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2003: Diary of a Season

A Week to Remember

The final chapter in the 2003 Red Sox' journey to October

As the end of September drew near, the Red Sox' magic number to clinch the Wild Card got smaller. The focus now was on the postseason, but there was still one memorable week left at Fenway, including two of my favorite games of the year. Since being a Red sox fan is a 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week job, the final week of the regular season is presented in hour-by-hour diary format.

Friday, September 19

3:00 am – I awake in the middle of the night after a nightmare. Tickets for the ALDS home games go on sale at 6 pm tonight, and I just had a dream that I went to the mall after work and forgot all about it. I laugh at how pathetic it is that I’m this stressed out about the tickets, but I can’t get back to sleep.

5:30 pm – I arrive home after leaving work early. The web page for online sales is bookmarked on my PC. The touch-tone phone number and a couple of alternates are programmed in my phone’s speed dial buttons. My father, brother, and friend Laura are all standing by their phones and computers. We need a total of four tickets to Game 3 and six for Game 4. They’ll call me on my cell phone when they get their tickets, so we’ll know to start trying for the second game.

5:45 pm – I start dialing. “We’re sorry, all circuits are busy now. Please try your call again later…”

5:46 pm – “We’re sorry, all circuits are busy…”

5:47 pm – “We’re sorry…” I’m prepared to go as long as this takes.

7:05 pm – Still haven’t gotten through. My cell phone isn’t ringing, so none of the others have either. The Sox game is starting in Cleveland, but I’m stressing about the tickets and find it hard to concentrate.

8:12 pm – Still nothing. John Burkett is shutting down the Indians, and the Sox lead 2-0. But where are my tickets?!

8:28 pm – The cell phone rings! YES! I’m going to the playoffs! … No. It’s my father, and he’s upset about the touch-tone system. He finally got through, and went through the whole process of recording and spelling his address and town and entering his credit card info. He gets to the main menu: “For Division Series Home Game 1, press 1. For Division Series Home Game 2, press 2.” He presses 1. It says, “I do not understand that three-letter code.” What?! He tries every number and letter combination he can think of, but keeps getting sent in circles and can’t get past the first menu. Online, he’s still in the Virtual Waiting Room…

8:31 pm – Cell phone call waiting cuts in. YES! I’m going to the playoffs! … No. It’s Laura, and she finally got through online, but there aren’t four seats together anywhere. She tries three, then two, then one. There’s a message that only single seats remain in standing room and obstructed seats, but those categories aren’t available to select. She tries Infield Grandstand, and finally gets a seat! It’s obstructed, but we don’t care. She says she’ll call me back if she gets another one.

8:44 pm – I finally get through on the phone number listed for disabled seating. One of the menu options is, “If you’ve had trouble ordering Division Series tickets, press 3.” I press 3, equipped with my father’s tale of his touch-tone trouble. It clicks, rings a few times, clicks again, then, “The number you have called cannot be completed as dialed. Please check your listings and dial again.” Arrrrrgh!

8:46 pm – Laura calls back. She can’t get any more tickets. Every option she picks comes back with, “Unable to process.” I wasn’t sure if her order for the one obstructed seat had gone through OK.

8:50 pm – My brother calls to say he’s getting an online message that both games have sold out.

9:00 pm – So that’s it. All that and we wound up with one ticket. It’s obstructed, and $45. The $6 per ticket fee and $14 per order charge bring the total to $65. I hope Laura lets me use it!

9:22 pm – Bottom of the ninth. The Sox are still up 2-0, and Byung-Hyun Kim is coming on for the save.

9:31 pm – After two quick outs, B.K. hits the next two batters, bringing the winning run to the plate for Cleveland. Grady Little sends Kim and Red Sox Nation a message, pulling the closer and bringing in Alan Embree.

9:37 pm – Embree gets the final out to preserve the win and pick up the save. The Red Sox magic number to clinch the Wild Card is down to 7.

10:00 pm – Laura calls. She’s going to let me use the ticket. YES! I’m going to the playoffs!

10:01 pm – But first we’ve got to clinch.

Saturday, September 20

12:54 am – I keep an eye on the Seattle-Oakland score before going to bed. Seattle ends up winning 6-1. The Sox magic number stays at 7.

