Tuesday, February 26, 2013 – JetBlue Park, Ft. Myers
Cardinals 15, Red Sox 4
On Tuesday the Red Sox finally had a home game, which meant my first game of the year at JetBlue Park. We went in when the gates opened, two hours before game time, and I went down to left field beyond the Red Sox dugout in the hopes that we could get some players to come over and sign. The Cardinals were already taking batting practice, and there were no Red Sox players to be found. I waited there until just before the game started, when the players finally came out to stretch. We were able to call Jonathan Diaz – the non-roster invitee to big league camp who was playing second today – over for autographs, but he’s the only one who obliged.
I know that not many of the veteran players are asked to take long road trips, so I expected that with a home game we’d get a chance to see more of the regulars, but that wasn’t the case. The lineup looked like a page out of the PawSox (or maybe the Greenville Drive) scorecard: Jackie Bradley Jr. in center, Daniel Nava in left, Ryan Lavarnway catching, Mike Carp as DH, Mauro Gomez at first, Ryan Sweeney in right, Drew Sutton at third, Jose Iglesias at short, and my new favorite Jonathan Diaz at second. At least we had Ryan Dempster on the mound, and he did not disappoint.
Dempster pitched the first two innings, and the only baserunner he allowed reached on an error (by Diaz, of all people). In the third, Clayton Mortensen let the Cardinals load the bases and then gave up a three-run double. He settled down in his second inning of work, an 11-pitch inning that included two strikeouts. The only other bright spot on the pitching side was Alex Wilson’s 1-2-3 inning in the fifth. After that, it was all downhill. Jose De La Torre gave up 5 runs in the sixth, on 4 hits, a walk, and another Diaz error. Pedro Beato couldn’t even make it through the seventh – he got the hook after one out and was charged with 4 runs. Anthony Carter gave up 3 more in the eighth (although technically those were unearned thanks to the Sox’ third error of the day). And in the ninth, Oscar Villarreal put two runners in scoring position before getting out of it.
But the worst play took place in the seventh. There were runners at first and second with one out and a run already in, when Ronny Cedeño hit a grounder toward second base. Diaz looked lined up to field it, and I hoped for a double play, but it hit the runner who had been on first and changed direction, rolling instead to the second base bag where Diaz finally chased it down. In the stands we all gasped as the batted ball hit the baserunner, pleasantly surprised at our good fortune: “Wait, it hit him!” “Ha, he’s out!” We all know that obscure rule, though I’m not sure if I’ve ever actually seen it happen before. Except… the umps apparently still haven’t seen it. They didn’t call the baserunner out, and somehow he had made it all the way over to third, while the runner on second had scored. I couldn’t believe it! The ball had quite obviously changed direction and everything. The umps conferred, and somehow, inconceivably, they didn’t change the ruling. John Farrell came out to argue. He must have felt silly, arguing a play in a spring training game, but it was so obvious I just couldn’t understand how all four umps had missed it. (The runner who should have been out ended up scoring later in the inning, so if they had gotten it right… we could have lost 14-4 instead of 15-4. So I guess it’s just the principle of the thing that bugs me.)
The Red Sox did manage to mount a little rally in the bottom of the ninth. With a runner on third after a St. Louis error and a passed ball, Lyle Overbay tripled and Mark Hamilton doubled to score two runs. Earlier in the game, Jose Iglesias and Ryan Lavarnway each had a double, and Drew Sutton reached base all three times he batted, but that was about it for offense. Tomorrow they hit the road for Sarasota to take on the Orioles, hopefully with a few more major leaguers in the lineup and a lot more success on the field.
Monday, February 25, 2013 – Charlotte Sports Park, Port Charlotte
Rays 6, Red Sox 3
Monday found the Red Sox partaking in a pair of split-squad games. Half the team would be traveling up beyond Tampa to Dunedin to take on the Blue Jays, while the other half would be making a shorter trip to Port Charlotte to play the Rays. We opted for the Rays game, since that stadium is much closer to where we stay. Most of the focus from the media was on the Dunedin game, because Red Sox knuckleballer Steven Wright was taking on last year’s Cy Young winner and fellow knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, and because new Sox manager John Farrell was returning to his old stomping grounds where he used to manage with the Blue Jays. Meanwhile, in our game, bench coach Torey Lovullo served as manager for the day.
