Friday, October 26, 2007

An Interim Report on the Red Sox 2007 Post Season – Behind the Scenes Snippets of California Dreamin’, NY Minutes and Fenway Reveries - Part II

American League Championship Series – Opponent, Cleveland Indians

After romping to an easy 10-3 victory behind Josh Beckett in Game #1 at home against the Indians, the Red Sox fell on hard times. Curt Schilling, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Tim Wakefield each failed to complete the fifth inning in their starts, and the Red Sox found themselves in the all-too-familiar position of having their backs to the wall with no wiggle room. The sports talk radio airwaves were heating up with the denizens of Red Sox Nation bemoaning their fate. Fans were complaining about everything from J.D. Drew’s lack of production, Dustin Pedroia’s failure to hit in the post season and Dike-K’s mythic “gyroball”! It was in the context of this woebegone state that I found myself scheduled to head to New York City for a couple of days of meetings. Not wanting to appear to be a fair weather fan, I traveled wearing my trusty Red Sox cap.

Game #4 – at Cleveland (viewed on TV in CT)

My first stop on the way to NYC was to spend the night in Westport, CT with the Cross family. Sean is a huge Yankees fan, and his wife, Marla, was raised in Cleveland, so is a vociferous supporter of The Tribe. At one point, her step-father was part of the ownership team of the Indians, so Marla is more than just a casual fan. We watched Game #4 together. It was an evening of dueling sofas - with me sitting on one sofa wearing my Sox cap, and Marla holding court on the other sofa festooned with her Cleveland cap – replete with a grinning caricature of Chief Wahoo – in serious need of orthodontic intervention! The game did not go well. Wakefield was out-pitched and the Red Sox fell 3-7 to an Indians team that seemed to have taken their measure. Trying to be a gracious guest, I congratulated Marla and went to bed in a funk.

The next morning Sean and I took an early train from Westport into the City. My wearing that Red Sox cap - with the telltale scarlet letter “B” on the front - for two days while plying the sidewalks of Manhattan elicited enough comments for me to fill a book. I will share with you only the best and most egregious.


At one point on Wednesday morning, I was hurrying up 5th Avenue, trying to be on time for a meeting. I had forgotten that I was wearing the offending cap, so was taken aback when a construction crew foreman in the midst of a coffee break on the sidewalk looked me up and down and yelled: “You’re goin’ down, man – you’re goin’ down!” Not realizing at first that he was reacting to the Red Sox cap, my first thought was: “What a rude thing to say to a nice old man who is minding his own business.” And then it hit me that he was eloquently offering his prognostications on the chances of my favorite baseball team bouncing back from the 3-games-to-1 hole that they had dug for themselves.

Later that afternoon, I had a few minutes between meetings, so I slipped into the huge Toys R Us store in Times Square. I was looking for a stuffed panda for my grand-daughter. I found one that I thought she would like, paid for it, and passed through the metal detector on my way back out onto the street. A security guard on duty at the door stopped me in my tracks: “Sir, please wait right where you are.” The guard approached me with a serious scowl on his face and proclaimed: “Are you not aware, sir, that it is illegal to wear that cap in this store?” And then he broke into a huge grin.

Later that day I was meeting with a candidate of mine at the Starbucks on Madison Avenue and 36th Street. As we began our conversation, a man walked up to our table, looked at me, pointed at my cap and declaimed: “You have got the wrong letter on that cap. Instead of a ‘B’ it should have ‘ABB’!” And then he walked towards the door. At the door, he hesitated a moment, and then returned to my table: “You are probably wondering what I mean by ‘ABB,’ right? It means ‘Anybody But Boston’!” He exited, triumphantly, stage right. At that moment, an elegantly coiffed woman who looked like a displaced Beacon Hill dowager, approached the table (which was beginning to take on the feel of a miniature Grand Central Terminal!) She leaned down towards me, placed her delicate alabaster hand gently on my shoulder and whispered: “Are we playing tonight?!

“No, ma’am, this is a day of mourning, of rest and of the team recharging their batteries. Game #5 will be played tomorrow night.”

“Good luck to our Red Sox,” she offered, as she returned demurely to her seat.

It was a lovely New York minute!

Game #6 – at Fenway Park, October 20

Unhittable Josh Beckett, channeling Bob Gibson of the 1967 Cardinals, came to the rescue in Cleveland, won Game #5 and ensured the Red Sox would live to fight another day and return the series to Boston – with the Red Sox still trailing 3 games to 2. In Game #6, the Sox would be facing Fausto Carmona, who had been bruited as Cleveland’s 1-A Ace, just behind C.C. Sabbathia in ferocity and “stuff.” Boston countered with Curt Schilling. There would be no bloody sock this year, just a determined warrior finding a way to win battles even without the devastating fastball that had been his bread and butter throughout his storied career.

