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 “We Like to Party,” made famous by the Six Flags commercial with the dancing old guy a couple of years ago. 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.
Tuesday, June 25, 2013 – Fenway Park, Section 34
Red Sox 11, Rockies 4
After taking two of three from the Rays, the Red Sox dropped three of four in a brief road trip to Detroit. As they returned to Fenway, so did I, for the start of a two game series against the Colorado Rockies. It was 90° at game time, but being a night game helped, because even during the daylight I was never in the direct sun. My seat was in the far corner of Section 34, right next to the center field camera well.
Ryan Dempster was helped out of the first inning thanks to a double play, and the Red Sox went right to work against Juan Nicasio. Hits by Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia plated one run, and after two walks loaded the bases, Daniel Nava’s hit drove in another. They sent eight men to the plate, and in the second, eight more batted. This time it was three straight doubles by Shane Victorino, Pedroia, and David Ortiz, and then a single by Napoli, and they piled on three more runs.
The Pedroia Play of the Day (and let’s face it, there’s always one) came in the top of the third, when he leapt impossibly high to snare a line drive. And by the time the bottom of the third was done, two more Red Sox runs had crossed the plate, and Pedey had picked up his third hit of the day.
In the fourth, my seat became one of the best in the house. A light rain was falling (my trip to Fenway wouldn’t be complete without it after all) and there were two outs with the bases empty. Stephen Drew hit a drive to deep left center, where it hit off the wall right in front of one of the camera men. It hit the top face of the wall, not the side, and it bounced straight up and back onto the field. Drew made it as far as third as the ball was thrown back to the infield, but it was obvious to me that he’d soon be awarded the plate. For some reason, the umpires seemed to have missed the whole thing, including the telltale bounce. When John Farrell came out to protest, the umps finally went off to review the play. (I’ve never noticed this before, but three of the umps go off and one stays on the field. Are they afraid the players are going to try to get away with something – like everybody moving up a base, or switching the batting order around – if they’re not there to keep a stern eye on things?) They were gone a long time – we clapped and chanted to pass the time – before coming back out and continuing to get it completely wrong*. They ruled it a triple and we all booed. Bums! At least Jose Iglesias followed with a double that drove in Drew with the Sox’ eighth run of the game, but it was the principle of it all that bugged me.
* This is all under the assumption that anything hitting the top face of the wall, rather than the side, is a home run. That’s how it is over the Green Monster (beyond the red line) and with all the wires and equipment above the wall in center, I believe that’s the ruling there, too. But the walls in front of the bullpens and into right field are thinner, and a ball hitting that wall would be in or out depending on whether it lands on the field or in the stands. Checking the “official” Fenway Park ground rules is no help, because they still refer to the screen over the left field wall, which was removed in 2003. I think we need a new red line in front of the cameras so hits into this area will be more obvious in the future.
At the end of the sixth, I needed to make a restroom run, and when I came out I decided to find a seat in the infield rather than go all the way back out to the center field corner. My strategy when walking around from the bleachers during the game is to come out the first ramp in Section 1, go up behind the back row of seats, and head around that way so I can see the field as I walk. I had missed the first batter of the inning singling, but when I came up the ramp between Sections 1 and 2, the second batter of the inning had hit one out toward the short right field wall in front of me. Victorino raced back, held up his glove, and disappeared from my view. The cheer indicated he had caught it so I turned to start walking up the steps. But as I glanced back over my shoulder, I saw the ball bounce away and the runners circling the bases, and realized that Victorino hadn’t stood back up yet. I slipped into an empty row as the trainers came out to check on him. It turned out he had hit his head on one of the bolts that holds up an ad on the wall, and (to literally add insult to injury) got charged with a three-base error as a run scored. He was apparently OK, because he stayed in the game, and even ended up getting two more at-bats.
I wound up in Section 12, in an area with a lot of empty seats, and stayed there for the rest of the game because I didn’t want to miss anything else by moving again. The Rockies were all done scoring for the day, but the Sox’ bats hadn’t cooled off yet. They scored two more in the seventh, and a final run in the eighth. By the end of the night, they had 11 runs and an impressive total of 20 hits, their high for the season.
Random thought of the day: The Rockies’ second pitcher of the night, Adam Ottovino, wears uniform #0. (The baseball purist in me was appalled because in my opinion that’s “not a baseball number”. Even worse, their bat boy was #00. That’s not any kind of number!) Later Josh Outman, who wears #88, came in. That got the numbers geek in me thinking what a large difference they had between their highest and lowest uniform numbers, but then I realized that we can beat that any time Alfredo Aceves (#91) and Jacoby Ellsbury (#2) play in the same game.
