Picture Jonathan Papelbon on the mound in a one-run ballgame, getting ready to face the first batter in the bottom of the ninth. Know how he has that habit of taking in a big gulp of air and then letting out a cleansing sigh before staring in for the sign? That's kind of how I'm looking at my laptop screen as I set out to catch up on the events of this past week.
Murphy's Law of Blogging or any type of diarism is that the more things you have to write about, the less time, by definition, you have to do so. This is definitely the trap I fell into this week, as between now and the last time I updated, I went to two Sox games in person and the Sox played three more that I definitely want to write about.
I harbored the pipe dream until last night at around midnight, when a long-postponed chore that had become unignorable was finally finished, that I would be writing separate posts for each game. Even once I gave up that ghost, I still clung to the notion I would be writing two posts, one for the game against the Devil Rays that I went to on Wednesday, and one for the Angels series. Several hours of processing photos from the games I attended, however, forced me to concede that probably isn't going to fly, either.
So I am going to tackle it in one post. I promise to try to keep things coherent. I also will try to keep it under 80 pages, but no guarantees there.
The best way to do this will probably be just to hit the standout moments, so let's start at the very beginning, which would be the moment I approached the glassed-in doors to the outside seats in the luxury box where I took in Wednesday's game, the first time I've ever been up there.
What struck me about the view from those seats wasn't just the sweeping vista of the ballpark from up high--it was also the total lack of obstruction between the seats and the field. It actually took me a little while to figure out what felt so weird as I sat and took in the view.
The other thing that struck me about the seats were, well, the seats. They were padded and looked to me to be about six feet wide, though in reality they were probably around the same dimensions as your average movie-theater seat. I have debated with myself about whether or not to publish this, fearing it might touch off class warfare in Boston, but I feel the need to tell you anyway that there were also cup holders.
One of the people I went to the game with and I were deep in discussion about the balk rule after we saw Daisuke come set, then throw to first instead of coming home. We watched him wind up again, the better to see if there was some other gesture that constituted his coming set, and didn't see one. Another pitch.
"That's coming set, right?"
"And that's what he did before he threw to first just now, right?"
"He stepped off the rubber first," came a voice from my left. "If you break the plane of the rubber to the back of the mound first, it's not a balk."
I turned and saw a kid about my age, maybe a little younger, scruffy, with a battered backwards cap on and a can of Bud Light in his hand. He was wearing board shorts, flip-flops, a faded t-shirt and a somewhat mismatched button-down overshirt. He looked, in other words, like someone I might make friends with in the bleachers.
After we chatted a little more about the finer points of the balk rule, I asked him if he was a regular to the box he was sitting in, the one right next to ours. "Hell no," he said. "I got this ticket from a scalper for 60 bucks."
"60 bucks?!!? Holy crap! Really?!?"
"Yep. Some other guy wanted to sell me State Street standing room for a hundred bucks."
"No shit. Wow. Good for you."
And no sooner had we had that conversation, and no sooner had I settled in to take in the game with my new knowledgeable friend by my side, than Fenway Security showed up.
So the story is that the kid had a legitimate ticket to one of the boxes. He repeated the story that he had gotten it from a scalper, but who knows. In any event, it occurred to me after the kid was escorted from my presence that the ticket was probably so cheap for one big reason: those are seats in which the people around you will know you don't belong there.
Especially when, as it turns out, you've scalped a ticket and then sit in the luxury box that belongs to John Henry.
And, as it turns out, if you first enter that box and help yourself to several lobster rolls from their spread. And it is also probably not a good idea to start dipping in said box while surrounded by children, and their mothers, especially when said children and mothers in turn belong to, you know, owners and players on the Boston Red Sox.
There was much debate following his ejection from the park as to whether or not it was fair. After all, he did have a legitimate ticket for the section (he was just in the wrong box). They can't prove he scalped it. And most importantly, if it'd been me, I'd definitely have given it a shot, too. All of us agreed to that.
None of that impressed Fenway Security much, however, and so in the end I'm just sorry I didn't get the chance to ask that kid's name. Or shake his hand.
Otherwise there isn't much about that game that's worth writing about. Daisuke had a terrible inning, giving up 4 runs in one fell swoop, digging the Sox a hole from which they never recovered, and tacking on two more over the rest of his innings besides. From right out of the gate he struggled, and never seemed to really settle in. The offense mounted a partial comeback, but with two outs and two on in the bottom of the ninth, with the Sox still down by one, Manny Ramirez struck out. For all I've bitched about the offense this season, I can't lay this one on them. That loss was all Daisuke.
If I'd been watching on TV, I would've been livid. Even more so than I was on Sunday when they almost lost the Devil Rays. Watching one of our top pitchers mauled by Tampa Bay is never pleasant, especially not with the Yankees breathing down our collective neck.
