look it up on my phone, because they didn’t put it on the scoreboard at the ballpark and it confused me when they didn’t add any hits or errors either.) Meanwhile, now that the bases were loaded with one out, three runs ended up crossing the plate that inning.
The 3-0 deficit felt like a huge hole to climb out of. The only way to do that, and the Red Sox’ approach at the plate for the past decade, is to get the opposing pitcher’s pitch count up and get him out of the game. But Price wasn’t going anywhere. When Big Papi flied out to right for the final out of the fourth, it was only the second ball of the game hit out of the infield (his single in his first at-bat was the other) and Price had only thrown 35 pitches. That followed a slick double play after Victorino’s infield hit, in which shortstop Yunel Escobar ranged up the middle, gloved it, and flipped from the glove behind his back. Second baseman Ben Zobrist barehanded it and threw on to first in time to get Pedroia.
Mike Napoli hit a ground rule double in the fifth, and Victorino reached on a bunt hit in the sixth, but both were stranded. At the end of the sixth, Price had only thrown 60 pitches. At that rate, he could go 12 innings! They’d never get him out of there!
Napoli finally gave us something to cheer about when he hit a towering home run off the Sports Authority sign over the Green Monster in the seventh. But that was the only blemish to Price’s dominating night. The Red Sox never got another baserunner the rest of the way, and he finished the complete game with only 97 pitches.
T-shirt of the day: A guy in the next section over from us was wearing a t-shirt that said, “Go ahead, chant: 2004.” Very cool!
Tuesday, July 23, 2013 – Fenway Park, Section 32
Red Sox 6, Rays 2
When the Yankees left town, the schedule got tougher for the Red Sox. They had a 1½ game lead in the division as they started a 4-game series against the second place Tampa Bay Rays, who were on a tear that had seen them move up from fourth place in a couple of weeks. Matt Moore shut them out in the first game, making Tuesday’s game crucial, especially with Red Sox killer David Price looming for Wednesday’s game. When I found out that this was another one of the games where we could get a picture taken with a player before the game, I made sure to leave work early. It had rained off and on all day, and it was really pouring as I dashed from the office to my car, soaking my jacket. I draped the jacket over the passenger seat to try to dry it a little, and it was down to just a light rain as I got to the T station. When I got off the train, there was a giant puddle the whole length of the walkway, with no way to go around. I had no choice but to run through it in as few steps as possible, but that was enough to soak through my canvas shoes. Just my luck – even though my seat was in the grandstand under cover and the rain let up in time for the game, I was still wet the whole time.
When the gates opened, I went right in to the souvenir store to see who the player for the photo session was. It was Drake Britton, the young lefty who had made his debut over the weekend, and who had impressed me with two scoreless outings against the Yankees. Unlike when I met Jonny Gomes last month and they printed the photo on the spot, this time they only gave us vouchers to order a “free” print. (The voucher never covers the full amount of the order, so I had to pay $3.71 in tax and shipping, and then wait for it to come in the mail. I did go ask at the photo booth if they could print it like they had done before, but they told me they only did it that way one time because they “ran out of vouchers.”)
There was a noticeable buzz around the ballpark with first place on the line. Jon Lester was facing Roberto Hernandez (who was formerly known as Fausto Carmona when he played for the Indians). The mood got a little more intense in the second inning when Wil Myers drilled a laser into the light tower for a 1-0 Rays lead, but the Red Sox battled right back. Three straight hits in the bottom of the inning brought home the tying run.
In the third, Shane Victorino led off with a double, and after he moved to third on a fly out, Dustin Pedroia was hit by a pitch. With Big Papi at the plate, the Rays went into a shift, leaving third base unmanned. Pedey took off for second, and once the throw went through, Victorino broke for home. The throw looked like it was dropped by the shortstop at second base (actually it hit off Pedroia as he slid) allowing both runners to be safe. A steal of home! Right? Except an error went up on the board, meaning that the delay when the ball got away at sencond is what allowed Victorino to be safe, and therefore he doesn’t get credit for a stolen base. So it’s just a steal of second for Pedroia with the run coming home on an E2*. Not as cool, but it was still the go-ahead run, so even though I wanted Victorino to get credit for it, it was fine with me.
* A couple of innings later, I got an email from my parents telling me that the official scoring had been changed – the error was gone (sure enough it wasn’t on the scoreboard anymore) and Victorino was finally credited with the steal of home. That’s got to be a record for the slowest stolen base!
