Game 3: Daisuke, adjustments and expectations
Daisuke Matsuzaka began this season a study in expectations.
He arrived like a force of nature, doubling the media population in the Sox clubhouse and being scrutinized at seemingly every possible moment. People talked about his fabled endurance like he was Paul Bunyan. And when we finally got to see him on the field, I was instantly smitten.
Before opening day, I had a chat with my blogfather Edw. about the pitching staff, and he tried to give me a warning. "Don't over hype Matsazuka or you'll be disappointed," he typed, surprising me. "He's a #4 starter, not a Cy Young or #3, I guess..."
We chatted back and forth on the topic, and I made a case for Matsuzaka while he listened patiently but gave no indication as to whether or not he was inclined to change his mind.
After that, I began to get antsy. This feeling increased when I attended his disappointing Fenway debut:
The moments just following the game were strange, as I trudged out of the park past souvenir stands stuffed with Daisuke memorabilia, past all the Japanese signs and fans wearing karate-kid headbands. I remembered what Edw. had said when we talked about Daisuke, and it occurred to me as I passed a rack of T-shirts with Daisuke's face on them that this could all look very foolish indeed in six months' time…
In a way, I was correct to sense I had the wrong idea when it came to Daisuke in those early, heady days of hype. In the end, what would impress me most about Daisuke this season admittedly was not his pitching, which was at times mediocre; instead, it was his mental toughness, making it through culture shock and homesickness and a longer season than he’s used to, while part of a rotation one day shorter than he’s used to.
Who knows what he must’ve been like in private, but whenever we got to see him, he sucked it up and made adjustments, which is the mark of a fine pitching mind, even if the physical mechanics take longer to catch up (cf. Josh Beckett, 2006 offseason edition). By the time September rolled around, he still seemed the worse for wear, but he came through with a second wind of effectiveness that month, and earned crucial victories for the Sox. By then, he was running on fumes; his victories seemed as much will as skill.
Now, in game 3 of the World Series, after still more months of fatigue and unfamiliarity and hard-learned lessons, here he was, at the end of a longer season than he has ever pitched, more exhausted than he probably has ever been, facing down the opponent in an unfamiliar stadium in an unfamiliar city in an unfamiliar country, with a critical tool of the trade—the ball—shaped differently from the one he’d used his entire career. And doing it with aplomb.
Adjustments must be made to our expectations also.
Game 4: Bobby Kielty, the hometown lad
Bobby Kielty looks like someone we would know. I saw many of my fellow fans, most notably Red, take to Bobby Kielty immediately when the Red Sox signed him. Even though he was a castoff from Oakland and signed just to a minor-league deal, I can recall vivid full-color pictures of the flame-haired Kielty (seriously, that is not red hair, that is orange) popping up on many a Sox blog. Kielty had all the ingredients for a cult following in Boston coming in: a name that’s fun to say with a thick Boston accent; attention-getting hair; a relatively neutral reputation and disposition (cf Bellhorn, Mark); and most of all, that map of Ireland on his face.
Every one of us in heavily Irish / Italian Boston knows someone who looks just like Bobby Kielty. For a few, it’s even the person in the mirror.
As the season played out, Kielty delivered from the bench, coming up with enough key hits in crucial situations when filling in for JD Drew that my father openly demanded he become the full-time replacement. (At the same time, others around the Nation were calling even more vociferously for Jacoby Ellsbury to play out of position and ahead of Drew. As I mentioned earlier, to say we completely hated JD Drew would be an understatement.)
Kielty sealed his claim on Boston’s affection permanently in his very first game with the big club, on August 19 against the Angels, with one singularly gritty play in the outfield.
That afternoon, the ball came out of the hand of Julian Tavarez and then off the bat of Casey Kotchman, soaring into right field. It was the top of the first, Tavarez had already been touched up for two runs, and the Angels had a man on.
The ball was headed into the visitor’s bullpen, but Kielty pursued it, running with his head turned back and his glove held aloft, so completely absorbed that he never so much as sensed the wall before it slammed into the right side of his chest, directly in the ribs, just as the ball popped into his glove for the inning-ending out.
He slowly peeled himself off the wall and stood doubled over on the warning track, heaving, the wind knocked out of him, while Fenway toasted its newly beloved Irish lad.
Two months and what felt like several lifetimes later, Kielty, still with us, would come to the plate in the top of the eighth inning in the pitcher’s spot while the Sox clicked along with a relatively comfortable two-run lead in Game 4 of the 2007 Fall Classic.
There was nobody out and the bases were empty. There had just been an inning change and with it, commercials. Who knows how many Sox fans must have tuned back in just in time to be startled by Kielty’s blast to deep left on the first pitch delivered by the Rockies’ Brian Fuentes. It was not a cheap hit. Kielty’s dinger came off the bat with a telltale crack that must have sent untold numbers of fans lunging back in from kitchens and bathrooms to their TV sets, just at the sound of it.
A pinch-hit home run in the World Series. In what would turn out to be the clinching game. For what would turn out to be the winning run. All for the bench guy who feels like one of us. Which, it turns out, he actually kind of is.
From an article by Gordon Edes in the Boston Globe, August 7, 2007:
For 37 years, Kielty's grandfather, John, walked his routes as a mailman in Fitchburg. Kielty's great-uncle, Frank, taught at Fitchburg High. And his father, Roger, has a pedigree that is pure Fitchburg: He played hockey on Greene's Pond, hung out at Whalom amusement park, and attended St. Bernard's grammar school, B.F. Brown Junior High, and FHS, where he was the star fullback on a Red and Gray team that defeated archrival Leominster two straight years in one of the country's oldest Thanksgiving Day football rivalries.
When I think of this game, it’s Kielty I think of first and foremost. Of that perfect moment for a guy it might have been easy to overlook if it weren’t for that shock of neon hair. Of how, wherever he was, during the top of the eighth inning on October 28, 2007, Bobby Kielty’s father must have cried like a baby.
Tomorrow: Tim Wakefield's World Series sacrifice; The year of the Papelbon