Inspired by the Remys--some of which were moments I actually didn't see due to work, sleep, traveling, etc. and some of which I disagreed with in terms of ranking, I'd like to name my top plays of the first half of the season. Unlike Remy, I do not have access to vast stores of film footage and so will not be naming the top offense, defense and pitching plays but just a top ten of all categories. Feel free to add your own.
10. Beckett's home run, May 20 - I was in Chicago at the time and didn't actually see this one, but holy crap. The first home run by a Red Sox pitcher since 1972 deserves a spot on this list.
9. Adam Stern's catch, April 18 - "Papelbon came within a razor's edge of his fall from grace...walking two and allowing a base hit for loaded bases by the time he gave up a long fly ball to shallow center, which was somehow, in a COMPLETE MIRACLE, gloved by Stern and brought into the webbing of its glove within a micrometer of hitting the ground." (Game post)
8. Loretta's walkoff, April 17 - "Then all of a sudden the salesmen were shouting and shouts could be heard from the other end of the office and then another, like an echo, from way off in the other corner...and someone turned the radio up to full volume and I could hear Joe Castiglione shouting "MARK LORETTA WINS THE GAME ON A WALKOFF HOME RUN" and there, finally, was the comeback we've been denied so far in this homestand." (Post)
7. Mike Lowell's repudiation of a Mets bunt attempt, June 29 - With Curt Schilling and Tom Glavine locked in a pitched battle on the Fenway turf in the greatest game I've ever seen in person, Endy Chavez of the Mets attempted to lay a bunt down for a base hit, and he may have made it, too, were it not for a barehanded charge and a winging throw from Mike Lowell to Kevin Youkilis for an out. There have been many instances in which Youkilis and Lowell have combined for a snappy play, but this is the standout in my mind.
6. Javier Lopez strikes out Jim Thome, July 8 - "Now let's be honest, Red Sox fans. When Thome strode to the plate in that moment with only Javier "The Other" Lopez* between him and a gut-busting grand slam, didn't you wet your pants just a little?
I know I did. Especially when Lopez didn't exactly blow the guy away on three straight pitches, either. But somehow, eventually, Lopez got Thome to swing and miss for strike three. I just sat there and flat-out gaped at the TV screen. What had just happened was so far beyond my conception of likelihood that I had trouble getting a grasp on it at first. Javier Lopez had struck out Jim Thome. Will wonders never cease?" (Post)
5. Papi's walkoff against the Texas Rangers, June 12 - Papi has hit many walkoffs and clutch home runs this year. But this one was by far my personal favorite -
"Deuces were wild in the ninth; there were two on with two down in the bottom of the inning for Papi, who racked up two balls and two strikes in his at-bat. The Red Sox were down two runs.
The crowd was on its feet, its full roar held back into a tense rumble, with occasional chants of "Papi" and "Let's Go Red Sox" breaking the surface. Papi stepped back, he spit on his gloves, he took up the bat again and stood in. He faced the Rangers' Akinori Otsuka, a 30-year old Japanese fair-to-middlin' righty who replaced the Rangers' erstwhile closer Francisco Cordero after the latter blew 5 of 8 save chances to begin this season.
Ortiz fouled off strike three from Otsuka by a hair's width. "It's a good thing he's got paint on that bat," my dad remarked next to me, sipping his beer, as we were jostled by the crush of other excited fans. "Otherwise he'da missed it."
Once again David stepped back, spit, clap, bat. Once again he stood in, stared down Otsuka. The pitcher wound, delivered, and I swear in that second between pitcher and bat you could feel that the ball was going out of the park. I swear people started to cheer and celebrate before Ortiz even made contact, so fat and so ripe was the pitch just a nanosecond into its flight.