The Sox extended the lead to 3-1 in the fifth, when Pedroia’s sac fly drove in Daniel Nava after a double and a wild pitch. That was an important run, because Evan Longoria homered into the bullpen in the sixth to make it 3-2. John Farrell was managing the game like the important make-or-break moment that it was. When Lester gave up a double after getting the first out of the seventh, Farrell went to the ‘pen. Matt Thornton was called in to face the lefty-hitting Sean Rodriguez, and did his part by inducing a grounder to third on just his second pitch. Then it was back to the ‘pen to fetch righty Junichi Tazawa, who struck out Desmond Jennings on three pitches to get out of the inning and earn a standing ovation that carried through to the seventh-inning stretch.
Tazawa stayed on for the eighth and picked up two more strikeouts before getting the final out of the inning on a grounder to second. The Red Sox went into the bottom of the eighth clinging to a 3-2 lead. After Papi opened the inning by grounding into the shift, Mike Napoli doubled. Jonny Gomes, pinch-hitting for Mike Carp, singled. After Jarrod Saltalamacchia struck out, Stephen Drew came up with a huge two-out single past the diving first baseman to score Napoli with a crucial insurance run. As Jose Iglesias stepped to the plate, we all clapped along to his walk-up song, “Seven Nation Army” (”I’m going to Wichita…”). His average had dropped a little in the past couple of weeks, but he was still over .350, way above and beyond what we had expected of him going into the year. He chopped an infield hit (his specialty) off the third baseman’s glove. Gomes scored easily from third, and the shortstop fielded it and threw to the plate as Drew raced homeward. The plate was blocked and his original slide missed the mark, but the ball got away from the catcher and he was able to go back and tag, at which point the ump finally signalled: Safe! Our enthusiasm carried over to the next at-bat when we sang along with Shane Victorino’s song, “Three Little Birds” (”Don’t worry about a thing, ’cause every little thing’s gonna be alright”). He grounded out to end the inning, but the damage was already done.
All that was left was for Koji Uehara to close it out, and he did just that in his usual fashion – a 1-2-3 inning with two strikeouts including the final out of the game. With the lead back up to 1½ games, the Sox were guaranteed of at least one more day in first place.
Sunday, July 21, 2013 – Fenway Park, Section 43
Red Sox 8, Yankees 7, 11 innings
While the Red Sox finished up a west coast road trip and took off for the All-Star break, I spent a week on the Cape for my birthday. The weather was beautiful all week, and I got to spend time at the beach every day. I was back home Saturday, and as I drove in to Boston on Sunday afternoon I joked that my vacation was over and now it was “back to the daily grind” of heading in to Fenway for my next game. The beach rental had cable, and I was back home before Saturday’s game, so I had been able to watch as the Red Sox and Yankees split the first two games after the break. The Sox were clinging to a one-game lead over the Rays in the division, and we knew that Tampa had already won their day game.
I found a parking space on a side street off Comm. Ave. (although metered spaces are free on Sundays, watch out for the stretch of Comm. Ave. itself where street cleaning starts at 12:00 am on Mondays, because there’s no guarantee that a Red Sox/Yankees night game will be done by midnight) and went in early with my Red Sox Nation card. The Red Sox were taking batting practice, and I was focusing on the pitchers shagging flies in the outfield, because I wanted to get pictures of a pair of 24-year-olds who were the newest additions to the team – righty Brandon Workman, who made his major league debut and his first start on the road trip, and Drake Britton, the lefty who had just made his debut on Saturday.
I was in my Tenth Man Plan seats in the bleachers, and it was mostly the usual crowd, which was good because that meant I wasn’t adjacent to any Yankees fans. However, there were a bunch two rows behind me, and they were the sort whose voices carried and who wouldn’t shut up the whole time. It didn’t help that the Yankees scored two runs off Ryan Dempster in the first inning on two hits, a walk, and two throwing errors. They tacked on another in the third on a single after a walk and a hit-by-pitch. The Red Sox got a couple of runners on in the bottom of the second but couldn’t score. When the second inning ended, it was 9:04, 59 minutes into the game. Dempster had already thrown 50 pitches, and C.C. Sabathia had thrown 40. This game was turning into slow torture. “I really hate the bleeping Yankees,” I posted on facebook.
