(Photo from Yahoo Sports)
Dude, DOOD… What a bloody fantastic game! Truthfully, my fingers and toes are still tingling, as much from the clapping and stomping in the 43 degree game time temps as from the electricity that fills Fenway Park during a Yankees/Red Sox game. It’s like I can still feel it humming through my bloodstream and the energy hasn’t yet abated.
I usually get to Fenway a half dozen times a year, but never until about a third of the way through the season. To be there for the third game in the home park, against the Yankees no less, and to see three home runs off a decidedly human looking Randy Johnson, the initiation of Edgah Renteria, NotDave Roberts going deep, experiencing the Tek Love Mojo, seeing some brouhaha between a fan and the Right Field ‘Roid Monster, Papa Yack and Tito Be-Still-My-Heart Francona getting tossed, the Yanks bullpen imploding, Foulkie giving me palpitations, TEK! and the continuation of the Red Sox Catcher Blood Feud, it’s almost too much. Okay, deep breath. And…away we go!
I walked to Kenmore after work. Arlington Street to the Bertucci’s in Kenmore is a good walk at a brisk pace and after spending nearly the entire day sitting in my chair, staring at my computer screen, I had some residual energy to burn. Amy stood with me waiting for Deb to show up, or, in the event that Deb didn’t make it, to take her ticket. We saw a couple walk by, him in a Sox hat and shirt, her wearing a Jeter jersey.
Amy: How does that happen?
Me: She can’t be that good in bed.
Deb finally arrived and we found our seats fairly quickly. The Yankees were taking batting practice and a lusty chorus of boos could be heard whenever a villain – which is pretty much any Yankee – took to the cage. A few Yankees fans were scattered around the dugouts, begging for balls or whatever it is Yankee fans do. I can only imagine the inside of their heads must be a dark and terrifying place. Deb borrowed my phone to call her brother and inform him that our seats, Grandstand 29, Row 10, were freakin’ great. Perfect sight lines to the entire infield with the obligatory support column blocking a partial view of the Jumbotron. All the better to obscure the Yankees’ faces during at-bats. Excellent.
Deb, though a relative baseball neophyte, was better than 95% of newbies I’ve been to baseball games with in that she didn’t continually ask inane questions like “What’s a double?” or “How many innings are there?” Occasionally she’d ask what player wore what number or whether something was scored a hit or an error but she seemed to understand when I explained, probably poorly, what a 6-4-3 double play was and I translated “GIDP.” She was good company.
At first, the String Bean looked good. He threw more pitches that he should have in the first thanks to the Marx Brothers out there in left and center who evidently cannot understand the Little League concept of “calling for a ball.” Kee-rist. What’s it gonna take for those two to pay attention? Complete concussions? Comas? Seriously, put the hair in a ponytail, JD if it’ll allow you to hear better.
Anyway, Bro-Yo did what he did and there was little harm done. It was Unit time.
Deb turned to me and said, “Randy Johnson is really ugly. Like, even from here.”
“Yeah, he’s a freak of nature,” I said.
“He should, like, do some squat thrusts or something. He’s all scrawny. He has no ass.”
I gulped hard, “I really don’t want to think about Randy Johnson’s ass. Present, absent or otherwise.”
Throughout the game, Deb kept a running commentary on the Yankees re: their mug shots on the Jumbotron. She proclaimed them, in lineup order, as follows:
Deb: Nice ‘stache.
Me: He’s the stand-in for Sheffield’s porn roles.
Deb: Cocky bastard.
Me: I’m pretty sure the way Jeter brushes his teeth would irritate the piss out of me.
Me: Hate. Hate. Hatey, hate, hateration.
Deb: That guy scares me. In so many ways.
Me: His official name is “Fucking Matsui.”
Deb: Why are his lips purple?
Me: *clutches stomach, doubles over with laughter at newbie’s seemingly innocent observation*
Deb: He looks like a jug.
Me: Or a rat. With no chin.