Tuesday, June 18, 2013 – Fenway Park, Field Box 39 and Section 32
Game 1 – Red Sox 5, Rays 1
The Red Sox were back home from a grueling road trip through Tampa Bay and Baltimore, on which they went 3-4 with two of the games going deep into extra innings. After an off-day Monday, they faced a doubleheader on Tuesday. The first game was a makeup of a rainout from the first homestand of the year. I had managed to miss that one, but I had a ticket to the regularly-scheduled nightcap. (And as my co-workers like to remind me, every time I have a game, there’s rain in the forecast.) While I followed along online at work, the Red Sox built a 4-1 lead in the first game. I work west of Boston, so the torrential showers started there first, but when the downpour reached Boston, the Sox had the bases loaded with two outs in the fifth, and the game was halted. Since the home team had the lead, the game was “official” after 4½ innings.
So why not just call it, and then try to get the night game in? Because the rules state that if the weather is good enough to play a second game later in the day, then it’s good enough to resume the first one. If they called Game 1 early, they’d have to postpone my Game 2 till another day. (I remembered this rule from the time they played two full games during Hurricane Irene in 2011 – though there was also a day in 2009 when they had either bent that rule or it wasn’t in place yet.) Instead, they were going to have to wait for the rain to stop, play the final 4 innings of Game 1, and then see if they could get Game 2 in. It looked like a long night ahead for me, with the possibility of not seeing any baseball. I didn’t even have a ticket to the first game and it was messing with my plans! I left work at 5:00, like I normally do for a night game, figuring I had plenty of time. My plan was to go into one of the area bars to grab something to eat and watch the end of the first game, if and when they resumed it.
As I drove in, I had the radio on in the car, and I heard the announcement that the Red Sox were going to let the people with tickets to Game 2 in to see the end of Game 1. And with the rain now letting up, that would be at 5:55, just about 3 hours after the tarp had come out. Suddenly, I couldn’t get there fast enough. There have been plenty of times when I had been to games that weren’t resumed after rain delays, causing them to lose when I was sure they’d be able to come back, and now finally they were making it up to me! They also announced that the people who had stuck it out through the long rain delay could stay for Game 2 if they wanted.
I made it to Fenway by 6:15, which is actually pretty good for a weeknight, and I went right down behind home plate and wiped off an empty box seat. I had missed the final out of the fifth and the top of the sixth, but as soon as I sat down, Jacoby Ellsbury laced a triple into the right field corner. That reminded me that earlier in the game he had hit a single and a double. He’d get at least one more at-bat – maybe he’d hit for the cycle. No Red Sox player has done that since John Valentin in 1996, and I’ve never seen it done. (That led to a moral dilemma – if Ellsbury hit for the cycle today and I was only there to see the final two hits, could I cross that off my proverbial baseball bucket list? Or would it not count as seeing one in person? These are things a diehard fan worries about.)
Shane Victorino followed with his own triple into almost the same spot, scoring Ellsbury. That got me thinking about how I once witnessed 4 straight home runs, and how cool it would be if I could see 3 (or more) straight triples. But Dustin Pedroia struck out to end the inning, and next time up, Jacoby lined out to third, putting the cycle question to rest too. I could tell from the “36″ on the scoreboard that Junichi Tazawa had pitched the sixth before I got there, and I got to see Andrew Miller in the seventh, Koji Uehara in the eighth, and Craig Breslow in the ninth as the Red Sox wrapped up the win. The game finally ended at 7:15, just over six hours after it had started.
The announcement was made that the second game would begin 40 minutes later, and that everyone had to leave and then come back in again. I was a little surprised because in the Hurricane Irene doubleheader, I had been a part of a similar scenario, when I had a ticket for Game 2 and got to go in early to watch the end of Game 1 after it resumed from a rain delay. That day, the Game 1 fans were also allowed to stay for Game 2. But that time no one had to leave in between – of course there were only a few hundred fans who had made it all the way through the first game and/or arrived early for the second. Even though it was technically sold out, I guess they figured not everyone would show up, especially since the game had been moved up a day early with the brunt of the hurricane expected to hit the next day. (You’d have to be crazy to drive into a hurricane and sit through a game. Luckily, I am, and enjoyed watching both games from the second row that day.)
This time, the second game was going to be close to full and was on its regularly scheduled day. So everyone had to exit from the first game and then get in line to come in for the second. Fans from Game 1 who wanted to stay were asked to exchange their tickets at Gate E, so they must have been given real assigned seats rather than having to look for an empty one. I took advantage of the short break to get an Italian sausage from a vendor on Yawkey Way, and then got in and made it to my seat in left field just in time for the National Anthem.
Game 2 – Red Sox 3, Rays 1
The second game started at 8:06, and with the normally slow-working Felix Doubront on the mound and cloudy skies overhead, it still had the potential for a late night. But Doubront was efficient in the first, retiring the side on only 12 pitches, despite allowing a single to the first batter. He continued with another 12-pitch inning in the second, again allowing just a harmless single.
Daniel Nava put the Sox on the board with a solo homer in the bottom of the second. He had had some other key home runs this year, like his 3-run shot on Opening Day that accounted for all of the team’s runs, and his dramtic eighth inning homer in Boston’s first home game after the marathon bombings. If tonight’s 1-0 score stood, that would be another game to add to the list of Nava’s contibutions.