I knew – from the moment I climbed from the Green Line T station up to street level in Kenmore Square – that this was going to be a memorable evening. The electricity in the crowd was palpable and contagious. There was the buzz of a thousand conversations as the throng headed to Yawkey Way. Hundreds without tickets to the game stood in line and jostled one another hoping to gain entrance to some of the neighborhood’s popular eating and drinking emporia – The Cask and Flagon, Boston Beer Works and Game On. Yawkey Way and Gate A were packed shoulder to shoulder with fans wearing all manner of Red Sox apparel.

Schilling shut the Indians down in the 1st inning. In the bottom of the inning, the Red Sox loaded the bases with no one out. Up came Manny – who struck out. Mike Lowell flied to shallow right – not deep enough to score Pedroia from third. It looked like a potentially huge squander for the Red Sox. There was little expectation that J.D. Drew would do anything in this situation. The inning that looked so promising only moments before was slipping away. Drew had been disappointing fans, team mates and himself all season long. Brought in at great expense to provide protection in the batting order behind Ortiz and Ramirez, J.D. Drew was almost as reviled by Boston fans as the set-up man who dare not speak his name: Eric Gagne! And then Drew took a swing at a Fausto Carmon offering and it soared towards the centerfield bleachers – and into immortality. A Grand Slam! The Sox were up 4-0 in the first. Game – set – match! It was at that moment that the game was won and the series was effectively in the bag. As Drew crossed home plate and walked to the dugout – amidst the pummeling and adulation of his team mates and awash in a sea of hysterical and jubilant cheers from the crowd, I turned to the person sitting next to me and said: “J.D. Drew, all is forgiven!”

The Red Sox scored 6 more runs in the 3rd inning, and the rout was on. In successive games, the Red Sox batters had eviscerated Cleveland’s two aces and had cut the heart out of the Indians team.

World Series – opponent Colorado Rockies

Game #1 – at Fenway Park, October 23

Leading up to the opening game of the 2007 World Series, the crowd entering the ball park seemed more subdued than the one that filled the stands for the final two games of the ALCS. The promised rain held off, and Maestro John Williams led the Boston Pops in an arrangement that he had written especially for this occasion of the Star Spangled Banner. It was soul-stirring. As the final chords were reverberating through the old ball park, the obligatory flyover took place. Four Vermont Air National Guard F-16 fighters from the Green Mountain State soared over the Green Monster, their afterburners illuminating the inky sky, their roar igniting the crowd. Now – at long last, we were ready to play our proper role of 10th player and co-pilots in support of the team taking the field.

Josh Beckett did not falter. He struck out the side in order in the top of the 1st inning. Another day at the office for the Red Sox young phenomenon of the fall. In the Red Sox half of the inning, Dustin Pedroia made history when he poked the second pitch offered by Jeff Francis just over the lip of the left field wall. He added his name to the World Series history books as only the second batter to lead off Game #1 of a World Series with a homerun. Many more records would fall by the time the dust had settled on the Red Sox 13-1 thumping of the previously streaking Rockies, who won their NLDS and NLCS in cakewalks through the Phillies and the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Mountain Men from the Mile High City had been brought back to earth - and back to sea level - with a thud.

Early in the game, I turned to the woman sitting to the left of me and said: “You look very familiar. I am sure we have met.”

“You look familiar, too. I am Dick Radatz’s daughter.”

“Of course. We met at Autograph Alley, where your Dad used to sign on a regular basis. We really miss him.”

“I miss him everyday. He would love to be here tonight.”

(For those of you born after 1965, Dick Radatz, a.k.a. “The Monster” was the Boston Red Sox first real closer. He was the Jonathan Papelbon of his era. A member of the Red Sox Hall of Fame, Radatz died in 2005.)

The Red Sox kept pounding away at Francis and his successors who attempted to douse the flames of the red hot Boston batters. By the time five innings had been played, the Red Sox led 13-1 – and it was not that close!

The Red Sox relentless pursuit of another World Series Championship had gotten off to a sterling start. Not even the presence of Eric Gagne on the mound in mop-up duty in the 9th inning could quench the crowd’s delight and enthusiasm.

As the 9th inning wound down to the inevitable denouement of a Red Sox victory, Ms. Radatz prepared to leave before the final out. She turned to me, offered a bear hug and a kiss on the check, and softly said: “Thanks for remembering my Dad.”

Yes, indeed. It was a special night in a special place that is home to a very special team.

Go Sox!

2 comments:

B Taylor said...

Al, you simple are a man who is guided by God to sit next to or come accross every single person who you encounter!

Craig Balben said...

Al,

Another storybook ending last night. I look forward to a new posting. One of these days we will celebrate a World Series victory together!

-Craig