7:05 pm – Seattle beats Oakland in their afternoon game, so no help there. The Red Sox are getting underway.

7:30 pm – Trot Nixon homers in his first at-bat back after being out for a week with a strained calf muscle. The Sox lead 1-0.

8:20 pm – In the fourth inning, Derek Lowe allows the first Cleveland hit of the night. He’s really cruising!

9:00 pm – The Red Sox score three runs in the seventh, to lead 4-1.

9:30 pm – Before we know what’s happened, Lowe gives up a solo homer, two singles, a fielder’s choice, a wild pitch, and a double, and Cleveland leads, 5-4. He’s relieved by Scott Sauerbeck, who gets one out, but then gives up two walks, a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch, and a two-run single. 8-4.

9:56 pm – Scott Williamson and Brandon Lyon combine to allow five more runs in the eighth. Cleveland embarrasses the Red Sox, scoring twelve runs in the last two innings to win, 13-4. It’s one of the ugliest losses of the season. These are the guys we’re so excited about going to the playoffs with? When is the bullpen ever going to get it together? How do they expect to go deep into October if they can’t get the Indians out? Not good. Not good at all.

Sunday, September 21

1:05 pm – The best thing about the Red Sox this year has been their resiliency. As hideous and disheartening as last night’s loss was, today Pedro Martinez will be taking the mound.

2:50 pm – Pedro goes seven innings without allowing a run. He has 11 strikeouts, and leaves with a 2-0 lead.

3:37 pm – After Mike Timlin has a scoreless eighth, Byung-Hyun Kim is given a shot to close out the game, two days after struggling and getting pulled from the game. He needs only 11 pitches to dispose of the Indians and pick up the save. The magic number is down to 6. Life is good again!

4:05 pm – Life is about to get better. The Seattle-Oakland game is on ESPN2, and Oakland jumps out to an early lead.

7:04 pm – Oakland wins 12-0. The Red Sox magic number is down to 5.

Monday, September 22

7:05 pm – Jeff Suppan is pitching tonight, and like the rest of Red Sox Nation, I'm looking at this as a final audition before deciding whether he or John Burkett should be the fourth starter in the playoffs. Burkett had had a very solid outing on Friday, and Suppan’s previous start had been shaky.

9:10 pm – Suppan is pitching well, giving up two runs in six innings, while the Sox offense (including homers by Manny Ramirez and Trot Nixon) stakes him to a 6-2 lead. (But I’m still leaning toward Burkett for the playoffs.)

9:45 pm – The bullpen gives us a scare, as Todd Jones, Alan Embree, and Mike Timlin combine to cut the lead to one run.

10:18 pm – David Ortiz’s eighth inning homer provides an insurance run, and B.K. nails down the save in the 7-5 win. Apparently Grady’s pulling Kim from the game on Friday is just the inspiration he needed. The magic number is 4.

Tuesday, September 23, Fenway Park, Section 26

Red Sox 6, Orioles 5

12:33 am – Before going to bed, I see that Seattle beats Anaheim 5-1, so our magic number stays at 4.

6:30 am – My alarm goes off. I’m going to the game tonight! That thought makes it a little easier to get out of bed in the morning.

Sunset 6:30 pm – Before the game, I check out the obstructed view seat I’m going to have for the playoffs. It’s behind a pole that blocks home plate, but it looks like I’ll be able to see the whole field if I just lean forward a little bit. YES!

7:05 pm – My seat for tonight’s game is pretty far back in section 39 in the bleachers. (It's the same seat I was in a few weeks ago when people in the two rows in front of me were throwing beers at each other. It was part of a package of four games, and it would be all the same people from the previous games, so I'm not thrilled at the idea of seeing them all reunited again.) Luckily my friend Laura has a pair of seats behind third base and the friend who was going to go with her can’t make it, so I get to sit with her in a great infield grandstand seat!

7:30 pm – The Sox take advantage of two Baltimore errors to score one run in the first, but Tim Wakefield allows a three-run homer to Luis Matos in the second.

7:50 pm – Nomar doubles to lead off the third. He advances to third on Todd Walker’s fly ball, but is thrown out at the plate on Manny’s groundout.