We started off near the dugout, and wound up getting autographs from Daniel Nava and Mark Hamilton, who’s one of the guys competing for the backup first baseman’s job. We also went down the left field line for a bit while the players were long-tossing and wound up getting a baseball (with a Fenway Park 100th Anniversary logo) from a player who we later found out was catching prospect Christian Vazquez.
We were happy to see that the first five batters in the lineup – Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, and Stephen Drew – were all major league regulars. Pedroia drilled a homer over the left field fence to give the Sox an early lead. Victorino followed with a walk, and he attempted to go to third on Gomes’s hit, but he overslid the bag and was tagged out. In the second inning, Ryan Sweeney singled, and Mike Carp, another player who’s vying for the backup first base/outfield spot, doubled him home.
There was less to cheer about on the pitching side. Alfredo Aceves (who is now a bum in my book because he’s been signing autographs with “Yankees 2009″ all spring – is there seriously a ruder way to treat Red Sox fans?) started, but he wasn’t sharp in his two innings of work. The new “embedded Yankee” gave up two runs on two hits and two walks. He was followed by Chris Hernandez, who pitched very well in Triple A for the PawSox last season, but gave up three runs this afternoon. Daniel Bard was next, and he didn’t seem to have improved over his disastrous season last year. He walked one and hit a batter, and topped out at 94 on the radar, though he did pick up a strikeout on a nice off-speed pitch. Next on the mound was Terry Doyle, the New England native who used to play for Boston College. He gave up one run in two innings of work. The final pitcher was Pete Ruiz, a call-up from minor league camp who was wearing number 98.
Our seats were good, just behind first base, but that put us in the sun for the whole game, and despite my best efforts, I’m now sporting the beginnings of my annual farmer’s tan. (Who knew farmers watched so many baseball games from the bleachers?) Some friends of my parents were in shaded seats behind third base, and we noticed that the seats in the row in front of them had never filled in, so in the middle of the sixth we made our move and went to sit with them. It was much more comfortable in the shade, and from there we got to watch as the younger players subbed in. Catcher Christian Vazquez made two nice plays – a sliding catch of a foul popup and a throw to second to nab a would-be base stealer. And Jose Iglesias drove in a run with an infield single.
Down 6-3 heading into the ninth, the Red Sox had a chance to stage a rally. The first two batters of the ninth reached base, thanks to a walk and a Tampa error, but Vazquez and two minor league call-ups (Peter Hissey and Tony Thomas) all struck out to end the threat. Next up for me is a home game at JetBlue Park tomorrow.
Sunday, February 24, 2013
Spring Training Workouts – JetBlue Park, Ft. Myers
First off, let me start with a disclaimer. In order to make sure I can get a decent flight to Spring Training, I have to book my trip early. It was only October when I made my reservations this year, and the Spring Training schedule hadn’t been released yet. But I’ve been coming down for the past 10 years, and the last week of February is usually my favorite time, because it allows me to catch the end of the workouts and the first couple of games. The earliest date they’ve ever played an exhibition game over the past decade was February 25, 2009, the last year in which the World Baseball Classic was held. So this year I figured it was a safe bet to book a flight that got in the night of the 23rd. I didn’t know at the time that this year things would be kicking off earlier than ever – with workouts starting on the 12th and games as early as the 21st. As excited as I was for my trip, it was with a little jealousy that I watched NESN’s coverage of the workouts, knowing that I was missing out on one of my favorite parts of the year.