It was deafening where we were, as the PA system began to blast "Dirty Water" so loud, we could feel it in the soles of our feet, but could just barely hear it over the shouts of tens of thousands of our fellow fans, as we high-fived strangers and each other, as we raised our beers in salute toward the television monitors at the Cask N' Flagon, as close, literally and figuratively, as I've ever been to such a tremendous walkoff hit." (Post)
4. Jonathan Papelbon throws 2 1/3 exquisite innings, June 25 - "It's pretty much impossible to pick a favorite from among the mighty swinging strikeouts Jonathan racked up in the course of 2 1/3 innings of flawless relief. Although if pressed, I'd have to say it would be the three straight heaters to Pat Burrell, all of which Burrell swung at from the heels, after an intentional walk to Bobby Abreu to load the bases with two outs in a top of the ninth I don't think I'll ever forget." (Post)
3. Papelbon recovers from his first blown save, June 9 - "Papelbon charged back out to the mound for the ninth, eyes flashing, and put in a flawed but brilliant ninth, all the more brilliant because it, too, was marred, by an infield single (although were it not for some further acrobatics by Youkilis and Lowell, it might have been much worse) and a stolen base. But the strikeouts, three in all, that Papelbon racked up for his outs in that inning were as intent-filled and vengeful as a matter of simple skill and chance can be. Every one of the three Rangers who struck out did so swinging from the heels. There was a definite sense that Papelbon was not just sealing the win for the team and salvaging the night's work for himself, but that he was making a point. That he was punishing them." (Post)
2. John Lester's curveball, June 27 - "His next curveball was among the most wonderful pitches of the season. Wright fell for it hook, line and sinker, and his bat came up empty while Fenway exploded. You could see people leaping to their feet behind home plate before Varitek had even closed his glove around the ball." (Post)
1. Coco's catch, June 29 - This was #3 on Remy's list, and that was the chief reason I started my own list because that was the best catch I've ever seen or heard about. And I was THERE!
"All 36,000 in the ballpark screamed for minutes on end, screamed and screamed and somehow no screams of joy and gratitude seemed loud enough." (Post)
Favorite non-game Red Sox moments of the first half (Meta-Favorites, if you will):
10. Raining money in center field, May 1 - Mediots spent months debating, discussing, predicting and haranguing about what fans' reaction to Johnny Damon would be. Everyone expected boos and / or cheers; what no one expected was for Sox fans to throw dollar bills in a soft rain down on Johnny as he stood in center field. Personally, I thought that was an ingenious move.
9. Dougie's return, May 1 - How much do I love that this overshadowed the big Johnny Damon moment? And I mean...private jets, police escorts, high-speed car chases, all topped off by a wild standing ovation from an adoring crowd--how can you beat that Dougie moment?
8. The crowd rallies, April 13 - This was a personal one for me.
"The crowd had stayed, and seemed almost to shame the players, spurring them to give a performance more worthy of our enthusiasm. The whole relationship between action on the field and reaction in the stands seemed to reverse itself. It felt like we were willing this to happen.
By the time Loretta was on base and Papi was back at the plate, the place was absolutely berserk. I like to think I got a small taste, right then, watching people in the field boxes pound the walls like I've seen on my DVD, joining in the waves of LET'S GO RED SOX, of what it might have been like to be there for Game 4 or 5 two years ago. And Papi almost gave us a reprise, didn't he, swinging for downtown and coming within about five feet of hitting back-to-back homers, the second one to tie the game with Manny coming to the plate behind him.
But though right off the bat it had seemed like it was headed over the wall, it was caught, and Papi stopped on the basepath, taking off his batting helmet slowly, looking to the ground in disappointment.
"It can't be over just like that," I said out loud.
But it was. The Fenway organ started playing "Good Night, Sweetheart," and the slowly crowd woke from its daze and began to shuffle toward the exits.
We had lost, but my adrenaline was still pumping." (Post)
7. Jonathan Papelbon talks trash about Scrabble, June 24 - I told Steve that what I wanted for my birthday was Jonathan on my doorstep, holding his own collector's edition Scrabble board, smiling and saying "Hay, you wawna play some Scrabble?" Sadly, this did not materialize.
