Tag Archives: Fenway Park

Expect The Unreal

This morning, while walking my children into their school, a friend of my 6 year-old’s told me, “My dad was at the Red Sox game last night, but he left after the top of the seventh inning.”

Then, at the coffee shop, the guy at the cash register (observing the B on my sweatshirt) said to me, “I assume you stayed up to watch that game. I turned it off after they went down, 5 to nothing. But what a comeback. That was unreal.” Then another woman in line said, “What, they WON? I was there but I left after the fifth inning. They WON?”

Yes, I was at the game last night, and I could write pages and pages about what I saw and what I felt. But the morning after the greatest comeback in League Championship Series history, I’ve gotta write about Yogi’s profound quotation, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”

The whole reason to attend a baseball game is to see the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings. If you are leaving a game before it’s over, or turning off your TV before the game ends, you haven’t yet evolved to the point of understanding what baseball IS ALL ABOUT. (Or, you fell asleep on your couch after a long day at work…. regrettable, but understandable.)

I know that there are many reasons to attend a baseball game besides seeing great comebacks. The festive atmosphere, majestic home runs, phenomenal defensive plays, spending quality time with a child or sibling… but the core point of baseball is to remind us all that, in life, anything CAN happen, and anything WILL happen. And the decision to stop watching a game before it’s completely over nullifies a fan’s potential to personally experience this amazing truth in all its glory.

Now, I must say that only about 10% of Fenway’s seats were empty when J.D. Drew smoked that game-winning line drive over Gabe Gross’s head in the wee hours of the morning. It turns out that most of the fans who ventured out to the game last night were the kind who always stay ’til the end, and based on the LOUD noise they made when Pedroia drove in the first run of the comeback (to make it 7-1 Rays, still a bleak situation), they were a fervent band of believers. They “get it” about baseball.

To suck all the juice out of being a baseball fan, you must become A BELIEVER. You must resist the tug of logic that lectures to you, “This game is over, there’s no way they can come back and win.” You must ignore the mature voices in your head that advise, “If you leave now, you can beat the crowd and be asleep in your bed by midnight. After all, big day at work tomorrow.” To be rewarded with all that baseball has to offer, you must bet the house every game. Truly expect something spectacular to happen, and sacrifice convenient home-bound transportation, sleep, and even your reputation as a grounded human being to the Diamond Gods. Have faith in the unreal.

People who leave games early have their feet planted firmly in “reality,” and in “rationality,” and in “the odds are…”, and in “being smart,” and in avoiding life’s (and baseball’s) sublime exquisiteness! People who leave Red Sox elimination playoff games early …. well, they just haven’t learned yet that you don’t do that, despite the lesson of Dave Henderson in 1986, and the lesson of Dave Roberts in 2004, and the many other startling lessons from recent Sox history (some happy memories, some not).

“The Rays haven’t lost a game all season when leading by 4 or more runs”…. “no team since 1929 has overcome a 7-run deficit in an elimination playoff game”…. “the Red Sox are slumping and the Rays are at the peak of their game”…. all of these “facts” scream at us to “face reality,” give up, and go home. But reality doesn’t exist until it unfolds before us, and over and over again Red Sox fans have learned that in postseason play, the reality that unfolds is usually shocking!

A friend came into my office this morning and said, “Watching those hits by Coco, Papi, and Drew — it was like a DREAM.” Not only was it LIKE a dream, it WAS a dream. Reality and rationality and the odds and being smart go right out the window when the Sox have their backs against the wall. Red Sox playoff games – indeed, ALL baseball games are dreams that we get to participate in with eyes wide open. And you don’t leave dreams early.

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Questions of a Six Year-Old at Fenway

As I wrote in my previous article, on Patriots’ Day I took my six year-old to his first Red Sox game, and afterwards we cheered for the back-of-the-pack between miles 22 and 25 on Beacon Street. Someday, this boy will know all the ins and outs about baseball (like his nine year-old brother). But this is the first spring that he has begun to show glimmers of interest in the Red Sox, so a visit to Fenway is different for him than for everyone else at the ballpark. And after he’d asked me a few questions during the first inning, I knew I had to write down all of his questions for the rest of the game. Classic stuff:

Can I have a hot dog? (Sure.)

Why do we have our gloves on? (In case a foul ball comes back here, we’ll be ready to catch it.)