Doubront did his part to make the score hold up. The Rays opened the third with a single, but the runner was erased on a double play. After that, Felix retired the next 15 batters in a row. His most taxing inning of the night was the 13-pitch fifth, and that’s only because it included two of his six strikeouts. By the end of the eighth he had a very impressive line – 8 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 6 K, 93 pitches – and the Red Sox still held a 1-0 lead. I really wanted him to come back for the ninth and try for his first career shutout, but instead Andrew Bailey was summoned in from the ‘pen. He uses “Shippin’ Up To Boston” for his entrance song, and while we all clapped along, it wasn’t with the same enthusiasm that we used to have for it. Between the fact that Bailey had given up homers in two of his last three games on the road trip, and wanting to see Doubront pitch a complete game, it just didn’t feel right. I wish my gut instinct was proven wrong, but he gave up a homer to the first batter he faced, number 9 hitter Kelly Johnson. That tied the game and ruined the chance for Doubront to get the win after pitching probably the best game of his young career.
My seat was a good one in left field, under cover and not near any poles, and with the close game, not many people had bailed early. But once it was tied up, I decided to move around to closer seats to watch the comeback. Because while my instinct had given me pause when Bailey came in, I also felt equally confident that the Sox would find a way to pull this one out. They had already had five walk-off wins, and though I hadn’t seen any of them in person, I had a good feeling about this one. I wound up in the field box seats behind the visitors’ dugout. Daniel Nava was due to lead off the bottom of the ninth, and I expected him to hit a game-winning homer, but instead he walked. That brought up Jonny Gomes, and he didn’t make us wait long. He drilled the first pitch he saw high over the Green Monster, where it bounced off the Sports Authority sign for the win. As his tired but happy teammates rushed out to the plate to meet him, I found that this seat with the great view wasn’t so great when everyone stood up. Most of my pictures of the celebration have random strangers’ arms in the way, but I somehow managed to capture this awesome moment:
It wasn’t till I got home and watched on the DVR that I saw Gomes’ dropkick of his helmet after he rounded third. (I did see the helmet in the air, but figured he had tossed it.) But it made for the perfect ending to a full day of baseball. The game ended at 10:35, no later than a lot of the 7:10 games I’ve gone to. And instead of bad weather cheating me out of innings and wins, it allowed me to see more than I otherwise would have.
Sunday, June 9, 2013 – Fenway Park, Section 10
Red Sox 10, Angels 5
After the series against the Texas Rangers wrapped up, the Los Angeles Angels were next to come into town. The first game of the series was rained out on Friday night, and on Saturday the teams split a doubleheader. My next game was Sunday, and despite some traffic snarls on the way in, we were able to find a parking space on the street and go in when the gates opened. Our seats were in the right field grandstand, so that they would be shaded from the sun and shielded from any potential rain. We lucked out on the weather front with a really nice day, and the seats were close enough to the infield that they were not bad.
Ryan Dempster gave up a solo homer in the first, but he had a better second inning, and escaped further damage by getting out of the third with the bases loaded. In the bottom of the third, Jose Iglesias started things off with his specialty – yet another infield hit. He was erased on Jacoby Ellsbury’s fielder’s choice, but Ells quickly stole second and then scored the tying run on Daniel Nava’s hit. After Dustin Pedroia singled, Big Papi put his definitive stamp on the game.
Papi launched a 3-run homer, giving the Sox the lead. And though the Angels got one run back the next inning, the Red Sox continued to pile on runs. In the fourth, Mike Carp reached on an error, and then was able to go first-to-third on a wild pitch that took a weird high bounce in front of the plate to the backstop. Ellsbury followed with a triple, extending the Sox’ lead.
In the sixth, Jarrod Saltalamacchia led off the inning with a shot into straightaway center field, where it bounced off the tarp that covers the Section 35 seats during day games, and into the hands of a guy who had run over from Section 36. Mike Carp sent the very next pitch to almost the same spot, where it was caught by a guy in a gray shirt in the front row of Section 36. We got a kick out of the long batter/pitcher scoreboard in left-center, as it continued a tradition I had noticed at my previous game earlier on the homestand. When a Red Sox player hits a home run, they show an extreme closeup of his eyes and then his name. At my last game, it was Dustin Pedroia, and the scoreboard had said “PEDEY”. I realized I hadn’t noticed if they did that for Big Papi’s home run earlier in today’s game, because I was focusing my camera on home plate, and we wondered if it had said “PAPI”. What cracked me up was that when Saltalamacchia hit one out, I would have assumed they’d use his nickname “SALTY”, but instead, they spelled out the whole “SALTALAMACCHIA”. (Actually that board is just the right size for his entire name.) So when Carp followed with his, what did it say? “MIKE”, which just looked silly on that giant board.