6. The veterans support David Pauley in Toronto, May 31- "The way Francona and Nipper clustered around the despondent Pauley in the dugout, hanging his head so low it was almost between his knees, the way Jason Varitek gave him a firm "buck up" slap on the butt, the way Manny and Papi broke out the big-boy bats in support, the way Mirabelli would lead Pauley gently back up onto the mound during conferences with one hand on his back and was seen giving him enthusiastic instruction between innings in the dugout...Sometimes the "back up your teammates" ethic in baseball seems like so much empty-headed machismo, especially when it comes to beanballs and fights. But tonight it was a touching display, the millionaire Boston Red Sox professional baseball club suddenly looking for all the world like a ragtag sandlot team, sticking up for the little guy on the mound." (Post)
5. The Cookie-Off, Feb. 27 - This one got its own Top Ten list.
4. Curt's curtain call, May 28 - "It looked like every fan at the ballpark tonight stayed at their seat after the final out had been recorded (by Jonathan Papelbon, who should also be noted for tying the club consecutive-save record to open a season at 18), chanting 'We. Want. Curt. We. Want. Curt'." (Post)
3. Pedro's return, June 27 - "To add to the "Red Sox Moments I Will Never, Ever Forget" file:
The moment, in the midst of the thunderous ovation for his video at Fenway Park--not for his start, for his video montage, a five-minute standing ovation--when Pedro Martinez stood up on the top step of the visitor's dugout, raised his arms up toward the crowd, and then brought them around his shoulders and hugged everyone in spirit. One of the most beautiful things I've ever seen, on the baseball field or off. Pedro Martinez is pure magic on two legs--we're just lucky to have witnessed it, and God love us, we know our role." (Post)
2. The family of Dennis Thomson throws out the first pitch, May 7 - "Dennis' family had no idea, apparently, that his picture was going to appear on the billboard. The photo is from the aftermath of Trot Nixon's walkoff home run in Game 3 of the 2003 ALDS. Dennis, meanwhile, was killed by a drunk driver on October 30, 2004, the day of the Red Sox' victory parade.
"Seeing the billboard, the Thomson family took it as a sign," intoned the Fenway announcer, as the park suddenly grew still, "That Dennis was all right, and watching the Red Sox, wherever he was."
Dennis' parents and siblings and the two friends pictured to his left in the billboard photo stood on the mound. Dennis' brother was to throw the pitch. Trot Nixon crouched behind the plate to catch it." (Post)
1. Schilling in the Rain, April 14 - This is another personal one. I don't know if anyone else remembers it. But we were playing against Seattle, and it was right on the cusp of it being too soon to tell if Curt was really "back" and when we decided with certainty that he was. Curt was pitching while a warm spring rain kicked up at the ballpark, with a runner on third. The single image that sticks in my mind from this whole season so far, for whatever reason, is of Curt Schilling's intense face peering through the rain at that runner. I can just see it in my mind--his terse mouth drawn thin, his eyes wide open and wild, looking with murderous intent through the driving drops, baseball out of its element, Schilling right smack in the middle of his.
It barely gets a mention in the original game post. But when I sat down to post any of this tonight, it was the first image that came to my mind, and it stuck there all the way through my reflections on the rest of the season. Who knows if, had I done this list yesterday, I might have had a different moment at Number One, but it's today and that's what's on my mind.
Worst Loss of the Year so Far: May 31 in Toronto. "Our second rally to fall short in as many nights (our fourth in two weeks). An outing from Beckett that left me hollering at the screen like Ewan MacGregor's Obi Wan Kenobi to Hayden Christiansen's Anakin Skywalker, "YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO BE THE CHOSEN ONE!!" Four home runs. FOUR. FOUR! Vernon Wells, officially the new Hideki Matsui (left-handed batter who always seems to be up at a crucial time and freakin' kicks the ass of every pitcher you have at said crucial moment) had two." Plus Gustavo Chacin is ugly. (Post)
Worst Meta-Moment of the year so far: That douchebag behind the dugout taunting Keith Foulke, May 28. I still want to kick that guy squaaaaaaaaa in the nuts.
And finally, my five personal best Fenway Park photos of the season so far (IMHO):
Evaluations (maybe) tomorrow.