Why is that screen there? (To protect the fans behind home plate from dangerous foul balls.)

But how do the balls come back here? (When the hitter swings his bat, sometimes the bat doesn’t hit the ball squarely and the ball flies in back of home plate.)

Can we do something besides just sit around? (Sure we can walk around a little bit.)

(We were walking past a concession stand.) Can I have some pizza? (Sure.) Can I have a big cup of Coke? (Sure.)

(Back in our seats.) Can I have a foam finger? (Sure, let’s go catch up with the foam finger vendor.)

(The crowd suddenly cheered after a Rangers player popped out for the third out of an inning.) Is that good Daddy? (Yes, that’s good, now the Red Sox get a turn to hit and to try to score some runs.)

(The crowd suddenly cheered after Ellsbury stole second base.) Is that good Daddy? (Yes, Jacoby Ellsbury just stole second base.)

Who’s winning Daddy? (The Red Sox are winning.) Yay, the Red Sox are winning!

Why did they turn on the lights? (Good question, I really don’t know why they turned on the lights on a sunny day.)

What’s the score? (Six to nothing.) Is this normal? (No, this is really good.) I mean, are they major leaguers? (Yes.) This is stupid. (Why?) I thought that major leaguers were supposed to be good. (They are, but our pitcher, Clay Buchholz, is pitching so well, the Rangers can’t get very many hits.) Oh.

Is it almost nighttime? (No, it’s 1:20pm.) Is the game almost over? (Well, we’re in the fifth inning and the whole game lasts nine innings.) So there are four innings left? (That’s right.) Will it be nighttime when the game is over? (No, there’s a lot of daytime left.) Good, ’cause there’s a show I really want to watch on TV tonight. (What show is that?) I forget the name.

Is a trillion more than a billion? (Yes.) How many trucks would you need to carry a trillion dollars? (Um, a hundred.) No, you’d just need one, because you could have one bill with a trillion on it.

Daddy, I made up a number. (Really? What is it?) A killion. And it’s so big, the dollar bill would be as long as Fenway Park. It’s as big as a trillion billion dollars.

(Look, here comes the wave.) What’s the wave, Daddy? (That’s the wave.) Why do they do the wave? (Because it’s fun.)

(We were on the sidelines of the marathon and I had cheered for many runners by reading the names on their shirts. My six year-old was incredulous.) Daddy, how do you know all these people?

Rich Gedman, a Clutch Single, and a Balk… 21 Years Ago

rich-gedman-and-roger-clemens.jpgAfter the triumphant ride through Boston on duck boats, I followed Red Sox personnel into a post-parade reception at Fenway. The place was crawling with familiar faces, but the one I was most eager to meet belonged to former Red Sox catcher, Rich Gedman. Gedman played for the Sox from 1980 to 1990, right in the prime of my Red Sox childhood, when I was between the ages of 12 and 22. I walked up to Gedman because I wanted to tell him that he had had the key hit in the greatest baseball game I’ve ever witnessed in person – and to ask him what he remembered about it. Rich was happy to talk.

After introducing myself, I told Rich that I remember attending an extra-innings game at rob-and-rich-gedman.jpgFenway in my youth and, when it was over, I proclaimed, “I will never see a game more unbelievable than that for the rest of my life,” and I recall that the opposing team made a couple of big blunders in the last inning to aid a Sox comeback, and that Gedman had the game-winning hit. But that’s all I recall.  

Rich said, “Yes, that was 1986, and it was against California, and we fell behind by three runs in the 12th or 13th inning, and I didn’t get the game-winning hit, I got the game-tying hit – a line drive to right field – then we won the game on a balk.” YES! I said, THAT WAS THE GAME!

We then recalled that Angels 3B Rick Burleson dropped a pop-up that, if it had been caught, would have ended the game. Rich tried to remember the name of the pitcher who balked, but he could not. (Further research reveals that his name was Todd Fischer… more on him later.) And Rich said that part of the reason he remembers the game is that, when the Sox made their miraculous comeback against the Angels in game 5 of the 1986 ALCS (thank you, Don Baylor and Dave Henderson), everyone in the Sox dugout was saying, “This is just like that game we played against them back in July!”