Ortiz stands in 8:30 pm – The Red Sox score a run in the fifth on a couple of walks, a groundout, and Walker’s sac fly, to make the score 3-2.

8:45 pm – Kevin Millar singles to lead off the sixth. He goes to second on a wild pitch, and to third on Bill Mueller’s groundout for the first out of the inning. Gabe Kapler and Doug Mirabelli ground out to strand Millar at third.

9:15 pm – Manny leads off the eighth with a single. Adrian Brown comes in to pinch-run, and steals second base and then third. Ortiz flies out, Millar strikes out, and Mueller flies out to strand Brown. I turn to my friend and say, “Now I’m starting to get concerned.”

9:35 pm – Top of the ninth. Bronson Arroyo enters. Brian Roberts hits a double and Larry Bigbie is intentionally walked with two outs. Jay Gibbons hits it to right field, but Kapler can’t make the catch. He bobbles it momentarily and two runs score. Now it’s 5-2 with one inning left. Definite cause for concern. The fair-weather fans sitting around us bail out. I’d never even consider leaving a game early, but I am worried about the outcome. Maybe Seattle will lose tonight and it won’t be a total waste.

9:50 pm – Bottom of the ninth. Trot Nixon pinch-hits for Kapler, but pops up to shortstop. Jason Varitek pinch-hits for Mirabelli. He hits a single, and moves up on a passed ball. Johnny Damon grounds out for the second out as Varitek moves to third. Nomar walks and takes second on defensive indifference. It’s still 5-2, with two outs in the ninth.

9:55 pm – Walker has been hitting really well in September. Grady Little had flipped Nomar and Walker in the batting order the previous week in an attempt to get Nomar out of his slump. A single or double here would be nice, but wouldn’t be enough. Even then it would only be 5-4. Adrian Brown had come in as a pinch runner in the eighth, and he is waiting on deck. It’s all up to Walker.

9:56 pm – 3-2 count. The next pitch is down and away, and Walker hits it on a line deep to right field. It’s over the right fielder’s head and into the visitors’ bullpen! Tied up! Everyone goes crazy! Walker’s teammates greet him with hugs at home plate. We’re jumping up and down, high-fiving each other, and screaming. While amazing comebacks had become the norm in April, it had been a while since the Sox had pulled off something this dramatic. In this year with six players over 20 home runs (and Bill Mueller at 19) it’s only Walker’s twelfth of the year. But it’s as clutch as you can get!

9:57 pm – I almost forgot. Adrian Brown still has to bat. He strikes out to end the ninth. But I know that we’re going to win. Byung-Hyun Kim comes on for the tenth. I turn to my friend and say, “B.K.’s going to get out of this inning and then Ortiz is going to hit one out.”

10:10 pm – Kim gets through the tenth. Here comes David Ortiz to lead off the bottom of the tenth. On a 2-1 count, he hits one that we know is gone as soon as it leaves the bat… And it is! It lands in the second row of the Green Monster seats! All the players rush out of the dugout and start hopping up and down at home plate. I’m jumping and screaming! I'm watching the scene at home plate and then realize that Ortiz is just rounding third. The circle of players parts so he can tag the plate, and then erupts into a jumping, hugging mass. In the stands, no one is leaving. We want both Ortiz and Walker back for curtain calls.

We win! 10:15 pm – Walker must be NESN’s player of the game, because Tom Caron is interviewing him. They’re showing the interview on the Jumbo-Tron. Walker calls the home run “the biggest thrill in my life so far,” and tells us that “we’re going to go to the playoffs and win it.” More cheers! I love Todd Walker! We start chanting “Ortiz, Ortiz,” because we want to hear from him too, but by now he’s already inside.

10:16 pm – That was awesome!

10:30 pm – We’re squashed on the T, packed in so that no one can move, but we’re all grinning.

11:55 pm – I arrive home, just in time to tape “Sox in 2,” NESN’s two-hour rebroadcast of the game.

Wednesday, September 24

1:16 am – Anaheim beats Seattle 2-1 in 11 innings. The Sox magic number is down to 2!

2:00 am – “Sox in 2” finishes up, ending with the Walker interview. That was awesome!

2:15 am – I rewind the tape to watch Walker’s and Ortiz’s home runs a couple more times, and then finally head off to bed.