It got a little more tolerable when Jacoby Ellsbury doubled to lead off the third. Shane Victorino sacrificed him over, and Dustin Pedroia singled him home. Then after Big Papi singled, Mike Napoli launched a huge 3-run homer, giving the Red Sox a 4-3 lead. I sure felt a lot better, but I couldn’t exactly relax and enjoy myself because, even though we were almost an hour and a half into the game, it was still only the third, and there was a lot of baseball yet to be played. Things got better in the fourth, when the Sox scored two more on Victorino’s bases-loaded single. And then in the fifth they extended the lead to 7-3 when Jonny Gomes blasted a moonshot over The Wall, even higher than Napoli’s had been. (The tradition this year when a Red Sox player hits a home run is for the long batter/pitcher scoreboard in left-center to say “HOME RUN”, then show an extreme close-up of the player’s eyes, and then the player’s nickname. When Napoli homered it said “NAP”. When Gomes hit his it said… “IRONSIDES”? I didn’t know that was his nickname, but it certainly does fit.)
The problem was that it was only the fifth. Dempster gave up a run in the sixth, and was lifted with one out (after 103 pitches) for Craig Breslow, who gave up another, with only a double play getting them out of the inning. Sabathia didn’t even make it that deep. He was done (with 102 pitches) after walking Ellsbury to lead off the sixth. Now it was down to a battle of the bullpens, and this already long night reached the part of the game where the pace typically slows down further.
With two on in the sixth, Junichi Tazawa come on in relief of Breslow, and Jose Iglesias’s wild throw on a bunt (the Sox’ third error of the night) allowed the Yankees to climb within a run. A groundout later in the inning brought home one more, and the game was tied. The Yankees fans behind us, who had quieted during the past two innings, were loud and annoying again. The torture level went right back up.
With the game now tied, the bullpens went to work. Preston Claiborne struck out the side for the Yankees in the seventh. Matt Thornton pitched a 1-2-3 eighth for the Red Sox. The Sox had a chance to score in the bottom of the eighth, with one out and the bases loaded, but Napoli grounded into an inning-ending double play. (That’s when the clock struck midnight, and as the ninth inning started the game passed the four-hour mark.) Koji Uehara worked the ninth, and when the Sox failed to score in the home half, we headed to extras. So much for my relaxing vacation!
At the end of the ninth, enough people started to bail that I figured we could find better seats somewhere else. We walked around the back row of the grandstand until we came to Section 15, where there was a whole row that was empty. We walked well down into the row so that when we sat down there were no poles in our way, plus we wouldn’t be directly blocking anyone right behind us. As soon as we settled down and the inning started (with Drake Britton making just his second career appearance) I realized there was a girl in the row behind us cheering for the Yankees. I instantly started scouting for more pleasant seats in the next section over. Britton pitched a scoreless inning, and Shawn Kelley struck out the side in the bottom of the tenth. That’s when another girl wearing an “NY” shirt came to sit at the end of our row. “Oh, careful,” said the Yankees fan girl behind us, “Someone puked there earlier. I wouldn’t want you to step in it.” We had just walked down that row. “Why, because I’m a Yankee fan too?” asked the new girl. “Of course!” As soon as the inning was over, my friend and I slid out the other end of the row and found a much nicer spot in Section 16. I couldn’t resist turning to the girl behind me and saying, “Stay classy!” as we left.
Pedroia and Ortiz made two quick outs in the eleventh as the game approached the 5-hour mark. That left it up to Mike Napoli, who had hit the big home run earlier which had given the Sox the lead at the time, but who had also struck out three times and grounded into a double play. He worked a full count, and then, finally, launched a long home run to center field, sending his teammates out to greet him at the plate, and sending us in the stands home happy. “I love beating the bleeping Yankees,” I posted on facebook.
The game ended just before 1:00 am, 4 hours and 46 minutes after it started (4 hours and 45 minutes of which were pretty much torture to watch). Because I had parked on the street, it was easy to get home, and I was actually in by 2:00. I didn’t go straight to bed, though, because I wanted to watch the highlights of the homer and look through my pictures to see what I had captured of the moment. But thanks to the happy ending, I wasn’t even tired at work the next day.
Monday, July 15, 2013 – Whitehouse Field, Harwich
Mariners 6, Kettleers 0
As the Red Sox continued a west coast road trip, I spent a week on Cape Cod to celebrate my birthday. The timing was perfect because with the Sox on the road I didn’t have any games at Fenway, and the All-Star break was that week, so that meant four of the days had no games at all. But I wasn’t going to let the whole week pass without baseball (is that even possible?) so I wanted to get to a Cape Cod League game while I was there. We decided to take in a contest between the Harwich Mariners and the Cotuit Kettleers. And who knows, maybe if some of the players we saw get drafted in a couple of years, we can sound like Peter Gammons: “I saw him play on the Cape in ‘13.”