But first, there was a bit of a delayed reaction, because until that moment I was on my feet cheering, sure this perfect day was going to be capped off by another comeback. And second, I had been totally seduced by the whole experience--the photography alone was incredible without someone walking between my camera and the field or throwing peanuts past my head or some gigantically tall person blocking my view. I'd also been jonesing for Fenway after a lengthy ticket drought, and the glorious, sun drenched weather meant the park was dressed in its Sunday best, complete with the mowing pattern the grounds crew designed for this homestand, which I love--the home-plate shape in center field with the B logo cut into it.
So let me just leave that game there, in that moment with Manny at the plate, ripe with possibility, just happy to be back in my ballpark under the summer sun. Because that's all I could remember, even as we walked out that day, with the Fenway organ playing "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?"
The next day, Sam called and said she had an extra ticket to Friday night's game against the Angels.
In order to get to Friday night's game in time, I missed the day game completely. In fact, for various reasons of time constraint I haven't even seen the highlights of The Buchholz, but I have been told he acquitted himself well. Also Papelbon pitched that game, which at first I was disappointed to learn because that meant I definitely wouldn't be seeing him. Once Friday night's game was over, I was disappointed about that for a lot of other reasons.
I'm still not even necessarily sure where to start. After the game, how I felt depended on which specific inning I was remembering. If it was the inning where Manny Ramirez smoked a double to left and Papi scored the go-ahead run while I jumped up and down in front of my seat along the third base line screaming, "YES! YES! YES! YES!" a little grin would creep across my face, despite how things would eventually end.
If it was the inning where I stood up to clap for Eric Gagne, and watched him fall apart anyway before my horrified eyes, and as boos started to rain down from the grandstand, then I looked back with an expression much like my Tussin face.
That's how it went, ping-ponging back and forth as Sam and I fled the Kenmore crush down Beacon St.
One of the smilier moments of that walk for me was when I remembered finally getting to bullpen-stalk Josh Beckett, who had been the one favorite of mine I hadn't seen from my newly discovered stalking spot in the bleachers, and how impressive he was to watch up close, a towering, imposing figure even while playing long-toss in the outfield. He's someone whose every movement has a sense of power about it--even just walking around aimlessly, he looked like a tightly coiled spring, just waiting for the slightest opportunity to release all that energy. He had definite presence, maybe even more so than Schilling (though not more than Papelbon or Daisuke).
In the bullpen, he did not look like a million bucks. Maybe it was because of the band aid he had wrapped around his right middle fingertip until just after the national anthem. He and Tek spent a lot of time gesturing silently at one another. I've seen Tek do that with other pitchers he's warming up, too, but not to quite this extent. Most of the pitches I saw, especially working from a wind-up, were in the dirt or sent Varitek lunging and diving to retrieve them. And I was too far away to hear the ball hum.
But there's something about watching Beckett pitch from in person that you just don't get on TV. I think it's because at the park you can be perpendicular to the path of the pitch, where most TV angles are in line with the pitch. From the perpendicular perspective you can get a better sense of how quickly the ball reaches the plate, and I've heard the exact same comment on Beckett over and over at the park by now: "It's like it gets there too fast." Too fast to track visually, at times. And like Papelbon, he makes the glove pop like a rifle shot.
The closest pitcher I could compare him to up close would probably be Barry Zito, though Barry glowers less. They have the same sense of gathered energy, and both also release the ball explosively as they deliver, Barry who seems to fly open with all his limbs all at once, and Josh, who goes from swinging comfortably into the kick portion of his windup to flinging himself back over towards the plate so quickly there are probably several dozen outtakes on my digital camera's memory card of him following through while I was trying to catch him releasing the ball. I couldn't catch him.
Add to the list of things I'm peeved about with Friday's game the fact that after several straight weeks of crazy shenanigans and temper tantrums left and right, Joshie decided to be a fairly bland model prisoner while I was actually in attendance.
There was only one mild exception to this. Lugo committed his second error of the game to open the sixth inning, and shortly after that it was followed up with a single to put runners at the corners with nobody out. Beckett proceeded to angrily strike out the next three batters in a row, and after the first, Gary Matthews Jr., he turned and very pointedly signaled in Lugo's direction that there was one out.
I thought for sure after the last hitter K'd, we'd at least get a fist pump. Negative. He appeared to have something to say about it, but that was about it. Not even an obscene gesture or a shouted F-Word. I want my money back.
OK, I'm just kidding. I want my money back because of Gagne, not Joshie. Joshie just ended up being a non-factor, though he also pitched more than well enough to win.
Another of the joys of this game, though, was getting to see Vladimir Guerrerro, who currently is my favorite non-Sox player. When I see him, Manny and Papi together, I feel like he's the third piece of the set that I didn't know we were missing. He seems like a curious blend of them both in personality, too, not as off the wall as Manny but definitely goofier than Papi, and even just watching him talk to other people I get the sense that he's as nice a man as you'll find in professional sports. His body language and his beatific smile after he does something crazy, like, say, blooping an RBI single from somewhere in the on-deck circle into right center, suggest he's quite sorry to have scored that run in your house, Mr. Red Sox, that's just what he does.