But that’s where the new “Fenway South” complex at JetBlue Park saved the day for me. I landed late Saturday night, and on Sunday the schedule called for a game in Jupiter, FL, across Alligator Alley on the other side of the state. It would have been a long drive and was sure to feature a lineup devoid of all but a handful of major leaguers. So we opted not to make that trip, heading instead to JetBlue Park, to see what we could see of the remaining players. This is what we wouldn’t have been able to do before the Sox moved to their new complex last year. In the old days, the minor league complex where the workouts took place was a couple of miles down the street from the stadium. Once the games started, fans could still watch minor league camp, but any big leaguers who didn’t make road trips would practice in the stadium, out of sight and off-limits to fans. Now with the complex all together, we arrived knowing we’d get to see minor league camp – which is fine anyway because I follow the minor league teams and top prospects throughout the year – and hoped to see some of the major league players who weren’t making the road trip too.
It wasn’t long before we were rewarded on that front. All the pitchers from big league camp – except those who were on their way to Jupiter – came out to Field 1 for some PFP. We watched as they went through their drills, and then were able to call several of them over for autographs on their way in. Because there were only a couple dozen fans instead of a huge mob, it made it easier for the players to decide to sign. I got autographs from Ryan Dempster, Franklin Morales, Daniel Bard, Clayton Mortensen, Terry Doyle, and John Lackey, and Dempster was even kind enough to pose for a picture.
After satisfying my desire to see some of the major leaguers, we went back to the other fields, where minor league camp was taking place. They were spread out over four fields, doing a variety of bunting and fielding drills and taking batting practice. I recognized many of the players from seeing the Single A Lowell Spinners and Double A Portland Sea Dogs over the past couple of seasons. I quickly picked out Matt Gedman, son of the Red Sox catcher of the 1980’s, who played third base for the Spinners in 2011. One of the coaches overseeing the drills was George Lombard, who had been with the Red Sox as an outfield prospect in Spring Training of 2005. I’m pretty sure I got his autograph that spring, and I remember seeing him homer in a PawSox game later that year. He’s now a roving outfield and baserunning coordinator for the Red Sox.
The weather was just what this jaded New Englander was hoping to escape to – mid-80’s, sunny, and refreshingly humid. All in all it was a perfect day for watching baseball (not to mention perfect for jumping in the pool when we got back home) and I was happy to be able to see a workout even though the official ones had already ended. Tomorrow I get to see my first game of the year, and now I’m all warmed up and ready for it.
Saturday, January 26, 2013 – McCoy Stadium, Pawtucket
PawSox Hot Stove Party
As far as I’m concerned, a cold Saturday morning after a week in which Boston’s temperature never rose above freezing is a perfect time to talk baseball. And somehow the annual PawSox Hot Stove Party had once again managed to fall on one of the coldest days of the year. The free event features autograph and Q & A sessions with some up-and-coming Red Sox prospects, and this year I arranged to bring my friend’s 10-year-old son, who’s a fellow diehard follower of both the Red Sox and PawSox. The only snag was that it was the same morning as online sales for Red Sox tickets for the coming season. That’s a complicated, often frustrating process that usually ties up whole day for me, and the PawSox event ended at 2:00.
It was after 11:00 when I got my tickets (after all the usual virtual waiting room headaches) and then I had an hour’s drive to Pawtucket. Our first stop upon arriving at McCoy was to grab a free hotdog, and then we headed into the batting tunnel to see the first group of players. They were wrapping up an autograph line from the previous Q & A session, so we took a seat and waited for the next session to start. I recognized Jackie Bradley Jr. at the table, bundled up in a scarf. He’s the centerfielder who’s currently ranked as the #3 prospect in the Red Sox system by soxprospects.com. I saw him play in Portland last year with the Double A Sea Dogs, and he’s projected to move up to Triple A this year. (Keep an eye on him; if Jacoby Ellsbury leaves as a free agent after the season, he could be patrolling the outfield at Fenway in 2014.) But when the autograph line ended and the next session started, Bradley and the player who was with him left the room and two new players – Dan Butler and Justin Henry – came in.