In the seventh, Salty was up again, this time with two runners aboard. He smacked his second homer of the day, and it also went into Section 36, where it was caught by a guy in a gray shirt. When I got home and watched the game back on tape, I saw that the guy who caught Salty’s second homer was the same guy who had caught Carp’s. Now that’s a lucky seat!
With four homers hit by the Red Sox and 10 runs across the plate, we didn’t have to get too stressed when Koji Uehara struggled a bit in the eighth. He threw 31 pitches and gave up two runs in just 2/3 of an inning. But Andrew Miller was able to bail him out (actually it took a good throw from Nava in right to cut down a baserunner and end the inning). Andrew Bailey, who hadn’t worked in a few days, came in for the ninth despite the lopsided score and finished up a fun game.
Wednesday, June 5, 2013 – Fenway Park, Section 43
Rangers 3, Red Sox 2
The Red Sox were on a roll. in the past week, they had split a home-and-home series with the Phillies and then taken 2 of 3 in New York. They were contending with Texas for the best record in the league, and when they returned home to face the Rangers, who had swept them in Texas in April, they made a statement by winning the first game 17-5. The next night it was my turn again, and I was hopeful that my dismal record (4-4) would get back on the right side of .500.
I had seen online that this was going to be one of the games where fans could get their picture taken with a player before the game (though whoever writes these things up for the website is not paying attention, since it was listed as 5:30 – 6:00, even though the gates don’t open until 5:40 for a 7:10 game). I left work earlier than usual to be sure that I was there in time, and I went right to the back of the souvenir store when the gates opened. I was able to attend a couple of these sessions a few years ago, getting to meet Clay Buchholz, Daniel Nava, and Michael Bowden, and I know it’s usually one of the more obscure players, and certainly not someone who’s starting that night.
I was pleasantly surprised to find out the player was Jonny Gomes, and I got in the line for a picture. In the past, the FanFoto people would hand us a voucher for a “free” printout. We’d have to wait a few days for the photos to be loaded online, then order one (and pay 50¢ because the voucher never covered the right amount) and wait a few more days for it to arrive in the mail. This time they were trying something different – no voucher, just go to the booth behind Section 7 and get a free printout. At first this sounded worse, because I was afraid they would say to come back during the game, and how long was it going to take to get all the way over there and then rummage through everyone’s photo? And without a voucher, I had no proof that I was even there. It ended up being easy – they were ready at about 6:30, and displayed the thumbnails on a monitor, then found and printed mine quickly. (Warning, though, that there’s always a catch. Just before I got there, two women in front of me who were maybe sisters or friends, but clearly not from the same household, had each gotten their pictures taken individually with Jonny, but the girl printing them out was telling them that only one could be free and they’d have to pay for the other. This is ridiculous – I could see it being the other way around, that if they had gotten in the picture together they could only get one free print – but it made no sense, and she wouldn’t budge. I don’t know if they ever got it resolved – they were waiting to talk to her boss when I left – but the moral of the story is to have everyone in the party get in the shot together, or if it’s done individually to go up to the booth separately so they don’t know you’re together.)
John Lackey started the game off on the right foot. He didn’t walk anyone all night, and didn’t allow a hit until the third inning. In the fourth, he gave up a solo homer to old friend Adrian Beltre (quick! everybody rub his head!) putting the Sox in a 1-0 hole. It was frustrating that they couldn’t get anything done offensively with Lackey pitching so well. Stephen Drew was thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double in the third (John Farrell came out to argue to no avail) and then in the fourth Mike Carp hit a ball high off the center field wall that was inches from being a game-tying homer. Instead, it was a double, and although he was able to go to third on a wild pitch, he ended up stranded. My worst fear a day after they put up 17 runs is that they’ll lose 1-0, and that was right where they were headed.
It wasn’t until the sixth that things finally started looking up. Dustin Pedroia smashed a home run off the light tower in left to tie the game. It cracked me up that as he ran the bases, the long, narrow scoreboard in left center that normally shows batter/pitcher info switched to an extreme close-up of Pedroia’s eyes followed by a simple declaration: “PEDEY”.
One of my baseball pet peeves is when the team rallies to score runs and then the pitcher gives it right back in the next inning. Lackey had thrown 108 pitches, so Craig Breslow came in to start the seventh. He promptly allowed a double and a walk, and then Koji Uehara gave up a double that drove in both inherited runners. Just like that, they were down 3-1.
I took advantage of the seventh inning stretch to move around from the bleachers to some newly-vacated seats in Section 15 for the rest of the game. The first two batters reached base in the bottom of the seventh for the Sox, but they were stranded. (Jonny Gomes came in as a pinch-hitter with two on and two out, and I thought for sure he was going to have a huge hit, but he ended up flying out to center.) They did manage to rally in the eighth when Jarrod Salatalamacchia’s double drove in Mike Napoli after he had reached on his third walk of the day. That made the score 3-2, but that’s all they were able to get and the day went down as another disappointing loss. I kept going back to Carp’s hit off the wall that was less than a foot from being a homer and the close play at second with Drew. If either of those had turned out differently, we’d at the very least be heading into extra innings. The Red Sox ended up beating the Rangers the next night to take the series, but I was bummed that every time they had a good, productive 2-out-of-3 or 3-out-of-4 series, I always seemed to see the loss.
