Posts tagged ‘Red Sox’

September 18, 2016

#119) Classic at a crossroads: the 20th anniversary of 20 strikeouts (v 2.0)

There wasn’t much reason to attend the Detroit Tigers baseball game on Wednesday, September 18th, 1996. The Tigers had not had a winning season in three years and were currently mired in a 10-game losing streak, a whopping 36 games out of first place in their division. Yet whether it was to catch Alan Trammell in the final days of his illustrious Tigers career, to celebrate making it through “Hump Day” or maybe just due to pure boredom, 8,779 fans showed up to Tiger Stadium that night as their team took the field against the visiting Boston Red Sox.

The Sox season had been disappointing as well. They sputtered into Detroit all but mathematically eliminated from the pennant race, 8 games behind their rivals the New York Yankees, a team led by rookie all-star Derek Jeter and new manager Joe Torre. Pitcher Roger Clemens took the mound for Boston, in danger of posting the second losing season of his career with a record of 9 wins, 11 losses. Clemens was in the final year of his contract. Sox general manager Dan Duquette commented that he hoped to “keep him in Boston during the twilight of his career.” Perhaps some of the fans in attendance wanted a chance to see the 34-year old fastballer before he hung it up, but like Trammell, it would have been hard to watch Clemens without any sense of loss for the glory days. For Sox fans, Clemens’ three Cy Young awards must have seemed forever ago, as was the night just over a decade earlier that he set a major league record by striking out 20 Seattle Mariners.

My 1996 was about as uplifting as those of the Sox and Tigers. I’d just retreated to my parents’ house following a dramatic breakup. One of my best friends had just moved out of town and I’d been downsized from my band, which decided to have the rhythm guitar player take over on bass.  Like the fans in Detroit, I had little else to do that night. The game would distract me for at least a couple of hours so I plopped in front of the TV in the living room where I’d grown up, tuned to NESN and let announcers Bob Kurtz and Jerry Remy do their thing.

Jeff Frye popped up to start the game. The second Sox batter had a long name that I didn’t recognize and didn’t appear on the TV screen long enough for me to figure out how to pronounce. Like most people watching the game, I had no idea that Nomar Garciaparra, a shortstop who’d made his debut three weeks earlier, would become the first Red Sox Rookie of the Year since 1975 the following season. “No-Maah”, as he would soon become known, walked and stole second but was left on base when Jose Canseco grounded out to end the inning. The novelty of seeing the former Sox nemesis in a Boston uniform had long since worn off for me; I almost felt bad for the poor bastard. In Oakland he had been Rookie of the Year and become the first player ever to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in the same year. Since then his off-field shenanigans seemed to overshadow his play on the diamond, which included injuring himself during an ill-advised pitching stint and letting a fly ball bounce off his head into the stands for a home run.

In the bottom of the first, Trammell gave the fans a taste of the past with a base hit, but it was all for nought as Clemens struck out the next two batters. He struck out the side in the second inning and picked up two more in the third.

In the top of the fourth, Mike Greenwell got a hit and scored a run. “Gator” had been an all-star back in ’88 and ’89, but would play only 77 games in 1996, his last season. He and Clemens were the only veterans of Boston’s 1986 American League champion team still with the club. The Sox posted three runs before No-Maah struck out to end the inning.

Clemens remained strong, striking out five consecutive batters over the next two innings. After allowing a leadoff single in the sixth, he struck out the side, good for an impressive total of 15 as the game headed into the seventh. The hometown fans were starting to applaud each strikeout, the drudgery of the lame-duck season forgotten.

The Sox added an insurance run to make it 4-0 and Clemens picked up two more strikeouts each in the seventh and eighth innings. After Canseco struck out to end the top of the 9th, Kurtz told the TV audience, “Don’t go away, folks.”

I wasn’t going away. It had been a while since a Red Sox game had held me captive like this. I’d been too young to remember anything much of Clemens’ first 20-strikeout game. The last Red Sox no-hitter had happened in 1965. The last Red Sox World Series win…well, the less said about that the better. But tonight, in an otherwise lackluster season, Clemens was knocking on history’s door. I felt a wave of excitement and stood up, shaking myself loose before sitting back down. My recent  break-up and other tribulations suddenly didn’t matter; I had a chance to watch the most notable positive Red Sox moment in recent memory.

