Fittingly, the game ended on a weak pop-up in the bottom of the ninth, with no men on base. Not even a fair pop-fly, either--it was a pop-up off the bat of Mark Loretta that the third baseman caught in foul territory. And with that, the four-run deficit created by a godawful first two innings from David Wells had finally proved insurmountable--to the vocal frustration of the minority who remained in attendance.
The boo-birds were out in force throughout the game, offering their most basso profundo performance on the heels of gasps of disbelief at the handful of home runs Wells spotted the Blue Jays. In the first two innings, especially, he was looking no better than he had last Friday night in his rehab start for the PawSox.
"Get this ahhrse-hole oudda there!" cried the drunken, hot-dog infused young men in front of me, over and over again.
Yet Francona remained seated in the dugout. It took till halfway through the disastrous second inning for Al Nipper to even visit the mound; Lenny DiNardo was warming in the third but wasn't brought in until the fourth.
I understand Tito values his players' confidence, especially early in the season, but this was ridiculous. What Wells was even doing there, at center stage in Fenway Park last night being showered in derision, is probably anyone's guess. Wells himself was probably wondering the same thing, though he eventually settled down and put up a few perfunctory zeros before being lifted for the best gasoline the bullpen had to offer. (Watching the antics in the bullpen through my binoculars, meanwhile, was a good escape from my frustration in the middle innings; Mike Timlin especially was a ridiculous presence out there, often sitting back with one hand tucked down his pants Al Bundy-style.)
Surprisingly, though, the Blue Rhino boys held out, first DiNardo (aka the Official Sign of Surrender) and then Seanez, though both did their best to give the game away, putting flocks of Blue Jays on base and, in the case of Seanez, bouncing so many pitches it seemed he was trying to play cricket instead.
In the end, though, it was the offense that failed us. That's the side I come down on, at least, though many are content to blame Wells and / or the front office for even signing Wells in the first place (Ah, Red Sox Nation, such a fair and balanced crowd!).
Jason Varitek, especially, was absolutely killing me. At least twice, he came up with two outs in an inning and more than one guy on base with the chance to do something--base hit, walk, anything--to tie the game up or at least put the Red Sox back in it, and at least twice he totally blew it, and threw up a nice ofer for himself on the night. As did Manny, who has not covered himself in glory at the plate this season yet. (I have yet to discover, by the way, a more demoralizing baseball experience than chanting "Manny, Manny, Manny" as part of the Fenway Park audience, only to have the Dreadlocked Wonder strike out to end the inning.)
David Ortiz and Wily Mo Pena both homered, a nice sight to see--I hadn't seen Papi go deep in person, at least not that I can remember, and being there for the first Red Sox and first Fenway home run for the man so many pundits have anointed as Papi's successor was a special thing. Especially the moment I got to have, out in the right field boxes, when Pena came out to take his place in the field the next inning, and the surrounding stands gave him a prolonged (and non-sarcastic) cheer, so loud and so long that he tipped his cap and gave an "aw, shucks" grin in response.
The crowd was so excited for him, in fact, that it spilled over the stands in the form of a young man who finally hopped the fence and ran out onto the grass, where he high-fived the bewildered Pena before being escorted out of the park by police and Fenway security. The guy was probably just a drunk asshole, but I like to think his trespassing onto the field was a measure of the fans' enthusiasm for Wily Mo instead.
(Sadly, I was not quick enough with the camera to get a shot of that moment. Looks like I swung and missed, too.)
But still, when the biggest offensive heroics on the night are provided by Dustin Mohr (the only non-solo homer in the bunch, which at the time made the score a seemingly manageable 5-2), you have to know the team's not hitting on all cylinders. "We've got a different set of sticks up there [now]," was how Red put it, and I'm forced to agree.
Still, I was hoping this would be the night I got to see a big comeback. As the number of remaining Red Sox outs dwindled, I kept recalculating in my head how the Red Sox could string together a rally to take the lead. By the time I was down to, Gonzalez, Youkilis and Loretta get on base and then Papi hits a bottom-of-the-ninth grand slam just to tie the game, it did occur to me that it was a little ridiculous. But a three and then four run gap seemed like so little! And the Sox did their best to tantalize, putting men on base repeatedly and then stranding them there. Afterwards, reviewing the game in my head, I counted at least five moments where the Red Sox offense could have tied the score or even taken the lead, and yet they had failed.
But I sat in my seat till the very last pop fly, hoping this would be the night.