|Game 80: June 24, 2008
||BS, L: Chad Qualls (5, 1-6)
||40-38, 1 game losing streak
||W: Chris Smith (1-0)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (22)
|48-32, 1 game winning streak
| Highlights: After I watched the game in person I saw the midnight replay on NESN. Never had I so thoroughly enjoyed attending the game in person and watching a broadcast of a game for completely different reasons.
I left my office in Waltham on the early side to meet my friends at El Pelon Taqueria, a tiny but marvelous Mexican restaurant on Peterborough Street. The torrential thunderstorms impeded my driving progress, but the timing of my late arrival at the restaurant fortuitously allowed my friends and I to observe another cloudburst from a cozy table indoors while munching on taquitos and tamales.
We slogged our way to Fenway without getting drenched. The passing dashes of rainwater cleansed the area and imparted a lustrous cast on the procession of flamboyant new buildings that have mushroomed in the Fens. When I lived there in the late 90s it was not unusual to walk past questionable places of commerce with graffiti scrawled along blank walls. Now gleaming clean concrete greeted me at every turn and salesclerks in upscale shops and eateries peered disdainfully through haughtily wrought façades at the unintentionally washed masses making their way to the ballpark.
The bricks of Fenway always present a warm and welcoming no matter the weather or the mood of the gate attendant. The park stood stolidly at the corner of Brookline and Yawkey, impassive to the onslaught of multiple storms and the encroachment of the young upstart team from the West.
Former Red Sox second baseman Jerry Remy was honored in pre-game festivities that included colleagues from on the field, like Carlton Fisk, Dennis Eckersley, Rick Burleson, and Dwight Evans, and in the broadcast booth, such as Bob Kurtz and Sean McDonough. Clips from his 20-year broadcasting career flashed on the Jumbotron. Like Fenway, Remy’s appearance has changed over the decades: a little more off the top and larger capacity. But their hearts remain the same.
Fresh-faced Justin Masterson already has seven starts to his name and four wins under his belt, but the lanky sinkerballer did not figure into last night’s decision even though he pitched an adequate six innings with seven hits, four earned runs, four walks, and four strikeouts. Masterson pitched from behind early by surrendering a three-run home run to Chad Tracy. Despite the setback the rookie was not derailed; he shut down the Arizona lineup for the next three innings.
Masterson passed the ball to fellow greenhorn Chris Smith who baffled the visitors for two innings. The only problem was that the Red Sox batters were facing similar fits of futility against Doug Davis. Dustin Pedroia propelled a homer into the far left sign above the Monster seats in the first inning for the only extra base hit relinquished by Davis. Otherwise Boston hitters were only able to spray singles about the field and just twice did they do so in succession against the Arizona starter.
The second time it happened was the bottom of the eighth inning. Davis conceded a leadoff liner to Julio Lugo and then another to one-bagger to Jacoby Ellsbury.
The 1-2-3 innings and GIDPs made for quick bottom halves of innings. The lack of home action meant that 37,867 people had seven and a half innings of energy stored up. With no men out and speedsters on the basepaths, the crowd at Fenway suddenly unleashed its pent-up zeal.
By all accounts Chad Qualls is a serviceable middle reliever. Josh Byrnes thought enough of him to acquire him (along with Chris Burke and prospect Juan Gutierrez) from the Astros for Jose Valverde. But, as with most things that are a make-do solution, middle relievers can become undone. A rabid crowd, inherited runners, and a seven-pitch at bat against a pesky pipsqueak can do that to a person, especially when that pipsqueak halves the deficit between you and his team with an arcing single over the second baseman’s glove.
Even through J.D. Drew’s strikeout and Manny Ramirez’s ground out the grandstand did not sit down nor flag in its exuberance. The constant cheering intensified to pandemonium when Mike Lowell tied the game with clanging double.
And just when I thought I had seen an audience at its peak of exultation, Jeff Salazar badly played Jason Varitek’s liner to right. Lowell crossed the plate for the go-ahead run and 37,867 lost their collective minds.
The Fenway sound booth carried the spectators’ ardor into the top of the ninth. “Wild Thing” and “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” blasted through the park and we head banged, air guitared, sang, or some combination of the three.
But when the song faded and Jonathan Papelbon stood on the mound and heaved a heavy exhale all bedlam ceased. It went from strident to still in an instant. Even though it felt as if we had just helped will the Red Sox into the lead we knew that the fate of the game rested in Papelbon’s palm. Which Papelbon toed the rubber tonight, we wondered.
His first pitch, a 96-mph heater, answered that galling question. The 27-year old record-holding relief ace was on the hill and on his way to his 22nd save, not the unsure pitcher who blew four saves.
Note: Photos from Monday and Tuesday games will be posted sometime this evening.