Butler is a catcher who’s been in the Red Sox organization for years. He split his time between Double and Triple A last year, and served as the primary catcher for the PawSox last fall after Ryan Lavarnway had been called up to Boston, while the PawSox made their Governors’ Cup championship run. Henry was drafted by Detroit and worked his way up through the Tigers’ system, reaching Triple A last year. The 27-year-old has played every position except catcher and shortstop. He’ll likely start the year in Pawtucket, but could serve as a utility player off the bench if injuries arise at the major league level. The players were asked the usual questions about the New England weather (Henry, who’s a native of Mississippi, said he had never experienced temperatures in the teens before), what they’re doing to prepare for the coming season, and what made them decide to play baseball (”I got cut from my middle school basketball team,” cracked Butler). My friend’s son got to ask a question, too, wanting to know what baseball teams they rooted for when they were kids. Henry grew up in Houston, Mississippi, so he said he followed the Houston Astros. Butler grew up in Arizona, close to where the Mariners hold spring training, so he liked Seattle.
When the Q & A was done, we expected to get into a line for autographs, but the emcee stepped in and said that since this room was too cold for the players, they’d be moving everything into the home clubhouse and combining with the players who were already there. We grabbed some free chips and soda and moved into a long line to see all four players – Butler and Henry, plus Bradley and PawSox hitting coach Dave Joppie. (Allen Webster, the highly-ranked prospect who came over in last year’s trade with the Dodgers, was also listed as one of the players who would be attending, but we never saw him and figured we must have missed him since we got there on the late side.) I brought a printout of a photo I had taken at McCoy a couple of years ago to get autographs on, and the 10-year-old brought along the scorecard book he uses at all the games he goes to as well as some of the ones he follows on TV or radio at home (a gift from me, of course, when I saw he shared my obsession with keeping score). Joppie was particularly impressed that a kid would keep score. He thumbed through the pages, asking “How many games do you have in here?” (about 10 so far) and then nudged Bradley and said, “Look at this, this is cool.”
We sat back down in a good spot for the next Q & A session, when the 10-year-old realized that in all the excitement over the scorecard book, he hadn’t talked to Dan Butler, who’s one of his favorite players. So once there was a gap in the line where Butler was unoccupied, he ran back up and said, “Mr. Butler, I’m your biggest fan!” Butler smiled and waved, then got up and came over as he pointed out a game in his scorecard book where Butler had homered. That put a big smile on the catcher’s face – I imagine that not too many kids know who he is, let alone remember his specific accomplishments.
When the line wound down, we were ready for the next Q & A session, but then all four players got off and took off their uniform jerseys. I looked at my watch and realized it was already 2:00 and the event was over. It would have been nice if we could have gotten there earlier, but even just catching the end was fun. I like the chance to get to know the Red Sox of the future, my friend’s son was thrilled at being able to interact with the players, and I like to think we helped make Dan Butler’s day too.
Sunday, October 7, 2012 – Fenway Park
Season Ticket Holders’ Batting Practice
To say I’m not the athletic type is a bit of an understatement. I never played sports in school (unless you count the Math Team) and I was terrible at everything they made us try in gym class. My idea of exercise is climbing up to the back row of the upper bleachers to watch a game. I like to joke that I’m a five-tool player modeled after some of the Red Sox greats – except that I run like Adrian Gonzalez, throw like Johnny Damon, field like Wily Mo Peña, hit like Jose Iglesias, and hit for power like Pedro Martinez. So it’s not like I ever envision myself as one of the players on the field and imagine what it would feel like to step to the plate. Until, that is, I got the invitation to do just that.
I had heard the week before that the Red Sox were going to offer season ticket holders the chance to take batting practice from home plate, as a way of making up for the horrific season that was just coming to a close. I do have a 10-game plan that renews every year (though I always add other games and have been to about 25 games a year since 2001), but when I didn’t hear from them I figured that this event was only for full season ticket holders. (I know there are other season ticket holder perks that don’t apply to my plan, like discounted ticket prices, the ability to choose the seats, and an annual Christmas ornament.) But then Monday night I got an email from the ticket office inviting me to the event. One person per account would have the chance to step to home plate and take 5 pitches off a pitching machine. We could bring guests to cheer us on, and we’d get to see the visitors’ clubhouse, the Green Monster, and the World Series trophies.