The Cape Cod Baseball League is one of – if not the – top summer collegiate leagues. It attracts the best college players in the country, and for many of them it’s their last stop before the pros. It’s also the first time many of them play with wooden bats, as colleges use aluminum bats, and it’s a great showcase for major league scouts. As many as 15% of major leaguers played on the Cape, including 2013 Red Sox Jacoby Ellsbury, Andrew Miller, David Ross, Alex Wilson, Brandon Workman, Steven Wright, Jackie Bradley Jr., Daniel Bard, and even John Farrell. While playing for one of the ten Cape League teams, players live with host families and work part-time jobs in town.
Games are free for fans, and the atmosphere felt like the perfect blend of small-town charm and big-time production. The Mariners play at Whitehouse Field, behind Harwich High School. There are metal bleacher stands, and the overflow crowd sets up folding chairs or blankets down the first and third base lines. Some people brought their dogs. Kids chased foul balls into the woods. Players who had come out of the game walked through the stands selling raffle tickets and programs. Any kids in attendance who wanted to join the players on the field for the National Anthem were invited to do so. There were concessions, a P.A. system, and stadium lights; there was also a scoreboard, but it had so many missing bulbs that it was hard to tell the count. Two men sat at a folding table with laptops and headsets to do the radio broadcast of the game.
We sat in the stands on the first base side, right next to the visitors’ dugout. From there we could hear the Cotuit manager muttering about some of the umpires’ calls: “That was a strike? How are we supposed to hit that?” (In looking up his name for this post, I discovered that Mike Roberts, who manages the Kettleers, is the father of Brian Roberts of the Baltimore Orioles.) It ended up being a cheering section of sorts for the Cotuit fans, and even though my natural inclination would be to root for the home team, the people sitting next to us were probably the relatives, friends, or host families of the visitors, so I ended up clapping for good plays by both teams.
The home team Mariners* got off to a good start. Aaron Barbosa walked, stole second, stole third, and then scored on a groundout. As each player batted they announced his name and school. I heard that Barbosa was from Northeastern, and I wondered if I had seen him at any of the spring training games where the Red Sox had played NU. Sure enough, when I got home and checked my prior years’ scorecards, I had seen him face the Red Sox in Ft. Myers in both 2011 and ‘12. Harwich added two more runs in the second, on Mitch Morales’s bases-loaded single.
* Interesting note: In researching the game, I was surprised to see that the Chatham A’s were now called the Anglers instead of the Athletics. I found out that five years ago, MLB started to enforce trademarks of its teams’ names. Teams that wanted to keep the names would have to purchase uniforms and merchandise from officially-licensed vendors. The Chatham team changed its name from Athletics to Anglers. The Orleans Cardinals became the Firebirds, and the Hyannis Mets became the Harbor Hawks. The Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox and Bourne Braves chose to use licensed vendors and keep their names. But the Harwich Mariners were exempt from the ruling because they had been in existence prior to the Seattle Mariners’ entrance into MLB in 1977.
In the fourth inning, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I was on the end of the row, and I looked down to see the team’s official photographer, who had been shooting from a stepladder behind the dugout. He said he was taking a break and I could use the ladder if I wanted. Of course I did! It was a great vantage point, and fun to get to take some pictures from such a prime spot. As the sun went down an inning later, I wanted to walk around to the outfield to get some pictures of the sunset over the field, and then returned to my seat in the stands.
Mariners pitcher Dillon Peters pitched a good game. He went seven innings with one walk and two hits. After both hits, the baserunners were immediately erased on double plays. He also had five strikeouts and three ground ball comebackers to the mound. Harwich tacked on another run in the sixth on a sacrifice fly. They plated two more in the seventh on a hit batter, a double, a sac fly, and a wild pitch, and then held on for the 6-0 win.
Thursday, July 4, 2013 – Fenway Park, Section 43
Red Sox 8, Padres 2
After taking three of four from the Blue Jays, the Red Sox’ homestand wrapped up with a series against the Padres. The Sox won the first two, and they went for the sweep in an Independence Day matinee. Even though parking at meters would be free on a holiday, I knew traffic in Boston would be worse than usual with street closures in Back Bay for the fireworks display on the Esplanade, so I took the T into town. Strangely enough for a game that I was going to, there was no rain in the forecast, but the temperature was supposed to be in the mid-90s, and with our seats in the direct sun of the bleachers for the whole game – not to mention that the seats themselves would be baking in the sun beforehand, and that they’re so close together that there’s no room for a breeze – it would feel like well over 100° out there.