3:00 am – I can’t sleep. I’m just lying there thinking, “That was awesome!”

3:30 am – I’ve been to 28 home games this season. I got to see all three of Pedro’s complete games. He’s so exciting to watch, and the crowd is just electrified when he’s on the mound in a close game. I also got to go to two dramatic come-from-behind wins against the Yankees. I had been to one other “walk-off” win too, a game in April when Shea Hillenbrand’s bases-loaded single in the bottom of the ninth broke a 5-5 tie. But tonight’s game has to be my favorite. It was awesome!

6:30 am – The alarm has been going off for the past half-hour. I put NESN’s “SportsDesk” on and hear Ortiz say, “These fans are the best. We’re going to win the World Series because they deserve a championship.” YES! I love David Ortiz!

11:30 am – At work, several people tell me that after watching last night’s game they just know that this is the year. The only downer is our staff meeting, when one of my co-workers tells me he knows four different people who were able to call in and get playoff tickets. Arrrrrgh!

4:05 pm – Seattle’s game is underway. If they lose and we win, we can clinch tonight. I’m sure we will, because I have tickets to tomorrow’s game but not tonight’s, and it would be typical Red Sox irony for me to miss it. Still, I’d rather win and not see it in person than not win at all, so I’m still hoping they do it tonight.

6:12 pm – Seattle loses to Anaheim, assuring the Sox of at least a tie for the Wild Card. One more win will clinch it, and the Mariners are off Thursday, so we’ve got two chances to win it at home before the final road trip to Tampa Bay.

7:15 pm – What’s the old expression? “Momentum only carries you as far as tomorrow’s starting pitcher”? John Burkett lasts only a third of an inning, giving up 7 runs.

10:05 pm – The Sox lose 7-3, despite two more home runs by David Ortiz. On the bright side, the bullpen goes 8 2/3 scoreless innings. And they can still clinch with a win at home tomorrow, and I’ve got a ticket to that one!

Thursday, September 25, Fenway Park, Section 34

Red Sox 14, Orioles 3

6:15 pm – My last game (of the regular season, anyway!) at Fenway. It’s usually sad to go to my final game of the year, after having spent so much time there all summer, and knowing that it’ll be another six months before I can come back. Last year was the first time I went to the final home game of the year, and it provided a good sense of closure. It was depressing to miss the playoffs despite winning 93 games and having the best record in baseball as late as June. But being able to attend that final game had made me feel a little better. Between innings, messages on the Jumbo-Tron had given us a chance to salute our favorite players one last time – Manny Ramirez for winning the batting title, Pedro Martinez for winning 20 games and leading in ERA and strikeouts, and Derek Lowe for his 21-win season and his no-hitter. They also put messages up after the game saying when Opening Day would be, and that it was only 139 days till pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training. I made a sign on my wall at work that counted down the days until Spring Training, and that had helped me get through the winter. So when tickets went on sale for this year, I made sure to get September 25, the final home game. I had no idea at the time that I’d have a chance to see them clinch!

Reaady to clinch 7:17 pm – Derek Lowe gets through the top of the first on only five pitches, and the Sox score twice in the bottom of the inning. We all chant, “MVP, MVP” when Ortiz comes to bat.

7:28 pm – Lowe walks two batters in the top of the second, but they don’t score. Jason Varitek leads off the third with a home run into Section 35 in the bleachers. I’m in Section 34, about nine people away from the guy who catches it.

7:49 pm – At the end of the second inning, it’s 7-0 Red Sox. I had been saying at work that while I enjoyed the drama at Tuesday’s game, I was hoping for a nice, relaxing win tonight. My wish is coming true!

8:20 pm – At the end of the fourth, the score is 12-0. There’s still plenty of drama though, because all the hits in the game belong to the Red Sox. Will Lowe replicate his feat from last year? What a great way that would be to clinch!

8:39 pm – With one out in the fifth, Luis Matos hits a dribbler to third base. Bill Mueller fields it and throws to first, but Matos is safe. It’s the first hit of the night for the Orioles. The drama is gone, but now we can just relax and enjoy the game. The only downer is when the guy sitting next to me mentions that he was able to get through twice for playoff tickets and wound up with eight. Arrrrrgh!