I was instantly thrilled. I called first thing Tuesday morning to reserve my timeslot, but while the event was taking place over 3 days, the only time remaining was Sunday night at 9 pm. This confirmed for me that they had only invited Tenth Man Plan holders after the other season ticket holders had had their chance, but no matter. I’d be making my Major League debut under the lights, in the Sunday Night Baseball timeslot no less, as I excitedly told all my friends.
There was just one problem. How was I actually going to hit the ball? It wasn’t even 5 swings, where maybe I could let the first couple go by to get a feel for it, but 5 total pitches. I’d hate to get all geared up for my big chance and then whiff on all five. I hadn’t faced live pitching (other than backyard wiffleball with my friends’ 10-year-old) since high school gym class, and even then I never hit anything. My co-workers came to my rescue on that. They were all excited for me, even the ones who aren’t total sports nuts, knowing what a really special opportunity this was. On Wednesday my boss’s boss showed up with a couple of bats and a bucket of softballs, offering to throw “Batting Practice practice” to me in the parking lot at lunch. Alas, it rained all day – as it always seems to do when I have something baseball-related on tap – and the bad weather continued all day Thursday too. I was starting to get worried, but Friday was a warm, sunny day, and after lunch, six of my co-workers headed outside to a grassy area in the back of our building and pitched to me. I hit mostly popups and fouls, but at least I was making contact, which was my goal.
The impromptu softball session at work gave me a little confidence that I’d at least connect, and then Saturday my friends took me to a batting cage so I could practice some more. Sunday was the big day, but by then my concerns were back to the weather again. It was supposed to rain all evening, starting around 7 and getting steadier by 9, when I was scheduled to bat. I had gotten a confirmation email from the Red Sox that said that in case of inclement weather batting practice would take place indoors in the batting cages instead of on the field. That was disappointing – it would still be pretty cool, just not the Coolest Thing Ever, like stepping out onto the field and thinking how I’m in the same batter’s box where Dustin Pedroia stands.
Sunday afternoon was cool and overcast, but the rain held off. My parents drove down from Maine, and we met up with my friend at Fenway. My scheduled time was the last half-hour slot of the night and I wanted to be able to do the other behind-the-scenes things listed on the invitation, so we arrived early, at 8:00. I was happy that they let me take my at-bat early while the weather was still decent.
We started in the visitors’ clubhouse with a couple of pictures, and then walked down the tunnel the players take to get to the dugout. We walked out onto the warning track, and I got in line with the other batters. Behind the batting cage, a guy with a microphone announced each batter’s name, plus the position and uniform number of their choosing. The light towers in the infield were lit up, but the ones on the Green Monster were not, presumably so we wouldn’t be blinded by the glare. The batters in front of me ranged in age and ability. One was a toddler, whose mother placed a ball on a tee before each of his swings while his father filmed. One guy clubbed one down the right field line which hit off the padding just on the foul side of Pesky’s Pole. I hoped to be somewhere in between, just wanting to make contact.
I put on a batting helmet and chose a bat. The announcement came: “Now batting, the designated hitter, number 34, Kristen Cornette.” I walked, trying to look casual, into the cage where I’ve watched the Red Sox take batting practice so many times. I looked out at the field, thinking this is what the players see when they come to the plate. (I had borrowed some batting gloves from one of my co-workers, and I debated doing the glove-tugging, toe-tapping move that Nomar Garciaparra used to do before every at-bat, but thought it might come out looking more like Elaine’s dancing on Seinfeld. And anyway, I needed to concentrate.) I swung and missed at the first pitch. The second one I fouled back, but I grinned with relief at having made contact. The third pitch was another swing-and-miss. On the fourth I connected again, and this time it left the batting cage – a liner down the first base line, airborne for about 80 feet, that landed just barely foul and rolled quickly past the bag. I whiffed again on the fifth pitch, but as I exited the cage I turned and gave a triumphant double-point toward my cheering section in front of the home dugout. (Sure, the at-bat was technically a K, but that one grounder was thisclose to being a 3-unassisted… and hey, if there had been a runner on base he could have moved up to second, which would have made it a heads-up play and a productive at-bat.)
