By Matt Straub
Opening StatementMy first Red Sox game at Fenway Park was in 1987. I was nine. I got an amazing opportunity to hang out on the field before the game, and have two of my favorite pictures ever of me on top of the Sox dugout chatting with players. Needless to say, after that day I was hooked. The Red Sox were my team and Fenway Park was my favorite place on Earth. Neither of those things have changed in the nearly 25 years since. The team’s roster turns over and I have some gray hairs on my head, but my love affair with the team and its home never died. After this weekend, I know it never will. How do I know that you ask? Because I just got done watching one of the most depressing series I’ve seen the Sox play in years in one of the more aggravating environments I’ve ever experienced at America’s most beloved ballpark. Boston played the Yankees in a four-game set from Friday to Sunday. I had tickets to the opener of Saturday’s doubleheader, which was going to be one of the highlights of a long weekend I took in the city to see old college friends, my favorite place and team, and some other sites. The sites were great. Catching up with old friends was wonderful. Watching the Yankees start training for Monday’s Home Run Derby stunk. Doing it while surrounded by Yankees fans, something that has never happened to me at the old ball yard, was horrible. The only thing worse was following the hometown nine over the previous five days. If you haven’t figured it out yet, this was not a good week. Even after a disastrous road trip, the Sox had a chance to cut into the gap between themselves and the Yankees when their bitter rivals came to town. Don’t mistake me, they tried. Saturday afternoon’s lineup wouldn’t have won the Triple-A International League, but it’s what the team decimated by injury perhaps more than any other (they have now put 20 different players on the DL this year) could muster. The “C” squad put up a couple of fights, but got crushed by a really good team hitting the ball exceptionally well. The end result was losing three of four and falling 9 ½ behind the Yankees in the AL East. There’s just under half a season to go, but this week felt like the time in which Boston lost the division and had to start trying for one of the wild cards, a key distinction this year because MLB has actually made the divisions matter by forcing the wild cards into a 1-game playoff for the right to make the ALDS. So while I try and get the “Let’s go Yankees” chant out of my head, let’s review a miserable 1-6 week that began with a sweep in Oakland that won’t be mentioned again because the next three days were even worse.
|Adrian Gonzalez has been one of the lone bright spots. (AP photo)|
The High PointThis isn’t an "I told you so" but more of an “I’m not shocked.” I saw Pedro Ciriaco play in spring training and liked his speed and tenaciousness. That said, I never imagined he would be on the field for the Red Sox this season. After all, he’s 26 and had only 31 games in the bigs under his belt during parts of two years with the Pirates, netting 13 hits. He nearly doubled his total this weekend, going 7-for-9 in the last two games of the series. I saw his last 0-fer game Saturday afternoon. He had four hits with two runs scored and four driven in Saturday night while carrying the Sox to a win, then had three hits on Sunday night, scoring twice. He had a stolen base in each of the two games as well. No one will mistake Ciricaco for Dustin Pedroia, the man he’s replacing. But even if these are the only two good games he has in the majors, he has carved himself a little place in Red Sox history. He deserved the “Pedro” chants he got Saturday night. The win he helped create Saturday was the high point of a week that didn't have many.
The Low PointI'll go with Saturday afternoon's debacle, and not just because I was there. The Red Sox were coming off a heartbreaking loss Friday to the Yankees in a game that saw them overcome a five-run hole before the first inning was even over, build a lead, then blow it late. Needing a win to have any hope of gaining ground on the Yankees over the weekend, they instead started by giving up four in the first inning. Franklin Morales gave up home runs to just about everyone, including the 1996 version of Andruw Jones, which was somehow frozen and brought out by the Yankees for the weekend. The Red Sox couldn't counter offensively because David Ortiz and Adrian Gonzalez were surrounded by Ciriaco (before he got confident) Kelly Shoppach, Brent Lillibridge, Mauro Gomez and Daniel Nava among others. It wasn’t Bobby Valentine’s fault, nor that of the front office. Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Will Middlebrooks and Carl Crawford are all out, while Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Cody Ross didn't play because they were set for the second game of the twinbill. However, the team the Sox did put out there didn't look like it was going to get a hit, never mind rally. One run later, the Sox had a loss. To make things worse, Yankee Universe seemed to take up residence in Boston for a day. The Yankee fans were still outnumbered by the Red Sox supporters, but there were way too many Yankee fans in the building. We’ve known for a while that the Fenway sellout streak was a joke, but Sox fans shouldn't allow this many Yankee fans into our building. There weren't sporadic cheers like there usually are when the Yankees do something in Boston, there were audible roars. I'd say the place was roughly 20-30 percent filled with Yankees fans, which should never happen in a big series. We know this group of Red Sox is not exactly adored, fans love winners (and this team isn't) and web sites have made it much easier for fans of the road team to get tickets, but this was embarrassing. The message Red Sox Nation was sending its team was clear. Call us when you're serious about making a run. In the meantime, we’ll just worry about how the Celtics are going to replace Ray Allen and speculate about the schedule that comes out in three weeks.
|Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Nick Punto and Vincente Padilla. (AP photo)|
Three UpJustin Germano: He worked the last 5 2/3 in relief of Morales Saturday without giving up a run. He gave the Sox a chance to win and put himself in the discussion for a spot start or more permanent role in the bullpen. He was, after all, the only Red Sox pitcher who could hold off the Yankees that long all weekend. If nothing else, he gave the Boston bullpen a chance to get through the series, setting up Saturday night’s win.
Adrian Gonzalez: Only a sudden illness that made him leave Sunday’s game could break his 18-game hitting streak. Much maligned for the first half of the year, Gonzalez has been on fire of late and seems ready to help carry the offense. He’d better, since the rest of it (other than David Ortiz) is rehabbing in the minor leagues.
Ryan Sweeney: The second Red Sox outfielder to return from injury, he goes back into his platoon with the other, Cody Ross once Ellsbury and Crawford return. If he can be consistently solid, Boston’s offense might be OK until the other reinforcements arrive. The way the last few weeks have gone, he gets a thumbs up just for taking the field.
Three DownJosh Beckett: To me, an ace isn't necessarily the guy with the best ERA, it’s the guy you know is going to come through in a big spot. It’s the guy you want to have the ball with the season on the line, the guy you trust. Josh Beckett used to be that guy. In fact, he was dominant against the Yankees as recently as last season. Friday night, the Red Sox asked him to battle the Yankees and set the tone for the weekend. With so many bats missing, Boston’s chance to gain ground was going to come from its pitchers, who needed to rise to the occasion and help get the Yankees under control long enough for the Red Sox to find ways to score. Beckett set the tone for the weekend all right. He gave up five in the first, starting a pattern where the Yankees had a big lead every game before the Red Sox even came up. He did manage to get through five innings and stop the bleeding a little, but he wasn't an ace.
Jon Lester: Nor was his running mate. Lester had a chance to help the Red Sox somehow salvage a split and take some real momentum into the break with a good effort Sunday night. If the “C team” could split with the Bronx Bombers, imagine what the Red Sox could do when they get healthy. Instead, partly because Valentine left him in too long and partly because he hasn't been clutch in a while, he couldn't answer the call. He didn't get out of the fifth, finally getting driven out by 1996 Andruw Jones, who singled home a run.
Red Sox Nation: There was an excuse for your team not showing up. They were hurt. The fans just didn’t seem to care. Of course there wasn't much to cheer about, but there wasn't much encouragement, either. Even Terry Francona noted on the Sunday night broadcast how surprised he was that Fenway wasn’t rocking during a couple of late rallies (he did so after predicting it would.) And he would know better than most. It sounds odd, but there are times when the fans help start rallies. I've been in Fenway when the crowd has shaken up a pitcher and changed a game. The Sox have been bad, but the crowds this year have felt disinterested. October can't come soon enough at this point (or at least September for football season).
What’s Next?Because baseball loves to kill its own momentum whenever possible, the Red Sox are off until Friday when they go to Tampa. Kevin Youkilis comes back to Fenway Monday night with Chicago. That will be interesting.
More on the Red Sox:
State of the Red Sox - Edition 12
State of the Red Sox - Edition 12