I met up with two friends – one who was coming to the game with me and another who was eating lunch with us before heading to work – at The Baseball Tavern across the street from Fenway. Normally I would get to Fenway early, especially with the potential for traffic snarls, but with the heat we decided to eat indoors, stay there as long as possible, and then just walk over to the park right before the game. I drank two glasses of water in the restaurant and then bought a water bottle in the second inning and refilled it at the water fountain in the fifth. Luckily I like the heat – I much prefer today’s sticky, steamy weather to the cold nights of April – but it did make me not want to move around too much or take many pictures.
Allen Webster was making his fifth Major League start. So far he had had two solid quality starts and two disastrous outings that made me think the young righty was not ready yet. But with Clay Buchholz still out and Alfredo Aceves falling out of favor with the organization, he was getting another chance. Today ended up another one of Webster’s good days: a 6-inning, 2-run effort. His problem has been control, and he did walk 5 batters to go along with 5 hits, but he was able to keep the damage to a minimum. The Padres scored a run on a sac fly in the third and another on a couple of hits in the fifth.
For their part, the Red Sox offense got off to a strong start. After the first two batters in the first inning reached on hits, Dustin Pedroia drove both in with a double. In the second, Brandon Snyder, filling in for the injured Stephen Drew, hit a homer into the Red Sox bullpen for a 3-0 lead. They continued to tack on runs. Jose Iglesias had an RBI double in the fourth, and Jonny Gomes drove in Mike Napoli with another run in the fifth. (We thought Iggy’s hit looked like a triple to drive in two when it bounced around the right field corner just barely fair, but since it hit the foul pole after bouncing on the ground it was ruled a ground rule double instead. That was a bummer because the runner who had been on first had already crossed the plate, but he had to return to third and Iglesias had to go back to second.) Big Papi’s bases-loaded, two-out single after a long 9-pitch at-bat produced two more runs for the Sox in the sixth.
I knew I was getting loopy from sitting in the sun all day when I imagined that beleaguered ex-closer Andrew Bailey pitched a 1-2-3 seventh inning. Even stranger was that the box score confirmed it. Seriously, though, it was good to see him getting back on track after a series of home runs and blown saves. Alex Wilson put two runners on in the eighth but got out of it without any damage.
Not a lot of people left early – at least not those sitting in the shade – so we didn’t bother walking around to look for cooler seats, and ended up sticking it out in the bleachers the whole time. Jacoby Ellsbury added to the Red Sox’ display of firepower with a solo shot in the bottom of the eighth, just his second homer of the year. Craig Breslow jogged in from the bullpen before the start of the ninth, but Wilson was already throwing warmup tosses, and Breslow had to go back to the ‘pen. I thought it was funny that they would be playing the percentages with an 8-2 lead and having the righty Wilson face the right-handed-hittting number nine hitter (and old friend) Pedro Ciriaco, although when the lefty Breslow finally came in, two of the three batters he faced were righties too. (Maybe that had been the plan all along and bullpen coach Dana LeVangie was loopy from the sun and sent him in too early.)
The final out of the game was a looping fly to left that Jonny Gomes caught at the warning track before banging into The Wall. He had ended last night’s game with a walk-off homer, and his flair while making the final play of this game led me to remark, “The game’s not over until Jonny Gomes says it’s over.” Once the win was in the books, we could finally head for shade. I think this may be the first time in my life that I’ve ever found it refreshing to stand in the Kenmore T station and wait for a train!
Sunday, June 30, 2013 – Fenway Park, Section 32
Red Sox 5, Blue Jays 4
The Red Sox completed a two-game sweep of the Rockies, then took on the Blue Jays in a four-game set. Coming into the series, Toronto had heated up, winning 11 in a row at one point to get back to .500, while the Sox were building a 2½ game lead over Baltimore in the division. Boston had won the first two games of the series, with the visitors taking the third game on Saturday. On Sunday I drove in and parked at a meter on Comm. Ave., and used my Red Sox Nation card to go in early. There was no batting practice, but Jon Lester and Allen Webster were throwing side sessions in the bullpen which we got to watch. It was cool to be so close to them as they threw that we could hear the woosh of the ball through the air as well as the pop as it hit the bullpen catcher’s mitt.
It was Family Day for the Red Sox, so many of the players had their children with them. For the National Anthems, as the starters took their positions in the field, Shane Victorino, Dustin Pedroia, and Ryan Dempster were joined by their kids, while the other players stood with their families in front of the dugout.