After the at-bat, I joined the rest of my party by the Red Sox dugout. We took a few pictures there, and then realized that we were allowed to go down the tunnel from the dugout up to the home clubhouse, a walk I had never made before. From the dugout, steps led down to a narrow hallway. An alcove at the bottom housed shovels, tarps, and a lot of cables and wires. On the left was a large room with the batting cages that were built a couple of years ago, along with a soda machine, a stationary bike, and a host of other assorted equipment. (I had to chuckle as we walked down the tunnel. If we were going the other direction I’d be thinking about how this is the way the players walk out to the field, but going in reverse the thought that popped into my mind was, “This is the long walk back after being ejected.” My father played along, joking, “Maybe I’ll punch a wall.”) At the end of the hallway we turned left and walked up a flight of stairs. That brought us back to ground level, and into the Red Sox clubhouse.
With the season over, the clubhouse was a bit of a mess. There were a lot of cardboard boxes yet to be packed, and two guys sat in the back watching Sunday night football on the TVs. Some of the lockers were completely emptied, but jerseys still hung in others. Two boxes were stacked in front of Pedroia’s locker – one that said “PADS: -KNEE, -TOE, -ELBOW” and one labeled “PEDIE SNEAKS”. We got to linger in the clubhouse for several minutes and take a bunch of pictures.
From there, we were directed back out to the stands and around to the third base concourse. There we found the 2004 and 2007 World Series trophies, and posed for more pictures. They also had a couple of tables with memorabilia on display. We wrapped up the fun evening and walked back to the car around 9:15, and just as we pulled onto the highway the rain started.
Sunday, June 10, 2012 – Fenway Park, Section 43
Nationals 4, Red Sox 3
After finally getting over .500 at the end of May, the Red Sox had fallen back below the break-even mark again, dropping their first two games against the Washington Nationals. I went in early for Sunday’s game, and found a free parking spot at a meter on Comm. Ave. The Red Sox don’t usually take batting practice on Sundays, but the pitchers came out to right field to long-toss. While they were throwing, Big Papi came out with his son D’Angelo to play catch – or at least to let “D” practice diving for popups.
Jon Lester gave up a quick run in the first when the leadoff batter doubled and then moved up and scored as the next batters made outs. The Sox got the run back in the third, and they grabbed the lead when Big Papi hit a solo homer in the fourth. The way the Red Sox had been playing lately, it didn’t always feel like they were winning just because they had the lead. It was hot and sticky in the bleachers, but a couple of insurance runs certainly would have made me feel more comfortable.
Lester settled down nicely after the first, and the Sox took at 2-1 lead into the seventh. The first Nationals batter of the inning reached on a fan-interference single. It bounced off third baseman Will Middlebrooks’ glove, and rolled toward the stands where a fan reached over and grabbed it. The batter assumed he’d be awarded second, but there’s no way he would have ever made it there if the fan hadn’t interfered. I was pleasantly surprised when the umps conferred and sent him back to first – it is their discretion after all – because that’s a play that I don’t think gets called correctly often enough. But then the next batter singled, and they pulled off a double steal, and before we knew it a two-out double gave Washington a 3-2 lead.
The Red Sox didn’t give up. They tied it back up in the home half of the seventh, and Scott Atchison pitched a 1-2-3 eighth. That’s when I decided it was time to make my move out of the uncomfortably hot bleachers to the shady seats vacated by casual fans, and I wound up in the field box seats between home plate and first base.
Alfredo Aceves came into the tie game for the ninth, and proceeded to give up a walk and a double that handed the lead to the Nationals again. On to the bottom of the ninth, with the Sox once again trailing.
Kevin Youkilis pinch-hit with one out in the ninth. He hadn’t seen a lot of playing time since coming off the disabled list, with Adrian Gonzalez solidly entrenched at first and Middlebrooks emerging as a major-league-ready everyday player at third, but he made the most of the opportunity and worked a walk. Scott Podsednik struck out for the second out, and that left it up to Dustin Pedroia.