Monday, May 27, 2013 – Fenway Park, Section 32
Red Sox 9, Phillies 3
The Red Sox won their next three games, making it three of four over the Indians. They came into a Memorial Day matchup with the Phillies tied with the Yankees for first place in the East. But my luck this year had been terrible. Despite their good start to the season, my record stood at 3-4, with all three wins coming in games started by Clay Buchholz. So I was happy when I noticed that he was lined up to pitch on Memorial Day, the day of my next game. When I read the night before that Buchholz had been scratched from his start with neck soreness, I was horrified, even more so when I found out that the start would be going to Alfredo Aceves, who had lost any respect I had for him in Spring Training, when he signed autographs for Red Sox fans with “Yankees 2009″. (What a bum!)
The weather was gorgeous, and with the game at night it gave me plenty of time to get in there early. Parking is free at meters in Boston on holidays, so I drove all the way in and found a spot on Comm. Ave. right in Kenmore Square. I was finally able to get there early enough on a day when there was batting practice (most of my games are on Sundays when they skip B.P., or days when it gets canceled by late afternoon rain) and I used my Red Sox Nation card to go in early and watch from atop the Green Monster. As the Sox batted, and I tried to identify all the pitchers who were in the outfield shagging flies. In right field, I saw David Ortiz and a kid who I assumed was his, but who was the player he was talking to? I was far away, but it didn’t look like any of our current players; in fact, in stature and hairstyle, he reminded me of Pedro Martinez. I know Pedro’s now a special consultant with the team, but he wouldn’t be suited up and shagging flies during B.P…. or would he? I moved down from the Green Monster and over to the right field bleachers, behind the bullpen. Sure enough, it was the Best Pitcher on the Planet, who apparently couldn’t resist being on a big league field again. A closer look at the kid revealed that it wasn’t Papi’s son, so I assume he was Pedro’s kid. (No, I didn’t ask him “Who’s your daddy?”) The only thing that would have made me happier than seeing my two all-time favorite players kidding around together would have been if they announced that Petey was starting the game instead of Aceves.
Aceves has had some good games over the years, but he’s also had some damaging mental lapses that have cost them games, and I’m never really sure which version of him I’m going to see in any given game. Luckily for me, this was one of his focused, solid starts. He worked quickly through the first, and the Red Sox got on the board early. After Jacoby Ellsbury led off with a hit, Dustin Pedroia followed with a laser that hooked around Pesky’s Pole for a 2-run homer. Later in the inning, Mike Napoli added a solo shot that gave the Sox a 3-0 lead.
Aceves was helped by some good defense. In the second, Pedroia made his usual sparkling play of the game on a quick grounder up the middle, diving to make the stop and start an inning-ending double play. In the third, Ellsbury caught a line drive to center and then doubled the unsuspecting baserunner off first to end that inning. Aceves himself snared a liner back to the mound to end the fifth, and Ellsbury was back at it again in the sixth, running deep into the triangle to take a potential extra base hit away with the bases loaded. That ended the sixth inning, and put the finishing touches on a nice outing for Aceves, who allowed only one run over that span.
Almost all of the Red Sox got in on the fun at the plate. Daniel Nava was the only one who didn’t reach base. Stephen Drew, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Napoli, and Ellsbury added RBI hits as the Sox built a comfortable lead. I was checking the out-of-town scores on my phone, and was happy to see the Mets beating the Yankees. That meant that once our game went final, we’d be alone in first place. Clayton Mortensen and Andrew Miller finished it up, and with a win in the books, my personal record evened back up to .500.
Thursday, May 23, 2013 – Fenway Park, Section 36
Indians 12, Red Sox 3
The Red Sox returned home after a 6-3 road trip through Tampa, Minnesota, and Chicago. My next game was the first of a four-game set against the Cleveland Indians, and it marked the managerial return of the best skipper in Red Sox history, Terry Francona, who now led the Tribe. Since I was coming from work, I wasn’t able to get there extra early, but there was enough time to watch Ryan Dempster warm up in the ‘pen and then grab something to eat, before making the long hike up to my seat in the back of the center field bleachers.
The night was warm, but overcast and windy, with the center field flag blowing straight out. I was a little concerned about Dempster, because his last start was pretty taxing. The Sox had had a big lead in Minnesota, but he couldn’t make it through the fifth to qualify for the win, even though John Farrell left him in way too long (127 pitches through 4-2/3) to give him the chance. Now with no days off he was pitching five days later on regular rest, but I was worried about the lingering affects of that prior outing. He was fine in the first, stranding the one baserunner who reached on a single.