Trammell popped up to start the inning, drawing a smattering of boos from the crowd. After allowing a base hit to Ruben Sierra, Clemens got two strikes on Tony Clark but the Detroit batter kept fouling off pitches before finally sending a fly ball to Greenwell, deep in left field. As more boos rained from the stands from fans who now knew that no record would be broken tonight, Remy commented, “Well, it looks like the record is safe.”

I too was disappointed to know that I would not get to watch a record get broken, but at least the game had distracted me for two hours. I still had a chance to see Clemens match his record – a feat that might well be even more impressive and meaningful than the first time he did it.

Clemens, baseball and myself had all grown older. His record-setting game and Cy Young awards had electrified Boston but hadn’t been able to bring the city the one thing it wanted more than anything else. Now Clemens and Boston were a couple together for too long; for the last few years he’d made the news more for running his mouth at umps and reporters than for strikeouts.

Travis Fryman took the first two pitches for balls. Perhaps he was wary of being a part of history. Some of the fans who had been standing sat back down.

We often look back at the past with rose-colored glasses, but in 1996, it was hard not  to feel as if Clemens’ 20-strikeout game of 1986 was an event of a bygone era. The strike of 1994 was still a sore memory for many fans. Pete Rose was now known more for his gambling and tax scandals than for his record-setting career. Players’ salaries were already raising eyebrows in 1986, but by 1996, they had nearly tripled. Baseball’s new playoff format and division re-alignment had met with a response that was mixed at best; traditionalists were also upset about the onset of inter-league play, scheduled to start the following season.

Clemens’ 149th and 150th pitches of the night were strikes, bringing the count to 2-2 and once again sparking the interest of the fans. For the moment, the recent strike, inflated salaries, Clemens’ looming departure from Boston were forgotten. Clemens was one strike away from proving that even in complicated times, the game of baseball still has the power to thrill. No matter how disappointing the season may be, you can still go to the ball park and have a chance to see history. Even when a relationship had run its course, there could still be one last shot at glory. Even when a local hero’s best days seemed long gone, he could still add one last chapter to his legacy.

Clemens got the sign from catcher Bill Haselman. Peering in at Fryman, he set, wound up and delivered one last pitch.

December 28, 2015

#104) Remembering Hendu

Why couldn’t he have just struck out?

On October 12th, 1986 in Anaheim, Dave Henderson was batting with two outs in the top of the ninth inning, 2-2 count, one runner on base, the Red Sox trailing the Angels, 5-4. It was the fifth game of the American League Championship Series with the Angels leading the best-of-seven set, three games to one. All Henderson had to do was swing at Donnie Moore’s next pitch and miss it, or perhaps tap a grounder to third baseman Doug DeCinces or shortstop Dick Schofield for an easy out.

The man responsible for one of baseball’s most famous home runs died from a heart attack yesterday at age 57. Henderson’s home run not only made the 1986 A.L.C.S. historic but it paved the way for an equally famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) 1986 World Series against the New York Mets. In the sixth game, Henderson’s home run gave the Red Sox a short-lived lead in the 10th inning.

As a Red Sox fan and an admitted baseball geek, I can’t help but find the circumstances leading up to and following Henderson’s at-bat against Moore to be fascinating. Henderson, who had arrived in a quiet mid-season trade with Seattle, was a replacement in Game 5 for veteran Tony Armas, who’d been injured. With the Red Sox leading 2-1, Henderson tipped a Bobby Grich fly ball over the fence for a home run, appearing to be the latest victim of the “Curse of the Bambino.” In the ninth inning, Henderson came to the plate with a chance to redeem himself–Boston’s last chance.

Sadly, for Angels pitcher Donnie Moore, the loss proved to be the beginning of the end of his career. Worse still, Moore battled alcoholism and depression and following his release from baseball in 1989, shot his wife before turning the gun on himself. Unfortunately for Boston, the victory would merely prove the adage that if the Red Sox win today, that’s because it will hurt more for them to lose tomorrow. Boston scapegoat Bill Buckner would endure years of ridicule and harassment by fans,  causing him and his family to move to Idaho.

All that trouble because Henderson didn’t strike out.

But it’s another example of how America’s Pastime can teach us–even those who don’t care about the game. We’ve all had our backs to the wall, perhaps burdened as Hendu was by the memory of a recent mistake, surrounded by people just waiting for us to fail. No, the act of swinging at a ball and hitting it out of a stadium doesn’t change humanity, but it did galvanize a city and still inspires memories almost thirty years later.

Henderson would continue his post season success in Oakland, leading the Athletics to three consecutive World Series appearances, including a championship in 1989, before retiring in 1994. He later became a color commentator for the Seattle Mariners and continued to make his home in the Seattle area until his death.