Deb: Oh yes, he’s very unpleasant.
Me: That’s one way of putting it. And he clearly eats babies.
Deb: He looks very plain. Like’s he’s just…nothing.
Me: There’s a guy who works in the coffee shop in my office who looks just like him. I’m kind of mean to that guy. He probably wonders what the hell he did to piss me off.
Deb: Um…he looks…old.
Me: That’s because he’s 147.
The Assless Unit (tm Deb) got out of the first inning unscathed, undoubtedly helped along by the Red Sox’s apparent philosophy that it’s fine to swing at the first pitch, or the second, or really, any ‘ole pitch. And if anyone knows what’s happened to Manny Ramirez, the real Manny Ramirez, the World Series MVP Manny Ramirez, could you kindly let the Red Sox know. He seems to be missing.
Top of the second and Bro-Yo takes the hill again. At this point, the people in my section started getting wise to my nicknames for the players. Since the Fenway seats are, shall we say, tight, there isn’t much room to spread out. When a loud, blonde chick is clapping wildly and screaming, “Come on, B! Let’s go, String Bean!” you’re going to pay attention. I’m not sure if this is when the umpiring crew decided to employ the Jackson Pollack abstract expressionism form of the strike zone or if it was later, but the 35,000 umpires in the stands were not happy with B’s walk of Tino. When Bellhorn caught Womack’s liner to end the inning, I yelled, “Nice catch, Funyuns!” only to be rewarded by some quizzical looks from my seatmates.
Fan in Front: What did you just say?
Me: Oh, “Funyuns?” That’s my nickname for Bellhorn.
Me: Because he always looks stoned.
Fan: Oh. (beat) Heh, that’s pretty good. “Funyuns.”
Bottom of the second and just as I’m explaining the difference between a no-hitter and perfect game to Deb (“Yes, Randy Johnson has done both. No, hopefully he won’t do either tonight.”) Millar singles to left. “See,” I said, “What’d I tell ya?” “So now that someone has hit the ball and no one’s caught it, does that mean-“ The words weren’t even out of her mouth before Jay Payton (NotDave Roberts), homered to center. My first Fenway homer of the year. I screamed my fool head off.
“JAY PAYTON, YOU ARE A WONDERFUL HUMAN BEING! TERRY YOU ARE A GODDAMN GENIUS FOR SITTING TROT! JOHNSON, YOU SUCK!”
It took only a moment for the “Raaaaan-deeee! Raaaaaan-deeee!” chants to start up. Mueller grounded out to end the inning but the Fenway stands were buzzing. We’d nicked Johnson. The untouchable lefty was looking shaky. It’s amazing the amount of confidence a home run off a future Hall of Famer gives a ballpark. Though I am nothing if not supportive of all the Red Sox (David Wells is still in a holding pattern), when you see “Johnson v. Arroyo” listed as the day’s starters, it’s hard not to go into the game feeling like you’re already fighting an uphill battle. Don’t get me wrong, B’s thrown some gems in his time. But it’s Randy Fucking Johnson. And whatever you want to say about the guy, personal, professional or otherwise, he’s brilliant bloody pitcher. Getting to him early was crucial and it energized the place like someone had started passing out sparklers.
When Arroyo let up a leadoff double to Jeter in the third inning, the place was still fired up. It’s like we’d witnessed Manuelito’s and JD’s antics in the first and thought, “It’s cool, little hiccup, B can get out of this.” And then, after Sheffield flew out to Payton, Hideki Matsui strode to the plate. “Oh god,” I said, trepidation creeping into my voice, “It’s fucking Matsui.” Deb looked at me and glanced at the Jumbotron, “This guy’s really good, huh?” As if on cue, Matsui, sorry, “Fucking Matsui” lined a double off the wall in left – which Manny played perfectly, by the way – and Jeter’s tagging the plate. 2-1 good guys. “Hold the line, B!” I scream. He does as A-Rod, continuing his uselessness, much to my delight, fouls out to first and B gets The Chinless Wonder to ground out to Funyuns. The line, she is held.
