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2003: Diary of a Season

Tuesday, June 10, Fenway Park, Section 34

Cardinals 9, Red Sox 7

Bleacher panorama

The Red Sox finished up their long May homestand with a loss to Cleveland, then hit the road. The first game was a thrilling win over the Yankees, as they prevented Roger Clemens from winning his 300th career game. They dropped the next two in New York (one on a questionable call by umpire Joe West, who ruled that Brandon Lyon had walked in the winning run on what looked like a strike). On a day off, the big news broke that Shea Hillenbrand had been traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Byung-Hyun Kim. That weekend the Sox were swept in Toronto, and then started interleague play. While they've traditionally struggled against National League teams, especially on the road, this year was much better. The first game in Pittsburgh was rained out, but they swept a doubleheader the next day. After dropping the final game against the Pirates, it was on to Milwaukee, where they took two of three, including the biggest come-from-behind win of the year. In Saturday's game they trailed 10-4 and lost Casey Fossum after one inning with shoulder soreness, but Kevin Millar's pinch-hit grand slam and Trot Nixon and Jason Varitek's back-to-back ninth inning homers delivered an 11-10 win.

Despite going 5-7 on the road trip, the Red Sox returned home only half a game out of first place. Even more amazing was the fact that they had completely redone the restrooms under the bleachers. There was a new ladies' room, additional functioning water fountains, and a lot more space in the concourse area which would become the "Big Concourse" a couple of months later.

A couple of my friends were at this game, but they were sitting on the third base side. I was in the bleachers near the center field cameras next to a bunch of season ticket holders. I always like to sit near people who know what's going on. Sometimes I get people who have never heard of half the players or ask what my scorecard is for, but tonight I was able to engage in real baseball discussions. Byung-Hyun Kim was starting tonight. We discussed the trade, agreeing that it was a good move. Hillenbrand had typically started to fade after the first two months of the season, and his stock was at its highest after a successful April and May. Meanwhile the success of Bill Mueller, David Ortiz, and Kevin Millar had made Shea expendable. What's more, B.K. could start and relieve, which could help stabilize the bullpen. We also debated which role he'd be better in, and when Fossum returned from the D.L., whether they should have Casey start and Kim relieve, or leave B.K. in the rotation and bring Fossum back in the bullpen. We also discussed dropping John Burkett altogether when Pedro returned. Burkett had been dreadful in his last few starts, and Pedro was about to return from the D.L. I knew he had a large contract, but I remembered that they had let Jose Offerman go last year when he had a similar contract.

B.K.'s Fenway debut tonight wasn't exactly stellar. After the Sox scored twice in the first on back-to-back doubles by Manny Ramirez and Ortiz, Kim gave up four runs in the fifth and was lifted from the game. Rudy Seanez allowed three more in the seventh, and the Sox were down 7-2. But I kept telling everyone around me, "No problem! This is their specialty. A five-run deficit is nothing!" Sure enough, in the bottom of the inning, Todd Walker doubled, Nomar Garciaparra tripled, and Manny homered to make it 7-5. St. Louis was having a season similar to the Red Sox - there was plenty of offense, but with Jason Isringhausen injured, they had a terrible bullpen. Old friend Jeff Fassero started the eighth for the Cardinals and walked Trot. With Jason Varitek representing the tying run at the plate, I knew it was time to get serious. So I once again vowed that if Tek tied the game up right here, I'd never again call him "Hack-Away Shea". I didn't know if that would work anymore, with Hillenbrand gone, but it did! Tek hit a homer and we were tied at 7. "I knew it! I knew it!" I was ecstatic!

And then came the ninth. Brandon Lyon gave up three doubles, scoring two runs. I was so angry! After all the work they had done to rally and tie it up, he blew it! Bill Mueller singled in the ninth, and Varitek had a chance to tie it up again, but there was only so much he could do, and the thrilling eighth-inning rally had gone for naught. I met my friends outside Fenway after the game, but I wasn't in the mood for socializing. I just wanted to go home and stomp off to bed. At work the next day, we decided it had been one of the most painful losses so far this year.

Saturday, June 14, Fenway Park, Section 39

Red Sox 8, Astros 4

The day after my game, Pedro Martinez returned. He pitched three innings and John Burkett finished up, while the Sox scored seven runs in the second inning and cruised to a 13-1 win. The final game against the Cardinals was even more painful than the one I had been to. Behind 3-0, the Sox scored three in the ninth to send it to extra innings. The bullpen allowed two runs in the top of the tenth, just like the game I had been to, but this time they tied it up again in the bottom of the inning. They let in three more runs in the top of the 13th, then scored two in the bottom of the inning to fall just short. Friday's game went better, when the Sox rebounded from the agony of Thursday night with a 4-3 win over Houston.