While Henderson is most famous for his post season heroics, he’s also remembered as a positive team player who enjoyed interacting with the fans. Former Oakland teammate Terry Steinbach said, “People talk about all the big hits and the World Series, but to me, it was that great attitude he brought every day. He would instantly pick you up, put you in the right frame of mind, get you going.” Rich Gedman, the Boston catcher who was on base when Henderson hit the homer off Moore, said, “Go back and look at every picture of him. He always had a smile on his face.”

 

 

December 4, 2013

#64) The real reason Red Sox fans are upset about Jacoby Ellsbury

Red Sox fans aren’t upset about Jacoby Ellsbury signing with the Yankees; they just think they are.

Oh, they’re pissed, no doubt; at least if tweeting death wishes can be seen as a sign of being pissed.   But let’s take a step back here.  The Red Sox are the defending World Champions and have won more titles in the last decade than any other MLB team.  Many baseball pundits believe that Ellsbury isn’t worth what he wanted to be paid by the Red Sox and that the Yankees are overpaying him.  As Yogi Berra once said, in baseball, you don’t know nothin’, but it’s certainly plausible that the deal will have more of a net benefit for the Red Sox than the Yankees.

Granted, the fan who expressed hope that Ellsbury “get[s] herpes from Jeter and die[s]” might not represent the overall mentality of Red Sox Nation, but let’s face it, New Englanders can hold a grudge like nobody else (present company included).  But while the sense of outrage at having lost yet another player to the Yankees might have been justified ten years ago, before the Sox broke the “Curse of the Bambino”, it now comes off as a little bit petty.  From 1987 to 2001, no Boston/New England sports team won a championship, but since the Patriots’ victory in Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002, the market has claimed more titles–8–than any other: three each for the Pats and Sox; one for the Celtics and one for the Bruins.  In the same time period L.A. has six (including the Anaheim teams) and New York has four (including the New Jersey Devils).  Boston fans have the look of the successful businessman who still resents the high school girlfriend who dumped him.

Be all that as it may, perhaps there’s a deeper explanation for why Sox fans are so outraged.  It could be that the recent wealth of Boston championships is actually the cause of the Nation’s animosity.  Before 2004, the line was always, “What are we going to do when the Sox actually win the World Series?”  It’s like prisoners who anticipate their release but once they’re actually on the outside, don’t know how to function.

My guess is that before long Sox fans will have forgotten about Ellsbury.  Sure, he’ll get some half-hearted boos when he comes to Fenway wearing pinstripes, but maybe he’s not the real problem.  Maybe Red Sox Nation misses the good old days.  Maybe they need Bucky Dent to hit the pop-fly home run.  Maybe they need Aaron Boone to hit the home run off Tim Wakefield.  And maybe, just maybe, they need the ball to go through Buckner’s legs.

September 30, 2011

#27) The top ten Yankees losses of all time

Ken Griffey, Jr. slides across home plate with the winning run vs. the Yankees

Son of a bitch, it happened again: the Red Sox blew it.

Of course, it would have been a lot worse if not for their recent World Series wins (not to mention the three Patriots Super Bowls, Bruins’ Stanley Cup and Celtics championship win in the last decade), but any time the Yankees are in the playoffs and the Red Sox are not, it’s a drag, especially when it could have easily been avoided.

But while their team is no longer a contender, at least the members of Red Sox Nation can live on the hope that this October will bring a great Yankees collapse.  After all, the biggest fall the hardest.  To help get in the mood, here are ten of the greatest games in baseball – all of which found the Yankees on the short end of the score.

October 10, 1926 (World Series game 7) at New York: Cardinals 3, Yankees 2

The 1926 Series was the only one to date to end with a runner being caught stealing.  Ironically, the would-be thief was Babe Ruth, who represented the tying run.  The game is also noted for Cards’ pitcher Grover Alexander’s clutch strike out of Tony Lazerri with the bases loaded in the seventh.

October 3, 1947 (World Series game 4) at Brooklyn: Dodgers 3, Yankees 2

Even die-hard Sox fans have to have a little sympathy for Bill Bevens, a Yankees pitcher who came one out away from throwing the first no-hitter in post-season history.  Bevens lost both the no-hitter and the game with one swing of the bat, as Dodgers third baseman Cookie Lavagetto doubled with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.  It was the Dodgers’ first hit of the game, and it drove in the tying and winning runs.