Mid-inning, the two guys behind me start talking. “Can you believe our girlfriends weren’t gonna let us watch this?” one of the said to the other. “Seriously,” his friend replied, “It’s bullshit.”
Never being one to mind my own business, I turned around, “Wait, wait, wait,” I said, “Your girlfriends wouldn’t let you watch a Sox/Yankees game?”
“Nah,” said the taller of the two, “They’re watching ‘Spanglish.’ Who watches fucking ‘Spanglish?’”
“And they wanted you to watch it with them?” I said.
“Yeah,” said the other guy, “You believe that shit?”
I rolled my eyes, “Where do you boys find these women?”
They looked at each other, then back at me, “Yeah, I dunno,” Shorty said, “Soon as I find a replacement, I think I’m breakin’ up with her.” His friend smiled, “Yeah, me too.”
I laughed, “That sounds reasonable. Christ, what kind of girlfriend won’t let you watch a Sox/Yanks game?”
The tall one glanced at me, “Heh, yeah, so you-“
“Shhh!” I cut him off, “Funyuns is up.”
Bellhorn proceeded to do what he does, which is strike out swinging, “Either that or hit a clanging pole shot,” said Shorty behind me. I nodded in agreement, my eyes never leaving the field. Johnny Damon strode to the plate and Deb let fly, “Do it for Amy, Johnny!” As Amy’s infatuation with Johnny Damon is well-publicized, it seemed apt. JD proceeded to walk, which is, I guess, a friendly hug to Amy in the grand scheme of things. Not exactly the hot, steamy lovin’ an opposite field blast would have been but she’ll take it in a pinch. “Oh,” Deb says, “The new guy’s up.”
“Christ,” said the Tall one, “Here comes the GIDP.” I turned for a split second. “If Edgah’s goin’ down, he’s takin’ someone with him.” He laughed. Edgah proceeded to give me and all the doubters a giant “Neener!” as he deposited a hanging Unit slider into the first row of the Monster seats. Again, the head, she was screamed off.
“EDGAH RENTERIA, YOU ARE A GOD AMONG MEN! I LOVE YOU! I LOVE YOU! I LOVE YOU! JOHNSON, YOU CONTINUE TO SUCK!”
“Raaaaan-deeeee! Raaaaaan-deeeee!” 4-1 Rebel Alliance. After dual strikeouts of both Manny and Papi (urgh), Johnson left the mound to a chorus of raucous cheering. Maybe he’s starting to rethink his participation in this rivalry thing. Because here’s the thing, Randy: we don’t care if you are one of the greatest left-handed pitchers in the game. We don’t care how many Cy Young awards you have or how many no-hitters you’ve thrown. That means nothing to us. We’re Red Sox fans. We know only what’s in front of us. And what’s in front of us is you in enemy colors. Therefore, you are the enemy. You and your “I want to go to New York,” and your stats and your perfect game and your freakish 6’10” frame and your glorious Irish-setter looking mullet in your past. Evil, all of it. You don’t get our respect because of what you’ve done in the past. This is the here and now, and right now, we’re kicking your butt. Get used to it.
Amazing how the tide can turn at Fenway. From where I was sitting, the umpire looked to be squeezing the pitchers all night. It seemed Arroyo more than Johnson but I’m clearly not impartial and the Unit was being pissy and flipping his glove around as well so perhaps they were both being shortchanged. Whatever the case, when Papa Yack stormed out of the dugout and started screaming at the home plate umpire (and I can only imagine what that sounded like in Papa Yack’s high-pitched “Someone’s got-ta pay!” voice), I figured something must be really off. Terry came out to hold him back and I instinctively yelled, “Terry! Your heart!” I wasn’t the only one.