I was back for Saturday night's game, in the same fairly bad seat in Section 39 that I had sat in for one of the Value Pack games before. Derek Lowe was on the mound, and his sinker was really working. He gave up solo home runs in the first and third, but I didn't feel very worried about the two-run deficit. It seemed like every game involved a come-from-behind rally of some sort. It wasn't long before Trot Nixon hit a triple to tie the game at 2. Other than a fly ball to center to start the game and a strikeout to open the third, all of Lowe's outs - and he pitched into the eighth - came on ground balls. One of the main heroes of the night was third baseman Freddy Sanchez. Called up from Pawtucket when Shea Hillenbrand had been traded, he was given a chance to start. He went 0-4 at the plate, and was the only Sox batter without a hit, but he wound up the star of the game. A lot of the fans sitting near me had never heard of him, despite the fact that he had been called up the previous year too, and had been a top prospect in the Red Sox organization for years. But everyone knew him by the end of the game. With the game tied 2-2 in the fifth inning, the Astros had runners on second and third with two outs. Sanchez made a great diving stop of a sharply-hit grounder, firing to first to end the inning and save a couple of runs.

In the fifth, the Red Sox batted around, taking advantage of a Houston error to score four runs (on a bases-loaded double by Ortiz and an RBI-double by Millar) and break the game open. They added two more the next inning, when Johnny Damon doubled, Todd Walker tripled, and Nomar Garciaparra singled. In the seventh, it was Freddy Sanchez's turn to shine again. All three batters hit ground balls to third. Sanchez had all three assists in the inning, and wound up with ten for the night, one shy of the major league record. When he fielded the third out of the inning, we all stood up and chanted, "Freddy! Freddy!" through the seventh inning stretch. He led off the bottom of the inning, so we gave him another big ovation before sitting back down.

Lowe tired a little in the eighth, giving up two more runs, but Jason Shiell and Alan Embree finished it up without incident.

June 16-18, U.S. Cellular Field, Chicago

The day after "the Freddy Sanchez game," I flew to Chicago on business. I was there to take a class for work, but in a happy coincidence, the Red Sox were also in town! I got to attend three Red Sox games while I was in the Windy City. Pictures and the details of my trip are on the Road Trip to Chicago page.

Wednesday, June 25, Fenway Park, Section 37

Red Sox 11, Tigers 2

The bullpen during batting practice

After splitting the four-game series in Chicago, the Sox moved on to Philadelphia, where the first game was rained out. The second was another heart-breaker. Pedro Martinez left after seven innings with a 2-1 lead, Nomar Garciaparra tied a franchise record with six hits, and Todd Walker hit two home runs. Unfortunately, Jim Thome tied the game up twice with homers in the eighth and twelfth, and the Sox bullpen blew a 5-3 lead in the thirteenth, when Rudy Seanez served up a walk-off home run to backup catcher Todd Pratt. The next day was even worse, as they lost 5-0.

But the best cure for a pitiful weekend on the road was a homestand that opened with four games against the lowly Tigers. The Sox took Monday's and Tuesday's games by scores of 3-1 and 10-1. So when I rode the T home after Wednesday's game and told a passenger who asked the score that we had won 11-2, he replied, "Oh, another laugher." But that wasn't how it happened at all...

My seat was in the second row of Section 37, but right on the aisle. The aisle is at an angle there, so if people stand at the bottom they think they're not in front of any seats, but in reality they're blocking several people in the first few rows. People kept coming up and deciding to stand there and watch the game, but it totally obscured the infield for me and the people around me. The ushers normally shoo them away, but they can't at the beginning of the game because they have to help all the late-comers who have no idea where their seats are. John Burkett gave up a run in the first inning. It scored on a groundout, but we couldn't see who had fielded it, and it wasn't immediately apparent that he had indeed scored. The woman next to me saw my scorecard and asked if I knew what had just happened, because she couldn't see. I said I wasn't sure, but I was calling it a 5-3 with an RBI. (The Red Sox do post the scoring on a message board in right field, but I couldn't see that from my seat, either.) She joked that I was going to have to start making up my own version of the game for the scorecard. I told her I already was, "and in my version, we're winning."

The Red Sox tied it up in the second and took a 2-1 lead on Jason Varitek's solo homer in the third. Burkett settled down, allowing only three more baserunners as he pitched through the sixth, but the slim lead was making me nervous. Too many close games had been blown recently by the bullpen. Pedro Matinez's last two starts jumped to mind. He had left both games ahead 2-1 only to watch them both slip away. Mike Timlin pitched a 1-2-3 seventh and Alan Embree made it through the eighth, but there was still a long way to go, and the Red Sox hadn't really been able to string anything together at the plate against eventual 21-game loser Mike Maroth.

In the bottom of the eighth, Maroth was lifted for lefty Jamie Walker, who struck out Todd Walker and then was replaced by Fernando Rodney. Nomar Garciaparra walked, moved up on a wild pitch, and then scored on a single by Manny Ramirez. "Ah, an insurance run," I thought. The 3-1 score felt better, and when Kevin Millar whiffed for the second out of the inning, I figured that would be all we'd get. But then David Ortiz and Bill Mueller reached on infield singles to load the bases, and Damian Jackson hit a two run single to make it 5-1. Varitek followed with an RBI ground-rule double, before Rodney was finally replaced by former Red Sox pitcher Steve Avery. He had been out of the majors for several years with injuries, and I was surprised to see that he had resurfaced. Avery walked Johnny Damon, then gave up a two-run single to Todd Walker and a three-run homer to Nomar, and just like that it was 11-1.

The nine-run inning had given the Sox a ten-run lead, which was more along the lines of what the bullpen could handle. Jason Shiell gave up a harmless run in the ninth, preserving the victory. But the 11-2 final score was not at all indicative of how nerve-wracking the game had really been.

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