For example, after he lifted a very nice splitter from Schilling into the Monster seats from his shoetops on Saturday, the look on his face as he rounded the bases didn't say "take that, sucka," but "Actually, that was a pretty nice pitch." And it was. Personally I thought Schilling looked like he was going to hurl right then and there. And Vladi just smiled.
So now we come to Saturday's game, which featured a clutch grand slam from Papi, whose vindicated celebration after hitting it gives me goose bumps despite the number of times I've seen it replayed, and yes, I am aware that this is hypocritical after the times I've scolded Manny for similar things and given how I'd feel about it if I were a fan of the opposing team. But, hell. I also watched him literally brought to his knees in pain on Friday night after fouling a ball off his leg, and it's been obvious to everyone watching for weeks that this has become a trying season for him. He finally launched a complete bomb right when his team needed it, after not being able to come through for so long, and I guess I can't blame him for wanting to celebrate the moment.
It turns out we lost the game today, but that game Saturday makes me feel like the Sox have finally shown me something again this month like they did in May--a certain spark that's been missing in the recent series against Tampa Bay and Baltimore. Curt is still not himself, but it seemed fitting somehow that he be on the mound when all the heroics occurred. I would obviously rather have won than split this series, but the Sox at least proved this weekend that they can hang with the Angels, and there was some incredibly good baseball played on both sides. I really can't complain.
And Papi feeling his oats a little while Schilling's on the mound? That just makes me giddy.
Giddy like The Buchholz notching his first Major League win. He got touched up a little, but held his own against the Angels--the second-best team in the American League, might I remind you--in his first big-league start on Friday.
Julia sent me an email on Saturday that read, "Don't tell me you have a crush on Clay Buchholz now?"
Well, let's see. Goofy righthanded power pitcher with an accent? That appears to be all the criteria for a fixation right there. Throw in the fact that he's shipped right out of Texas, where they know how to grow pitchers, and I'm clearly done for.
The only thing I can see wrong with The Buccholz at this point is that he is too skinny. He looks like a big stick-bug out on the mound, all stilt-like limbs and toothpick body. That and the fact that he looks about 15 years old make me just want to sit him down and feed him all the cheeseburgers he can eat. And inquire if he's warm enough in the winter and if his mother knows where he is.
BTW, speaking of goofy righthanded power pitchers with accents, I would like to state for the record that I still love Eric Gagne. I'm telling you, I just fell for the guy like a ton of bricks right away, and now it seems I'm stuck with him as a binky. Much as I may dread the fact that this may mean another Beth vs. The World, Keith-Foulke-esque situation, I really can't seem to help it. And so it warmed my heart to see him pitch lights out today, even though the Red Sox lost.
While there have been plenty of feel-good moments for the week, the results for the Sox weren't what I'd been hoping for. We padded the lead a bit as the days wore on, but on Friday, we blew the chance to increase the lead to 7 games and have since gone back to four. The Yankees have more than held their own against the Tigers, and it's officially freaking me out at this point.
After the game Friday night, I ran into Kristen while waiting for the train. She and I were going in the same direction, so we talked while riding the C Line. She told me that on her recent trip to Baltimore and New York with Marianne, Marianne's father had asked her, "So, they must be pretty psyched up in Boston, huh?"
To which Kristen responded the way I probably would, with a breathless list of all the bogeymen waiting to pounce on us. To this, she said Marianne's dad said, "Ah, you're an old Red Sox fan. That's how you can tell." Apparently there are old Red Sox fans and new Red Sox fans (and I'll take this guy's word for it because he lives in Baltimore, and therefore obviously knows from Red Sox fans). According to Kristen, he told her "new" Red Sox fans would answer that question with a cheerful affirmative. "Old" fans would run the gamut from bogeyman-listing to superstitious refusal to discuss it.
I don't know how to explain it, but I definitely fall in that "old" category, too. Sometimes I worry it makes me a lesser fan, that I'm not "Believing" like it's 2004. But I am not gonna lie like I always feel great about how things are going to turn out after some of these games. Right now things still seem inconclusive--for every distressing thing the team showed us this weekend there was another great thing to match it. During Friday's game they couldn't hang on--but they did finally come back for once, and if it hadn't been for some shady umpiring in the ninth inning, who knows what might have happened. They didn't get what I viewed to be a crucial sweep against the Devil Rays, but they leave the week without having broken the 4-game high water mark. Gagne has now looked shitty three times and good three times. Schilling doesn't look like he's ever going to be back to his old self, but Beckett continues to be a rock.
And so on. I heard Peter Gammons on the radio this week, and he said he was of the belief that any of the top teams in the AL--the Tigers, Angels, Sox and Yankees--could very well appear in the World Series. This weekend's series makes me feel he's right. It would be silly to be hitting any panic buttons, but it's impossible to feel certain that things are necessarily falling into place the way they should for the Sox. I guess that's what's scary about it.