Monday night found me at the ballpark again, this time to witness a gorgeous complete-game effort by Daisuke, a distinct improvement over the last start I saw from him live. It seems his confidence and development are growing in inverse proportion to the media attention.
More importantly, before the game started I finally experienced another instance of my personal ballpark Holy Grail--getting to watch the starting pitcher warm up in the bullpen.
It all started with Barry Zito, on that fateful July day back in 2004, when I watched his bullpen session thanks to what I now know was uncharacteristic leniency from Fenway Security. Ever since then, I've been trying every time I go to the park to find a way to stand near the bullpen and watch again, and every time, I have had Fenway Security in my face. I actually had a bit of a kerfuffle over the bullpen-watching issue during Daisuke's first start this season as well.
Monday, though, I lucked out: we had seats in section 36 of the bleachers, and I finally found a spot where they let me watch relatively unmolested--behind the wall just over the triangle, a layer removed from the bullpen, but with a perfect view of the Sox side of the 'pens from above.
Here's what I really don't understand: if Fenway Security is truly worried about fans harrassing / bombarding starting pitchers with projectiles, why would they be so uptight about the area right behind the bullpen, where there's a fence, and not the spot some 30 feet behind and above the pen, where there's a clear shot for everything from hollered invective to thrown objects?
But whatever. Hopefully they'll never catch on. Because once again I got to see Major-League pitching up close, and basically, for me it pretty much was like getting to stand next to a unicorn.
I'm also intoxicated by Daisuke in particular. I could watch his quirky mechanics all day--he starts by placing both heels squarely on the rubber in a precise equidistant location from the ends. Then he steps his left foot back just so, and raises his arms above his head, putting himself almost exactly into ballet's fourth position.
He takes his time, in that moment, to align himself, spine, neck, head and arms in that order, unfurling to his greatest height. Then his right hand drops behind his head as he hops that right foot into a position perpendicular with the plate--an incredibly inefficient motion that seems impossible to repeat consistently, but he does. He kicks his left foot straight out, and throws the ball from a hidden position almost behind his back; if you capture him in a photo at just the right instant, he seems to almost be at a 45-degree angle in the moment of the leg kick.
It's an incredibly complex, intricate, totally unique delivery. For the pitching junkie, it's a sampling of an exotic dish. I don't know how many pitches it would take for me to be less than totally fascinated, but I know it's definitely more than the number I got to see.
Just then as I was watching, on a signal from Varitek, Daisuke threw one hard pitch from the windup before moving to practicing from the stretch (which he spent most of the rest of his session working on). I was close enough to hear him suck in his breath sharply, and he seemed to compact all that motion into a split second.
That's when I heard it again--the ball in the air. A fricative pair of sounds--first the breath: Fff! And then the ball: Zzzzzzzzhhhhh.
Golden sunlight was streaming down over the Monster as it neared dusk. It was the second time I'd been at the ballpark in as many days with Iain, my second Daisuke start in as many months, and the second time I've gotten to watch a charismatic starter warm up before a game. It was, in a word, heaven.
It didn't stop there, either. I also got to see Hideki Okajima and, to my infinite delight, Jonathan Papelbon, from the same vantage point, though those forays to the wall were much more brief. It was also much louder by then in the park, and so I couldn't hear what I'm sure is a very impressive sound indeed from Papelbon's fastball.
Okie, like Daisuke, is quirky. I was impressed most by his sheer wingspan up close. Randy Johnson is the only other pitcher I've seen with longer arms.
In stark contrast, Papelbon is all efficiency, all business. He only pitches from the stretch, that left leg shifting from ground to belt-level to ground again like a precision machine. After that, it's the arm doing the talking. Even throwing at about 75% during his tentative pre-warmups in the eighth inning, before the Sox cancelled his save opportunity with a barrage of runs, he made the catcher's glove pop like a rifle report.
I was somewhat torn in my reaction to that sudden rally: an opportunity for Papelbon to rest and for Matsuzaka to get work is the ideal for both of them, and of course it meant the Sox won in grand fashion. But my pitching-junkie side wanted to watch the ballpark light up when the announcer called Jonathan's name, wanted to crouch behind the wall with my camera, dodging security, as he made his slow, dramatic entrance.
Meanwhile, I was thrilled for Daisuke that he was getting his first complete-game, and glad to see that the Sox are letting him have his head a bit more. I still think it's only the beginning with him.
Then I got three hours' sleep and flew to Chicago, which is where I spent the last two days on business, which is why I haven't written and why I'm forgetting to mention plenty of other details, and also why I have yet to post the dozens of photos I feverishly snapped while stalking the pitching staff in the bullpen. Rest assured, they are coming--right after I conclude my whirlwind baseball tour for the week with Curt's start tonight.