Thanks to Google, I discovered that the game took place on July 10, 1986 (I was 17 years old), and the Red Sox won, 8-7. The entire box score and play-by-play detail is available here. And after reviewing how the game ended, I see why I knew I’d never see a more exciting game. In the 12th inning, the Angels and Red Sox scored a combined total of 7 runs with two outs. Here’s how it happened.

In the top of the 12th inning, with the score tied, 4-4, Sox pitcher Steve Crawford retired the first two batters of the inning (Ruppert Jones and Gary Pettis) and then gave way to lefty Mike Brown to face left-handed hitting Wally Joyner. Mike Brown proceeded to implode. Joyner stroked a triple, then scored on a wild pitch. Unnerved, Brown then walked George Hendrick and Brian Downing in succession and gave up R.B.I. singles to Rick Burleson and Bobby Grich. Tim Lollar relieved Mike Brown and got Dick Schofield to pop out to Gedman, but the damage had been done: three two-out runs for California and an almost certain loss for the Sox.

As a kid, whatever tickets I got my hands on were almost always standing room (which was fine with me). I remember that after that three-run burst, Fenway emptied and my little brother, Ben (16 at the time), and our friend, Sam (13 at the time), and I moved down to the front row behind home plate. We didn’t stay to see a comeback, we stayed because we wanted to experience even a half-inning of Red Sox baseball from the good seats. We were sad the Sox were about to lose, but we were jacked to be sitting in the best seats in the house.

rick-burleson.jpgMarty Barrett led off the bottom of the 12th against Angels pitcher Mike Cook with an infield single to the second baseman, Bobby Grich. In the box score it’s called a single, but in my memory, it was a botched play – perhaps it was a bad hop, I’m not sure. Wade Boggs then did something he almost never did – he struck out looking. And after Bill Buckner flied out to left field, with the Sox down to their last out, Jim Rice did something he did frequently – he hit a ball into the screen above the Green Monster for a two-run homer. But when Don Baylor followed with a pop-up above third base, it looked like the game would end — until the ball bonked off of Burleson’s glove and Baylor ended up on first. I remember that well – and I remember that Ben, Sam and I went nuts. Are we going to win this game?? And when Dwight Evans walked, putting the tying run on second base, the 1,000 or so of us left at Fenway jumped and screamed with anticipation. Number 10, Rich Gedman, shook the donut off of his bat and strode to the batter’s box with an expression of total calmness.

And this is what I remember most about that game: seeing Gedman walk to the plate and thinking, “When this half-inning started, there is no way Gedman thought he’d need to walk out onto this field again tonight.” And I remember just praying, praying, praying for Rich to get a hit and continue this amazing comeback. And he did! Line drive, base hit to right field. Baylor scores! YES! YES! YES! TIE GAME! TIE GAME! Again, the loyal few of us left at Fenway, all crammed into the front five rows, romped and cheered like lunatics. RICH GEDMAN IS CLUTCH became a new fact in my baseball-encyclopedic head. And the winning run, in the person of Dwight Evans, stood at third base with two outs.

gene_mauch_autograph.jpgAt this remarkable juncture, with the ever-dangerous Rey Quinones (lifetime batting average of .245) coming to the plate for the Red Sox, Angels manager Gene Mauch removed pitcher Mike Cook from the game and replaced him with rookie reliever, Todd Fischer. It was Fischer’s 9th major league appearance, and it turned out to be his last. And what a way to end a career – before even throwing a pitch, Fischer balked, Evans scored, and the Red Sox won. As Evans ran down the third base line, most of us in the stands didn’t know what had happened for a few seconds, but as the news spread, bedlam ensued. Gene Mauch argued vociferously while the Sox players and fans reveled all around him. As Ben, Sam and I walked out of Fenway that night, we all said to each other, that game will never be topped.

How rare is it for a winning run to cross the plate as the result of a balk? According to Jayson Stark, it’s only happened three times in the last 33 years.

Another interesting postscript to this story: soon after Mike Brown pitched like dog doo vs. the Angels and Rey Quinones stood there and watched the game-winning balk, the Mariners traded 1986 heroes Dave Henderson and Spike Owen to the Sox for Rey Quinones and Mike Brown!  (And the immortal Mike Trujillo.) Thank you, Rey and Mike! And thank you, Rich Gedman, for the chance to reminisce about an extraordinary moment we both witnessed and participated in 21 years ago…. and that we’ll never forget.