The Sox had been unhappy with the home plate ump’s strike zone in the top of the inning, when it looked like Aceves had struck out the batter who eventually delivered the back-breaking double. But when he made another questionable call during Pedroia’s at-bat, Pedey was clearly steamed. Bobby Valentine came out to take the focus off his player and wound up getting tossed, but not before making some dramatic gestures about the size of the strike zone. Pedey paced back and forth off to the side, clearly not happy but careful not to get himself run from the game. As the game resumed, he fouled off a pitch and then struck out, ending the game in frustration.
Thursday, May 31, 2012 – Fenway Park, Section 43
Tigers 7, Red Sox 3
The Red Sox won the first three games against the Tigers, finally getting above the .500 mark. By the time I got to Fenway for my next game, the Red Sox were still in last place, but they were only 2.5 games out of first in a tightly-bunched A.L. East. They were going for a four-game sweep of Detroit and finally seemed to be moving in the right direction. The Sox even took a 2-0 lead in the second, on a homer by Jarrod Saltalamacchia and an RBI double by Scott Podsednik.
Josh Beckett was helped out of trouble in the second, when Ryan Sweeney threw a runner out at the plate for an inning-ending 9-2 double play. But there was no bailing him out in the third, when he gave up 4 hits and a sac fly. Mix in a stolen base along the way, and the Tigers scored 3 runs to take the lead.
The Sox tied it up in the third, when Kevin Youkilis doubled and Saltalamacchia drove him in. But Salty’s errant throw on a stolen base in the fourth set up a run-scoring single that allowed the Tigers to retake the lead. The Red Sox bats went silent after that, with only an infield single and a walk for the whole rest of the game.
Franklin Morales gave up a homer in the eighth, then walked two. Matt Albers got him out of it, but Rich Hill gave up 2 more runs in the ninth, which featured a second throwing error by Salty and a triple. It just wasn’t anyone’s night, and all-in-all it had been a productive series, but it’s hard to focus on the positives when the game I go to is yet another loss.
Sunday, May 27, 2012 – Fenway Park, Section 32
Rays 4, Red Sox 3
In the past few weeks, the Red Sox had begun to climb out of their early season hole. A decent road trip saw them split in Tampa, win two of three in Philadelphia, and take another two of three in Baltimore. After splitting the first two of this series with the Rays, they came into Sunday’s game with a 23-23 record, the fifth time in the season that they had reached the .500 mark, although they had yet to cross above it. As usual, I drove in early, found a spot at a meter a block down the street from Kenmore Square, and went in when the gates opened. Neither team was taking batting practice, but the pitchers were long-tossing in right field. Big Papi was strolling out to the outfield with a bucket of baseballs, followed by Felix Doubront and their sons, 7-year-old D’Angelo Ortiz and 5-year-old Noah Doubront.
As the pitchers wrapped up and went in (Daniel Bard stopped to sign autographs on the way by), Papi and friends set up in centerfield. The kids took turns batting, with switch-hitter D’Angelo swatting a few up over the centerfield wall to the fans in Section 35. Noah’s bat seemed a little too heavy for him, but he hit some line drives and enjoyed running around and chasing down all the balls.
With Cody Ross out after breaking a bone in his foot and Ryan Sweeney on the 7-day concussion D.L., this was my first chance to see the new fielding configuration that allowed the Sox to keep their best hitters in the lineup every night. Will Middlebrooks, the promising young third baseman who debuted when Kevin Youkilis was injured, didn’t have to go back to the minors when Youk returned. Youk slid over to play first base, the position he held from 2006-10, and Adrian Gonzalez, himself a gold glove winner at first, played right field. It was one thing when Gonzo played in right in interleague road games, but Fenway’s spacious, sunny right field is another story, so it was admirable that Adrian was a team player who didn’t mind going out of his comfort zone for as long as was needed. He was tested right away, and made a running catch of a shallow fly to end the first inning.
Adrian got another chance in the fourth, when Matt Joyce hit one down the right field line that hugged the wall and rolled toward the deep part of right. Gonzo got to it quickly and fielded it without letting it get by him. That’s a play that a lot of fielders have trouble with at Fenway, and we were relieved he had fielded it capably… until his throw sailed over the cutoff man and the runner wound up at third. The next batter grounded out, but it drove Joyce home, and the Rays led 1-0.