The inning, she was a mess. Two walks, three hits, four runs, another appearance by Fucking Matsui and suddenly the Yanks are on top 5-4. Bugger. “Come on, guys,” I said quietly, “I want to WIN!” Had I known what was going to happen next, I would have put more faith in Tek’s mound visits. Afterwards, I can only imagine that he said, “Shake it off, B, I’ll pick you up.” Damned if he didn’t do just that.
After Millar popped up to Jeter (sigh), Varitek stepped into the box. Even in the short time Deb’s been watching games with me, she knows not to talk to me when Varitek is at bat. I am, as my brother says, “in the Tek Zone.” “Come on, Tek,” I say softly, “Come on. Do it.” He does.
“TEK! TEK! TEK! TEK!” I scream, “JASON VARITEK, I LOVE YOU!” I jump up and down, clapping my hands together like a little girl who’s just opened a much pined-for present on Christmas morning. The phone in my pocket starts vibrating immediately.
Kev: Go ahead.
Me: Who was that who just took RJ deep? Who was that? I didn’t quite see that.
Kev: You’re an asshole.
Me: Oh and the scoreboard is saying that was his 100th home run as a Red Sox. Well would you look at that. Where’d that land?
Kev: Fucking Landsdowne. You know, if Dougie played every day, he’d have 300 homers by now.
Me: Yeah, he looks nice sitting on that Gatorade cooler over there…WHILE TEK ROUNDS THE BASES!
Kev: Yeah, well…the “C” looks stupid.
Me: Don’t you start with the “C.” He earned that damn “C.”
Kev: Jeter’s the captain and Jeter doesn’t wear a big, stupid “C.”
Me: I’m sorry, did you just praise Jeter? We are so not related anymore if you just praised Jeter.
Kev: Jeter blows.
Me: That’s better. Okay, gotta go.
Thus continues the Red Sox Catcher Blood Feud Update.
After Varitek single-handedly plugged Fenway back into its power socket, Terry upped the ante by arguing balls and strikes – deservedly so – with the home plate umpire. He got tossed, as expected, but his point was made. Bill Mueller flied out to end the inning but we were back in it. And we were excited.
I’d summarize the next two innings but, quite honestly, they passed without incident. Both pitchers found something they’d been missing before and the score stayed knotted at 5 through six. When Alan Embree came on in relief of the String Bean to get Fucking Matsui in the sixth, B left the mound to a standing ovation. It’s what we do. He’s ours, he battled, and we love him for it. And whatever happens, he won’t get the loss. Good on ya, Bronson.
Embree finally, FINALLY rendered Matsui harmless to a giant, palpable sigh of relief from the Fenway stands. It’s like the building has a sixth sense and knows when a dangerous hitter is up. People start speaking in hushed voices and glimpsing at the field from between clasped fingers. When the ball left Matsui’s bat, the entire park said a collective, “Oh, fu-“ and then when it landed in Damon’s glove, we all sighed, “phew.” Our turn.
Whatever problems Randy Johnson had been having in the earlier innings, he straightened them out by the 6th and 7th. Sandwiched in between was Embree’s workmanlike disposal 3-up, 3-down of the Yanks in the visiting half of the 7th.
The game remained tied at 5 entering the 8th inning and Brad Mills (as acting manager unless Terry had donned a disguise Bobby Valentine style) decided to bring in Foulke. Or Hot Lips (tm Heather), or Hottiepants (tm Beth). It was a typical Foulke-like inning. A leadoff walk to Tino Martinez and I was prompted to say, “Christ, why do you always make it so interesting, Foulkie?” Little did I know. The next three he got in order, a backwards “K” of Bernie Williams that got the crowd going after three innings of stasis followed by another “K” of Womack and a lineout by Jeter.
“Two innings by Foulke?” the Tall one behind me said.
“That’s ballsy,” his friend replied.
“Bill James,” I said, “Most important inning may not be the 9th, blah, blah, blah.”
They both looked at me. Shorty asked, “You read Bill James.”
“Sure,” I shrugged and glanced at the field, “Shhhh, JD’s up.”
Deb said to me as Tom Gordon enters the game, “So they changed pitchers. Is that good?”
