Game 6: JD Drew and the Unlikeliest Grand Slam Ever
Beckett’s performance had been dominant, but it hadn’t been decisive.
All it did was send the Red Sox back home for another chance to turn things around. In retrospect, Beckett’s game 5 was the turning point of the series, but at the time, it was only a step in the right direction.
The Red Sox, having brought the series to a more respectable 3-2 and returning to their home field, still had to take advantage of the opportunities that afforded them. Following the return of Mr. Hyde in the middle games of the series, whether or not they would still felt like a matter of a coin toss.
The context of 2004 was in the balance, and up in the air, as well. Would the Red Sox revert to their former futility, leaving their sole victory just a fluke? Or would they begin to make a habit of coming back with their backs against the wall?
The first inning of Game 6 unfolded into a microcosm of the overall series. The Red Sox once again were a powerhouse of potential energy, loading the bases with no one out. And then as the heart of the lineup started going down, one after another, first Manny Ramirez, then Mike Lowell, we were painfully reminded yet again that potential energy is nothing without work to make it kinetic.
If anyone claiming to be a Red Sox fan tells you they believed in, hoped for, or even thought about the possibility of a grand slam when J.D. Drew followed Lowell to the plate there in that first inning, you can be sure they are an impostor. From the moment he replaced our beloved, spunky, funny Trot with expressionless ineptitude in right field last season, J.D. Drew took on the time-honored role, previously occupied by Mark Bellhorn and Edgar Renteria, of our favorite whipping boy.
Except even then, the phenomenon of Drew-hatred had a vitriol and persistence neither of those other players experienced. Aggravating the angst were two things: Drew’s $14 million salary, which many felt was too high even giving Drew’s skills the benefit of the doubt, and his utter ineptitude with runners in scoring position. In fact, for the ALCS up until that point, Drew was 0-6 with RISP. In his entire career, he had an average of .198 with the bases loaded.
Even as it happened, even as the ball floated into center field, first looking like a flyout, then maybe like a wall ball, and then finally just edged itself over the wall to plop at the feet of one of the cameramen, it was beyond belief. Even as J.D. rounded the bases, allowing himself a single stiff fist-pump in celebration, it was absolutely unreal.
And yet even as I write about how he finally came through in the clutch, and recall what a soaring moment that was, I still feel alienated from J.D. In part, that may be because he’ll never be one of our warm and fuzzy fan favorites. But in another part, it’s because when I watch his run around the bases while a stunned Fenway audience cheers bewilderedly, I feel like we the fans were among those who got our comeuppance with that improbable Granny. Like at least part of his teammates’ sincere leaps of joy and back-slaps and wide grins comes from the power of that rebuke to all those who stubbornly and insistently dogged J.D. from day one to Game 6—and like that includes us.
Unlike Manny’s walkoff in the ALDS or any of David Ortiz’s clutch heroics, J.D.’s home run feels like something that we fans are less entitled to share. When it comes to our inscrutable right fielder, it feels to me like I have been like the characters in Aesop’s The Little Red Hen: not around to help when the hard work’s being done, and so not able to share in the bread when it finally appears.
When I watch this home run again, I pay attention to the grins on J.D.’s teammates’ faces: it’s clear the sense of vindication they feel for him, and it’s not beyond reason to believe that showing us up for the way we’ve turned on J.D.—the way we’ve turned on lots of players—might be a part of their exuberance.
Because we’ve done it to all of them at one time or another. Because at the end of the day, there is the world we occupy, and the world they occupy. Because 2004 erased them for a few shining moments, but here in 2007, we are reminded of the spaces between those worlds that will never be closed.
Game 7: Coco and the catches that sealed the Pennant
One of my favorite images of the 2007 posteason is Jonathan Papelbon’s reaction to closing out Game 7:
But that moment was made possible by another one that isn’t always acknowledged: Coco’s final crashing catch into the wall for the last out.
Coco had been riding the pine the whole game, thanks to the continued usurpation of his position by golden boy Jacoby Ellsbury, whom Sox fans have welcomed since he first set foot on the Fenway diamond with giddy, lustful adoration. Even as Coco was brought in as a defensive replacement in the ninth inning of Game 7 with the score 11-2, he still shared the outfield with his rival, who’d been moved to left to spell Manny Ramirez.
And it would be Jacoby who would make a Coco-style sliding one-handed catch for the first out of the inning, which had an atmosphere several orders of magnitude more intense than the score might suggest. I think it would be one thing if Coco found himself replaced by Ellsbury situationally, for offensive production. But to stand out there and watch while Fenway bathed Ellsbury in cooing praise for upstaging him at his own game…?
This is the way of things, of course, but it’s still worth giving Coco credit for the maturity and integrity it took to make the final two outs of the series, to step up and play the somewhat paltry role offered to him, and play it well, when it mattered most. He tracked out No. 2 with quick steps of his feet. It was relatively routine, but still required his full concentration after a game spent idle.
The next catch, the one that unleashed the call of, “…and the Red Sox win the Pennant!” was even more difficult. The ball came off the bat of Casey Blake headed for the triangle in right center, out by the 420-foot mark. Coco sped after it, his legs scissoring faster and faster with each passing second, his eyes trained over his shoulder on the ball. It dropped into his glove the split second before he smashed into the bullpen wall, cracking his right shin hard and tumbling to the ground.
By the time some concerned teammates had helped him get up and begin limping toward home plate, the rest of the team was already mobbing Jonathan Papelbon on the mound.
Much has been made of Tim Wakefield’s sacrifice in the World Series, when he took himself off the roster with a shoulder injury. But a similar thing happened to Coco in the 2007 postseason, except it wasn’t his choice, and he wasn’t hurt.
Tomorrow: A certain symmetry