Ryan Dempster threw 1-2-3 innings in the first and second, and didn’t allow a hit until there were two outs in the third. By that time the Red Sox had built a lead thanks to a bloop ground rule double off the bat of Ryan Lavarnway that landed just fair in front of canvas alley before bouncing into the stands, and a big two-run double off the Green Monster for Brandon Snyder. Snyder had been called up from Pawtucket earlier in the week when Will Middlebrooks was optioned down. With Stephen Drew at short and Jose Iglesias hitting and fielding so well at third, Middlebrooks wasn’t getting the playing time he needed to get out of his slump. So he was sent down to play every day, and Snyder was called up to fill a utility role. But a couple of days later, Drew tweaked his hamstring, and Middlebrooks couldn’t be called up yet because it hadn’t been ten days. (They don’t have to wait ten days if someone goes on the disabled list, but Drew was still day-to-day and hoping to avoid a D.L. stint.) So today Iglesias was at short, Snyder started at third, and Jonathan Diaz had been added to the roster as a backup infielder. (Clayton Mortensen was designated for assignment to make room for Diaz without having to put Drew on the D.L.) Snyder was already making the most of his chance, and his hit gave the Sox a 3-0 lead.
The Jays got a couple of runs off Dempster in the fourth, but the Sox grabbed an insurance run on a double by Jonny Gomes in the fifth. A walk and two singles loaded the bases against Dempster with no outs in the sixth, but he induced a popup for the first out. Craig Breslow was summoned in to get out of the mess, and he actually did, with another popup to short and a strikeout of pinch-hitter Emilio Bonifacio to end the inning. Unfortunately his success didn’t carry over to the next inning, and he gave up a leadoff homer to Jose Reyes which pulled the Blue Jays to within a run. Alex Wilson picked up the first out of the inning, and then Andrew Miller came in to strike out the next two batters and get out of the seventh. He stayed for the eighth and benefited from a good play by Snyder at third – a slide on his knees into foul territory to pick a ball that otherwise could have been a double, and a throw in time to the nail the runner at first – and passed the one-run lead to newly-crowned closer Koji Uehara.
Fenway Moment of the Day: As the Red Sox batted in the bottom of the sixth, a sharply-hit foul skipped right between third base coach Brian Butterfield’s legs. A guy behind me, obviously still full of hockey fever despite the Bruins’ loss in the Stanley Cup finals earlier in the week, yelled, “Right through the five-hole! You’re no Tuukka Rask!”
With Joel Hanrahan out for the season and Andrew Bailey struggling, Uehara had been named the new closer earlier in the week. He had picked up saves in three straight games, and was starting to restore my confidence in the bullpen. Fenway Park was pumped up when he came in, clapping along to his walk-in song “Sandstorm” by Darude. He was greeted by the top of Toronto’s order. Reyes hit a 2-2 pitch out to right field, and it hooked toward the stands like it was either going to wrap around the foul pole or bounce along the base of the wall. But Victorino covered a lot of territory and made a sliding, Brunansky-esque catch up against the wall just before it hit the ground. The catch was even more important a moment later when Jose Bautista launched a homer over the Green Monster. The game was tied, and Fenway went silent. Unlike with Bailey’s blown save a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t see this one coming.
With the game now tied and headed into the bottom of the ninth, I walked around to closer seats in Section 24, just like I had done a couple of weeks ago when Bailey had surrendered a game-tying homer. That night resulted in a Jonny Gomes walk-off homer, and I figured I’d find a seat in roughly the same area today and hope for the same result. Jose Iglesias grounded out to start the home half of the ninth, but then Snyder continued his big day by knocking a single to right. After Jacoby Ellsbury walked, Snyder was pinch-run for by Jonathan Diaz, as he now represented the winning run in scoring position. That brought up Victorino, who was the only Red Sox player who hadn’t reached base yet today, although his game-saving catch in the top of the inning was just as important a contribution. He sent a hard-hit grounder to first, which was manned by Josh Thole, a backup catcher who had come in to play first base in the third inning when Adam Lind had left with an injury. Thole got a glove on it, but it bounced through his legs and into right field. Diaz sped around from second to score the winning run, while the rest of the Red Sox ran out to mob Victorino.
It certainly didn’t matter to me that the game-winning play ended up being an error – I’ll take a win however I can get one! This victory was the Sox’ 50th of the year, making them the first team in the majors to reach that milestone.