At the end of the first, the Red Sox played a tribute to Tito on the video board, prompting a warm standing ovation that lasted through the entire inning break. My seat was up close to the board and at an extreme angle so that I could tell what they were doing, but I couldn’t make out the details. Apparently they were showing a montage that also paid tribute to the other former Red Sox who are now with the Indians: bench coach-turned-third base coach Brad Mills, pitcher Justin Masterson, and infielder Mike Aviles, who was playing third tonight.
The second inning was a little rougher for Dempster. The Indians only plated one, on a bloop “double” that landed fair just behind the first base bag near the camera pit, but he was up to 45 pitches already. The third was even worse. Two hits and three walks accounted for three more Cleveland runs, and Dempster threw an astounding 39 pitches, putting him at 84 at the end of the third. That was the end of the day for him, and the Sox were already in a 4-0 hole.
In the bottom of the third, they started to battle back. Big Papi launched a 3-run shot, a majestic arc that landed in the stands behind the visitors’ bullpen. From my spot in center field it looked like it went right into the section where my Tenth Man Plan seats are – I sit there 10 times a year; it figures he’d hit one right to my seat on a night I was sitting elsewhere. That drew the Sox to within a run and gave us one thing to cheer about.
The next time a big cheer went up was during a quiet moment between batters. I couldn’t see the scoreboard from where I was sitting, but I figured it had to be related to the Bruins. They were trying to wrap up the Eastern Conference Semi-finals with a win over the New York Rangers, and a quick check of my phone confirmed that they had just scored a goal. They scored twice more during the game, prompting cheers each time as news of the goals spread. (When we left the park at the end of our game, they were tied 3-3; they ended up losing 4-3 in overtime, but closed out the series in their next game.)
Clayton Mortensen followed Dempster, but he gave up a run in the fourth and another in the fifth. I thought I felt a few raindrops in the fifth, and I know how long it can take to get down from the back of the bleachers when the skies open up, so I took preventative action and moved over to an empty seat in Section 3 at the end of the inning. It wasn’t long after I got there that the rain started, so I was glad that I had moved when I did. What I wasn’t glad about was the horrid pitching in the top of the sixth. Mortensen loaded the bases with no outs, and then Alex Wilson came in and allowed all the inherited runners to score as well as three more of his own. By the end of the sixth, it was 12-3, and with the slow pace and the rain, the casual fans cleared out earlier than usual. That gave me a chance to move over some more, and I watched the final three innings from the grandstand behind home plate in Section 17.
The Red Sox did nothing else at the plate, and when Andrew Miller set the Tribe down in order in the top of the ninth, it was the first 1-2-3 inning of the night for Boston pitching. When the game mercifully went final and the Indians came out to shake hands, the Red Sox fans who were sitting closest to the field stayed around to give one more cheer and a classy “Tito, Tito” chant as Francona came out to congratulate his team. I always look for some sort of redeeming factor to each game, even if they lose, but there was really nothing tonight. It’s pretty sad when the biggest cheers of the night are for your city’s hockey team and the other team’s manager.
Thursday, May 9, 2013 – Fenway Park, Section 13
Twins 5, Red Sox 3
I was back at Fenway for the second straight day, and like the day before I had taken the day off from work. With two games in a row, it seemed like a good time for a mini-vacation, and that would allow me to get to the ballpark early enough to see batting practice. But once again there was rain in the forecast, and once again it poured the worst in mid-afternoon, canceling B.P. for both teams.
My seat was in one of the back rows in the center field bleachers, part of a four-game package I had gotten because it included Opening Day. Even though it wasn’t raining when the game started, there was the threat of showers all night, and I know how long it can take to get down from there if the skies open up and we go into a delay. So I found a row in the grandstand of Section 13 that was still empty and started there. I did move down a few seats when some people showed up late, but the row never filled in and I was able to stay there, under cover, for the whole game.
John Lackey got off to a great start in the first, striking out the side on 11 pitches. He continued with a 1-2-3 second, and in the third, despite giving up his first hit, he made a nice play to snare a line drive comebacker for one of the outs. The Red Sox got on the board when Dustin Pedroia singled home Shane Victorino in the third, and they increased the lead to 2-0 when Stephen Drew drove in Daniel Nava in the fourth.
