Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Game 157 - Red Sox. I. Love. This. Team.

Red Sox 6, Orioles 5 (10)
Record: 93-64
AL East: Over, Yankees clinch
Wild Card: 1st - 3.5 up on Sea

Write on the blackboard 1000 times: Never Give Up on the 2003 Red Sox.

The seeds of negativity were creeping in on several occasions last night as the Sox played 8.5 innings of relatively flat, undisciplined ball against their 2003 nemesis. The league's best offense had runners on third base with less than two outs 4, count 'em, 4 times in the first 8 innings and failed to plate them. Nomar dropped a popup, Sauerbeck struggled through the 8th inning (although he did emerge unscathed), and Bronson Arroyo gave up a two-out, two-strike single in the top of the 9th to Jay Gibbons that scored 2 runs when Gabe Kapler kicked it around right field. The last of these events caused me to throw my daughter's soccer ball against the television. God bless Nerf.

I was mentally composing my blog entry as the Sox came to the plate in the bottom of the 9th, going on about the offense's continuing slump, and how this team had no chance in the postseason with the bullpen in its current state. Trot Nixon popped out on ball four to start the inning, but then Jason Varitek singled to left. I sat up in my chair - just a little - when Varitek reached second on a passed ball, but slumped back once again as Johnny Damon grounded out to second. Two outs, man on third, down three runs, and in danger of losing yet again to the mediOcre's.

"Just get on base", I urged Nomar, and he obliged, working Jorge Julio for a walk. Todd Walker, batting in the 3-spot because of Nomar's recent slump, stepped up as the tying run. Adrian Brown loomed, um, small, in the on-deck circle, courtesy of Grady's penchant for removing Manny for pinch-runners in the late innings of close games. Walker worked the count to 3-2, and then, with all of Red Sox Nation holding their breath, laced a low, inside fastball to deep right.

"Get out!", I yelled as I leapt from the couch. The camera panned to Jay Gibbons as the Oriole rightfielder turned his back to the plate and ran towards the wall. The O's bullpen staff slumped in dismay as the ball cleared the fence, and Todd Walker's fistpumps matched mine as he rounded the bases to score the tying run. Oriole GM Jim Beattie was in attendance, and Mike Hargrove watched his term as Baltimore manager end as Walker's shot touched ground in the bullpen.

Fenway, to understate the moment, nearly rocked off its foundation as Walker toured the bases. The Sox secondbaseman would later say that it was the biggest thrill of his life. I bounded around my living room exclaiming, "No fucking way! No fucking way!".

As I sat back down to watch Adrian Brown gaze meekly at strike 3, I consoled myself with the knowledge that David Ortiz would lead off the bottom of the 10th for the Sox. After B.H. Kim set the O's down with only minor difficulty in the top of the frame, I said out loud, "Ortiz is going to end it."

Four pitches later, the heart and soul of the 2003 Sox made me prescient, blasting Kurt Ainsworth's hanging changeup over the Monster. When he hit the ball, Ortiz flipped his bat in the air and turned to the Sox dugout as if to say, "Gaze upon me, for I am the MAN, and have delivered this ballgame unto you." He'll probably take a pitch in the ear from the O's today, but it was well earned. He would later tell the media, "The dugout was yelling at me to run, but I said back to them, 'No, I crushed that. It's gone.'" In other words, "Bring that shit to me, mon".

I spent 10 minutes giggling uncontrollably about the outcome, and vowing never again to let the creep of doubt darken the foundation of my fondness for this edition of the Red Sox. They may not win the World Series - hell, they still haven't clinched the Wild Card - but they have given me more than my share of Holy Shit moments this season.

There was one little thing that escaped me at the time, but really speaks volumes about this Sox team. Bill Mueller batted in the 6th inning with nobody out and Kevin Millar on second. Mueller is in the thick of a race for the AL Batting title, entering the game at .327 to Manny's .325 and Derek Jeter's .323. With that backstory in mind, Mueller punched a John Parrish fastball to the right side of the infield, sacrificing himself to get Millar to third with 1 out. Completely unselfish, completely team-focused, and completely professional. Describes this Sox team to a "t".

Lotta ball left. Stay on target.

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