9:56 pm – With the game well in hand, Bill Mueller comes to the plate in the bottom of the eighth. He’s on track to win the batting title, which is above and beyond what anyone expected of him when he signed with the Sox. We all give him a long standing ovation, in appreciation for his hard work and leadership throughout the season, and stay standing for the whole at-bat. He flies out to center to end the inning, and we stay standing in anticipation of the ninth inning. “Sweet Caroline” blares over the loud-speakers and everyone sings along. I don’t even hear the announcement that Ramiro Mendoza is entering the game to pitch the ninth.

10:03 pm – There are two outs now. We’ve been standing and cheering for the whole inning, but now it reaches a fever pitch.

Clinching the Wild Card 10:05 pm – Strike three called! We win! The fans go crazy as the players run out onto the field, jumping up and down and hugging each other, as “Dirty Water” plays. Kevin Millar gets a microphone and says, “On behalf of all my teammates and the 2003 Boston Red Sox we just want to say thank you to all these fans, and now it’s time to cowboy up!” Johnny Damon tries to get him to sing “Born in the USA,” the song he dances to in the now-famous “Rally Karaoke Guy” video. He sings a couple of lines, then the crowd joins in while it plays over the speakers.

10:12 pm – The players run around the perimeter of the field, spraying the stands with champagne and high-fiving fans along the way. Nomar comes out to center field and throws a Wild Card t-shirt and hat into the stands. We see the fans beside the Red Sox dugout receive champagne glasses full of bubbly. Interviews with Ortiz, Damon, and Walker are shown on the Jumbo-Tron.

10:22 pm – The players are all in the clubhouse now, but no one’s moved from the stands. We’re still standing and clapping and watching interviews on the big screen.

10:30 pm – A bunch of players come back out onto the field. They run another lap and wind up in the bullpen. Todd Jones sprays the fans behind the bullpen with champagne, then tosses the empty bottle into the stands. They run back to the infield and run the bases. My friends and I have been in center field near the cameras, but we move over behind the bullpen. The song playing now is Ryan Reynolds’ “Cowboy Up,” which has lyrics that sum up this year’s Red Sox season:

You gotta cowboy up, dust yourself off,
Get back in the saddle, give it one more try.
Sweatin’ blood, it takes all you’ve got,
’Cause the road to heaven is a hell of a ride.
The tough get goin’ when the goin’ gets rough,
’Cause they know they gotta cowboy up.

10:45 pm – We move over to right field along the wall. There are still several thousand fans clapping and cheering, and occasionally a couple of players come out. Interviews from the clubhouse are being broadcast on the Jumbo-Tron, including Grady Little, Theo Epstein, Trot Nixon, Jason Varitek, and John Henry. We eventually move down behind the Red Sox dugout.

October baseball returns to Fenway Park 11:15 pm – Security comes and starts asking everyone to leave. We reluctantly leave the park, and head around the corner to the players’ parking lot. There are two buses parked on the street, waiting to take the players to the airport to fly to Tampa for the final three games of the season. There are a few hundred fans still waiting around.

11:30 pm – We’re waiting by the buses, but we hear yelling coming from Yawkey Way. Someone says, “There goes Millar!” and then we see a whole crowd of people running down the street. I should have followed after them but they’re already past us before I realize what’s going on, and I’m not sure if it’s really him. I find out later that Millar, Kapler, Merloni, Walker, and Lowe all ran down to the Baseball Tavern on Boylston Street to high-five, hug, and celebrate with the patrons inside. About ten minutes later, they all run back.

11:45 pm – We still haven’t seen any players, and there’s still a big crowd by the buses. Doug Mirabelli comes out briefly, dressed in street clothes and carrying a suitcase, but he says he doesn’t have time for autographs. Unfortunately we have to leave to catch the T before it stops running at midnight, so we don’t get to see anyone else. I get home around 1 am. I call my parents briefly to recap the events of the night, and wind up talking to my brother until 2 am. Then I rewind the tape of the game, to watch the post-game celebration again. It’s finally bedtime at 3:00. I’m going to need an extra cup of coffee at work tomorrow morning, but it’s all been worth it. The Sox are in the playoffs, and hopefully there are more celebrations like this to come!

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