“Could be,” I said, “Johnson seemed to have found his groove. But it’s late goings now so that’s gonna happen.”
“Oh Flash,” said the guy to my right as he watched Gordon walk in from the bullpen, “How could you?” We’re Red Sox fans. We never forget.
Johnny, in what can only be described as an outpouring of love for Amy, proceeded to single to center. “Hey look,” Shorty said, “GIDP’s up.”
I turned around, “Edgah just needs some tough love. I’ve been calling him ‘Last Out.’ It seems to be working.”
“You’re vicious,” he said with a laugh.
Edgah, to prove my point, took a Tom Gordon fastball and laced it to deep center, scoring Johnny. I turned around, “What’d I tell ya?”
Shorty nodded, “You’re right. You’re right. Shit, you’re right.”
Manny sauntered to the plate in that Manny Ramirez Doesn’t Have A Care In The World And Hey Are Those Cracker Jacks And I Like Puppies sort of way that only he can. The crowd, smelling blood, stands and cheers, half of them chanting “Man-ny! Man-ny!” and the other half screaming, “MVP! MVP!” Manny, because he hasn’t yet found his swing, lines out to left. Undeterred, the crowd shifted its focus to Ortiz. “Pa-pi! Pa-pi!”
“Come on, Tizzle,” I scream, “do what you do!”
Tom Gordon, evidently having ALCS flashbacks, intentionally walks Ortiz. The crowd boos and I swear I could see Tizzle’s Cheshire cat smile from where I was sitting. 2 on, one out. Chicken man at the plate. “Make ‘em pay, Millar, make ‘em pay.” Millar, perhaps still smarting from his second inning belly flop around first, flies out. “You CANNOT let them get out of this inning!” I scream, “Make ‘em pay!”
Shorty taps me on the shoulder, “Your boy’s up.” I laugh, “And he’s pissed.”
No sooner were the words out of my mouth that Tek lined a triple down the right field line. The ball hugged the wall and Sheffield got a horrible read on it and ended up chasing it down the line. Before Tek even reached third, my phone was ringing.
Kev: Bring it.
Me: So when was the last time your boy hit a triple?
Kev: (conciliatory) Yeah, that…that was pretty good.
I notice a group of people clustering around the right field grandstands but I’m in left and I can’t see what’s going on. Out of seemingly nowhere, a cup of beer rains down on the field and the Yankee infielders run toward right.
Kev: Holy shit.
Me: What the hell is going on?
Kev: Looks like some fan punched Sheffield.
Kev: Wait, no, they’re showing the replay, I guess the guy was reaching for the ball or something.
Me: Woah, it’s getting ugly.
Dad: You better call dad. He’s going to think you’re beating up Sheffield.
I hang up and my phone rings instantly. It’s my dad.
Me: It wasn’t me.
Dad: (laughing) Yeah, but don’t think I didn’t consider that.
Me: What the hell?
Dad: It’s fine, the guy got kicked out. So should have Sheffield since he shoved the guy before making the play. Genius.
Me: I hate that guy.
Dad: Of course you hate him, he’s a Yankee.
Me: Well yeah, but he’s also eeeeevil!
Dad: Okay, looks like it’s breaking up. Watch the replays on SportsCenter. They’ll be hyping the hell out of it.