(Scoring rant: A double plus an error followed by a 3-1 groundout which drives in the runner from third means the run is unearned, right? Not so fast – when the next batter singled, the run which had already scored became earned because he “would have scored” even if the error hadn’t given him an extra base. This rule bothers me. Sure, he probably would have moved to third on the groundout to first and scored on the single, or even if he had held at second for the groundout he could have scored from there on the single – but if everything that could happen in baseball did, we wouldn’t have to play the games! Not to mention that if the runner was still at third after the groundout, they may have pitched differently than they did with the bases empty, and the next batter may not have even gotten a hit. It’s even weirder because the batter who hits the groundout gets credit for the RBI either way, not the one whose single might have knocked in a run.)
Clay Buchholz had really struggled to start the year, coming into the game with an ERA over 7. But today he had a strong outing. The only blip in the first six innings was the cheap run that followed Gonzo’s error, and he allowed a second run on a couple of hits as he started to tire in the seventh. Unfortunately Clay had nothing to show for it. Despite being among the leaders in run support, today Jeremy Hellickson had held the Sox offense to four hits and needed just 68 pitches for the first six innings. But Ortiz walked to open the seventh, and Youkilis followed with a single. That brought up Gonzalez, who still needed to redeem himself after his costly error. He launched a fly into left field, and it settled in the first row of the Monster seats, just inside the fair pole, giving the Sox an instant 3-2 lead. Suddenly it was all good. Clay was turning it around, Adrian was heating up, and the Sox were finally poised to get over the .500 mark.
Lefty Franklin Morales and righty Vicente Padilla combined to throw a 1-2-3 eighth, and Alfredo Aceves came on for the ninth. He walked the leadoff batter, which is never good, but then got a popup for the first out. But then Sean Rodriquez took him deep over The Wall for a deflating 4-3 Rays lead. The Red Sox went down in order in the ninth. It was really disheatening to lose one that way, after being close to getting so many positives out of the game. Now they were back under .500 again, and my personal record dropped to 3-5.
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.
Saturday, May 12, 2012 – Fenway Park, Section 36
Red Sox 4, Indians 1
In the past week, the Red Sox had lost two of three in Kansas City and then returned home to split their first two games against the Indians. Saturday brought my next game, and my first chance to see Felix Doubront pitch this season.
Earlier in the week while the Red Sox were on the road, we heard the sad news that P.A. announcer Carl Beane had died in a car accident after suffering a heart attack. For the first game back at Fenway, they left the mic silent in his honor. Now there was an new interim announcer, Henry Mahegan, but before reading the starting lineups, they still played a recording of “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, welcome to Fenway Park, America’s most-beloved ballpark for tonight’s game between the Cleveland Indians and the Boston Red Sox,” in Beane’s familiar voice.
Doubront started off strong, striking out 2 in the first. In the second he allowed a hit to Travis Hafner, but Cody Ross made a great throw from right field to gun the runner down trying to stretch it to a double. That was the only Cleveland hit through the first five innings, with harmless 2-out walks coming in the third and the fifth.
The Red Sox lineup did their part to back up Doubront’s good start. After Mike Aviles led off the third inning with a single, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz hit back-to-back doubles to drive in 2 runs. Aviles drove in another in the third, on a sac fly that followed hits by Daniel Nava and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
The Indians did finally get on the board in the sixth. After a leadoff double, a groundout and an infield hit got the run in. But the Red Sox got the run right back, when Cody Ross launched a towering home run over the Monster in the home half of the sixth. Doubront was up to 109 pitches at the end of the sixth, and was done for the day after a very nice effort.
Andrew Miller pitched the seventh, Vicente Padilla handled the eighth, and Alfredo Aceves closed it out in the ninth – all three delivering 1-2-3 innings. The game ended at 9:40, an efficient 2 hours and 30 minutes after it started. After having seen a bunch of frustrating losses prior to this game, it was very satisfying to watch a well-pitched, quick-paced game with timely hitting and good defense. What a concept!