My seat in the infield was close enough that I wanted to try to get some action shots, so I was focusing my camera on first base, hoping to catch a close play on a groundout. Instead, when Oswaldo Arcia lofted a ball to the deepest part of center field, I wound up getting one of my favorite pictures of the year as Jacoby Ellsbury leaped and tried for the catch:
After Arcia’s triple, the next batter doubled him home, giving the Twins their first run. In the sixth, the Sox still led, 2-1. Minnesota had runners at first and second with one out, when Lackey fielded a grounder back to the mound. He turned to throw to second to try for an inning-ending double play, but the throw was wild amd sailed into center field. One run came in, tying the game. (I always thought it was lame that the run is unearned when it’s the pitcher who makes the error – it’s still his fault!) Now with runners at second and third but still only one out, the next batter hit a fly into shallow right. Victorino covered a lot of ground to make the catch, and then made a strong, accurate throw to the plate. It was a close play; David Ross applied the tag and the ump signaled… safe? I don’t think so! That should have been the final out of the inning, with the game still tied. Sitting where I was, I could see the NESN feed on the monitor, and the slo-mo replay showed that the runner was tagged before his foot hit the plate. John Farrell came out to argue, but it didn’t help. And to make matters worse, Lackey proceeded to give up a two-run homer into the bullpen. (Those runs were also unearned, due to the fact that there was an error earlier, but they wouldn’t have scored if home plate umpire Lance Barksdale hadn’t botched the call. Can I charge those last three runs to him instead of Lackey?) The inning ended with the Twins on top 5-2.
The Red Sox did get a little closer. Mike Napoli doubled to open the sixth, and Nava drove him in. That would have been enough to compensate for Lackey’s error, but not for the runs that scored as a result of the umpire’s. Lackey ended up going seven, finishing with a strikeout of Joe Mauer. Koji Uehara followed him to the mound and pitched a really quick eighth, striking out all three batters he faced. (I would have liked to get some pictures of his overly-enthusiastic high-fives of his teammates on their way back to the dugout, but he sprinted in, and the camera didn’t have time to focus.)
The Red Sox also had all their outs in the eighth come on strikeouts, though they did manage a few baserunners in between on a walk and an error, but they couldn’t get anything across. As people started to leave early, I thought about moving down to the good seats, but the rain had started up in the eighth, and I stayed put further back under the grandstand. There was still a chance for the Sox to tie the game when Ellsbury walked to lead off the ninth, but Twins closer Glen Perkins struck out two more and got Big Papi to ground out to end it.
Wednesday, May 8, 2013 – Fenway Park, Section 43
Twins 15, Red Sox 8
It was almost two weeks since my last trip to Fenway. The Red Sox went 6-5 over that time, including a road trip to Toronto and Texas. Since I had tickets for games on two straight nights, I decided to take both days off from work. That would allow me to go in early to see batting practice, which I don’t normally get to do, and then sleep in the next morning if the game went late. The only problem, of course, was my usual one – there was rain in the forecast for both days (with the rest of the week naturally being sunny and unseasonably warm). When I got to the park, the tarp was on the field and there was no B.P., but fortunately the rain let up as gametime approached.
Felix Doubront had struggled in his last start, and with his velocity down there was speculation of a dead arm. That raised questions of how long the Red Sox could afford to stick with him in the rotation, but with both closers – Andew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan – going on the D.L. on consecutive days, and the other relievers all moving up a spot, there weren’t a lot of extra pitchers who could take his place right now, so I didn’t get my hopes up. But then Tuesday afternoon I was pleasantly surprised to hear that promising young prospect Allen Webster would be making the start on Wednesday, with Doubront shifting to the ‘pen for the next few days. Webster had made one start for the Sox earlier in the year, an impressive 6-inning, 2-run outing against the Royals, but other than that the 23-year-old hadn’t pitched above Double A until this year.
Webster struck out the first batter and I said, “See? He’s the real deal! A future #1 starter.” The emphasis quickly became “future”, because it was soon apparent that was not going to be occurring tonight. The next two batters walked, and then came a double, a sac fly, a homer, and an infield single off Webster’s foot, before he finally got a strikeout to end the 4-run inning.
Not to worry, though, because the Red Sox offense went right to work against Pedro Hernandez in the bottom of the inning to bail Webster out. Shane Victorino and Dustin Pedroia singled, and Mike Napoli walked, to load the bases with two outs. That brought up Jonny Gomes, and while we were discussing his low batting average, I added, “But when he gets a hold of one…” and before I could finish he got a hold of one and launched it over everything in left for the grand slam, tying the game. To make things even better, the Sox tacked on another run on hits by Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Stephen Drew, giving them a 5-4 lead.
I hoped Webster would settle down now that the first inning was over and the Sox had taken the lead, but I didn’t even have time to make that prediction out loud, before #9 hitter Pedro Florimon hit a homer leading off the second to tie the game. And the Twins didn’t stop there. They sent 11 men to the plate, knocking Webster from the game and continuing the onslaught against Doubront when he entered in relief. By the time Florimon picked up his second extra-base hit of the inning (a double that drove in 2 runs) the Twins were up 11-5. Certainly not what I had been looking forward to seeing.
At the end of the fifth, there were already enough empty seats that we were able to move around from our original seats in the bleachers over to the infield. We started in the grandstand seats in Section 15, then at the end of the sixth moved down to the field box seats in the front of the section. And when a really tall guy came and sat down right in front of me in the top of the eighth, we moved down to the second row behind the Red Sox dugout. If I had to watch a pathetic mess of a game like this one, at least it could be from the good seats!