Side note: I did watch the replays – pretty bloody hard to miss them – and what I saw was a fan, an idiotic one, no doubt, reaching for either the ball or the wall or something and brushing Sheffield’s face. Maybe he was trying to hit the Right Field ‘Roid Monster. Maybe not. But he surely wasn’t looking at him and all replays indicate that it didn’t look premeditated. But what I did see was Sheffield very directly and very forcefully shove the fan with both hands before throwing the ball back into the infield. Not cool. Not cool at all. The fan was ejected, as well he should have been, for interfering with a ball in play and the game resumed. Sheffield was interviewed afterwards claiming he got “punched in the face” and that he thought his “lip was busted.” Cry me a freakin’ river, ‘Roid Boy. Look, I’m never going to give Sheffield the benefit of the doubt because in my opinion he’s a dirty, cheating, money-grubbing, steroid-taking punk. I’ve never liked him before and I certainly don’t like him now. The fan was wrong, yes, but so was Sheffield. No winners in this one, kids. Sheffield was quoted afterwards as saying that he “held back” and that he “almost snapped.” Really? So the shove was what, a love tap? I really don’t want to get into this any further because, let’s face it, I’m biased and I was sitting on the complete other side of the field, but here are my notes from last night: I HATE YOU GARY SHEFFIELD AND YOU ARE NOT BLAMELESS IN THIS AND I SWEAR TO CHRIST IF I HEAR ONE MORE THING ABOUT SHEFFIELD’S “RESTRAINT” I’M GOING TO EAT MY FIST! That about sums it up. The scary part is that Fenway can turn on a dime and it was about one more spilled beer away from getting really, really ugly in there. I’m glad the situation was diffused when it was. There. Fin. Over.
It should be noted that while all of this was going on, Varitek was squatting on third base, his hands over his ears like a small child trying to block out the noises of his parents fighting. It was almost heartbreakingly adorable and I kept imagining that he was thinking, “Just play baseball. Can’t we just play baseball.” Gotta love the Tek.
Trot, pinch-hitting for Jay Payton prevented further damage by striking out to end the inning and I realized that Fenway, collectively, hadn’t sat down for twenty minutes.
“Time to Foulke ‘em up,” I said to Deb. God help me if he didn’t make me bite my nails down to bloody nubs. I love Keith Foulke, I do. He was nails in the playoffs last year and he’s the guy I want out there in a save situation but I’d be lying if I said he didn’t scare the crap out of me. Foulke gives up a leadoff double to the ‘Roid Monster himself and I’m starting to get antsy. “No drama, Foulkie, just do it.” Foulkie, evidently, likes drama. Fucking Matsui is up again (Again! Why is it always him!) and Foulke, just to give me another ulcer, walks him. 2 on, no outs. “Oh shit,” I say. A-Rod, who, it should be noted, spends a great deal of time at third base kicking the dirt like a petulant child, is up. “Shit,” says Shorty, “I have a really bad feeling about this.” I quickly do the math in my head, 2 on, A-Rod represents the tying run. No outs. “Fuck,” I say.
Foulke, having enough of the drama, gets A-Rod to fly out. Deeply to left. Deeply. Fenway lets out a collective sigh of relief. And now Posada, thorn in our metaphorical side on more than one occasion steps to the plate. “He’s yours Foulkie, you own this bitch.” Foulke does indeed, as he gets Posada to pop out to short, but not before going to a 3-2 count and threatening to load the bases with one out. At this point, my stomach which has had literally nothing to digest all day save a lone Fenway Frank, starts threatening me. Gurgling, churning, telling me to make Foulke knock this shit off.
“Settle, Foulkie,” I say as he 3-2 on Giambi, “Fuck it, Foulke. Goddamit! SETTLE!” Walk. “Christ on a bike, what did I do to piss you off?” I ask him. He doesn’t answer.
Ruben Sierra, 378-year-old Ruben Sierra is up. Something tells me this bodes well. Isn’t it always Jeter who’s up in these clutch situations? Isn’t that why we have to listen to the talking heads go on and on about his “clutch performance?” Ruben Sierra? Really? Okay.
Foulke, sensing danger, goes to 3-2 on Sierra. “Are you fucking kidding me with this?” I ask. “You WILL NOT walk in a run. You WILL NOT.” He listens. Sierra sends a pop foul down the line directly in front of the Yankees dugout, straight down the line from where I’m sitting. Varitek, hustling, makes a great catch. Game over. Fenway is quiet for a split second, our brains adjusting from preparing for impending disaster to accepting the win. It takes a moment for us to get our swagger back. And then…the place explodes.