Doubront ended up going 5-1/3 innings and giving up 6 runs (but only 3 of them after his first inning of work). He settled down as the game wore on, and his outing ended with a cool play. There were runners on first and second with one out in the seventh, when Ryan Doumit hit a fly to deep center field. Jacoby Ellsbury went back to the wall, and at first it looked like he had made a good catch, but what really happened (as we saw on the replay) was it bounced out of his glove, off the wall, then back into his glove – making it not a catch. He threw the ball back to the infield, where both runners were standing on second. There was a brief rundown during which one guy was tagged, and then Mike Napoli chased down and tagged the final baserunner (who may or may not already have been out) as he headed back toward the dugout. At first we wondered if we had just seen a triple play, but a quick glance at my scorecard reminded me that there had already been one out. It wasn’t till I got home and watched on the DVR (rewinding a couple of times in the process) that I was able to sort it all out, though it didn’t help that they were confused on the broadcast. One of the baserunners had actually passed the other on the basepaths, so he was technically out without needing to be tagged. It all ended up as just your normal average 8-6-4-3 double play. I think.
Once the rout was on, it became all about taking whatever positives we could out of the game. The biggest cheers went up when the Bruins’ playoff game went final, but there were actually a couple of good things in the baseball game. Andrew Miller struck out the side in a 1-2-3 eighth. Shane Victorino had a homer and 2 RBI. Dustin Pedroia had 3 hits. Gomes picked up his fifth RBI with a sac fly in the seventh. In fact, the only Red Sox starters who didn’t reach base at least twice were Jacoby Ellsbury (one walk) and David Ortiz (0-for-5). Unfortunately that snapped Papi’s 27-game hitting streak that went back to last year. I did like that the people around us who had stayed till the end were real fans who knew that his streak was on the line. Some were chanting, “Let’s go, hitting streak!” and we all gave him a nice hand when he walked back to the dugout after ending it with a strikeout. I suppose the only really good thing to come out of this game was the knowledge that I’d get to come back tomorrow and start over.
Thursday, April 25, 2013 – Fenway Park, Section 43
Red Sox 7, Astros 2
After being swept in a doubleheader by the Royals, the Sox won two of three from the A’s. On Thursday they started a four-game set with the newest member of the American League, the Houston Astros, who switched over from the National League this season. It was my first night game, and the time was a strange 6:30 start, so I had to leave work early to make it there in time. (What was weird was that this was the only week in April where they had earlier start times – the first week had had night games at the familiar 7:10. I think the reasoning was that with the weather still being cold, starting earlier while it’s still daylight for a few innings would help. I personally don’t find it any warmer, just harder to get there from work.) It ended up being 64° at the start of the game, but as soon as the sun went down it got cold, so I was glad I had brought all my cold-weather gear.
The pitching matchup was Clay Buchholz vs. Philip Humber, two pitchers who have thrown no-hitters in their careers. (Buchholz’s no-no was in 2007 in his second major league start; Humber threw a perfect game last April.) But in the current season, they couldn’t have come into the game any differently, with Buchholz sporting a 4-0 record and an ERA of 0.90, and Humber at 0-4 and 6.63. The first inning was in keeping with those trends. Buchholz worked quickly through a scoreless frame, and then the Sox hitters followed with a barrage of hits that got them off to a 4-0 lead. Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Mike Carp, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia all had hits to drive in runs.
The Astros did manage to scrape together a run in the second (coming in on a double play) and another in the third (on two hits, in between which Buchholz struck out the side). It just shows how well Clay’s season was going that he could allow only 2 runs in 7-2/3 innings, and have his ERA actually go up (it skyrocketed all the way to 1.19).
Big Papi continued his hot hitting since coming off the D.L. the previous weekend. He hit his first homer of the year into the center field stands in the third inning, and finished the night with 3 hits, 3 runs, and 2 RBI. The Sox put together another 4-hit attack in the fifth to score two more runs and finally knock Humber from the game.
Jonny Gomes replaced Mike Carp in left field at the start of the eighth, and made his presence known right away. Andrew Miller, who had cut his signature long hair after a bad outing earlier in the week, came in to relieve Buchholz with two outs and a runner on first. The batter hit a ball deep to left, and Gomes made a leaping catch before banging into The Wall on his way down.
With the Sox holding a 5-run lead in the ninth, Daniel Bard got to make his first appearance of the year. He had been sent to Double A to work on his mechanics, as he tried to work his way back to being the dominant reliever he once was before a failed experiment as a starter in 2012. It was probably going to take more time, but with Joel Hanrahan on the D.L. and callup Steven Wright having pitched a lengthy relief stint a couple of days ago, Bard was called into service. He had an encouraging appearance – there was a harmless two-out single, but he struck out a batter and induced a comebacker to the mound which he fielded cleanly for the final out of the game. My record at Fenway this season improved to 3-1, with all 3 wins coming in games started by Buchholz. I guess he’s just going to have to pitch all the rest of the games I go to this year!