October 4, 1955 (World Series Game 7) at New York: Dodgers 2, Yankees 0

The Red Sox were not the first team to finally avenge years of torment at the hands of the Yankees.  After years of losing to their crosstown rivals, the Dodgers finally turned the tables in 1955, helped by a great catch by Sandy Amoros and shutout pitching by Johnny Podres.  Here’s a video of Jackie Robinson stealing home in the first game of the series.  (He had better luck than Babe Ruth).

October 13, 1960 (World Series game 7) at Pittsburgh: Pirates 10, Yankees 9 

It may sound funny to hear the words “World Series” and “Pittsburgh Pirates” used in the same sentence, but that’s what was happening in 1960.  The Pirates hung in there, battling the Yankees through six games.  In the decisive contest, the lead went back and forth between the two teams, entering the bottom of the ninth tied.  Leading off, Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski became the first of only two men (along with Joe Carter) in baseball history to end a World Series with a home run.

October 10, 1980 (A.L.C.S. game 3) at New York: Royals 4, Yankees 2

As with the Pirates, it may seem weird to think of the Kansas City Royals in the World Series, but they got there in 1980 by beating the Yankees in the American League Championship Series, then a best-of-five.  They had lost three consecutive times to the Yanks in the A.L.C.S. but finally turned the tables in 1980, winning the first two games at home and taking the third on George Brett’s three-run homer off Goose Gossage.   The names of Brett and Gossage would be linked again a few years later.

July 24 and August 18, 1983 (“Pine Tar” game) at New York: Royals 5, Yankees 4 

George Brett won a World Series, had over 3,000 hits, batted .390 in 1980 and even battled hemorrhoids, but this Hall of Famer is remembered by most people for only one thing.   While the sight of an enraged Brett charging out of the dugout may be legendary, however, not as well known is the back-story behind what would now probably be called one of baseball’s best viral videos.  With the Yankees leading 4-3 in the top of the ninth inning, Brett was batting with one on and two out.  He hit a 2-run homer off Goose Gossage to give Kansas City a 5-4 lead.  As Brett crossed home, Yankees manager Billy Martin asked to see the bat.  The umpires conferred and called Brett out, sparking his famous eruption.  Ultimately the home-run was reinstated on the grounds that Martin should have asked to see the bat before Brett got to the plate.  The game was rescheduled for almost a month later and picked up in the top of the ninth with two outs and the Royals up, 5-4.  Martin told the umpires that Brett hadn’t touched all of the bases, but he was over-ruled.  After the Yankees went down in order in the bottom of the 9th, the Pine Tar game was over, almost a month after it began.

October 8, 1995 (A.L.D.S. game 5) at Seattle: Mariners 6, Yankees 5 (11 innings)

Back in the post season for the first time in 14 years, the Yankees faced an unlikely opponent in the first year of the American League Division Series: the Seattle Mariners.  The Mariners had pretty much been a joke since starting play in 1977, but in 1995, after a big comeback, they beat the California Angels (later to become the Anaheim Angels and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) in a one-game playoff to reach the post-season.  After dropping two games at Yankees Stadium, the Mariners won two in the Kingdome, pushing the best-of-five series to a decisive contest.  With the Yankees leading 5-4 in the bottom of the 11th, Edgar Martinez of the Mariners hit a game-winning double, described here by announcer Dave Niehaus.  MLB listed this game as #15 on their list of the all-time best list; highlights of the game can be seen here.

November 4, 2001 (World Series game 7) at Arizona: Diamondbacks 3, Yankees 2

Even if the 2001 World Series had been a clunker, it would still have been memorable in giving Americans a much-needed escape after the recent terrorist attacks.  As it turned out, 2001’s World Series was a down-to-the-wire classic.  Even many non-Yankees fans (although not the author) were rooting for them as they battled the Diamondbacks, National League champs in only their fourth season ever.  Extra-inning comebacks in games 4 and 5 put the Yankees up, 3 games to 2 as the teams headed back into the desert to decide things.  With the Yankees leading 2-1 in game 7, the Diamondbacks rallied in the bottom of the ninth, winning a Series quicker than any other expansion team in history.

August 31, 2004 at New York: Indians 22, Yankees 0

This nail-biter represented the biggest margin of loss in Yankees history; according to ESPN (see above link) even Jeter left the clubhouse before reporters could come in.

October 20, 2004 (A.L.C.S. game 7) at New York: Red Sox 10, Yankees 3

Of all of the teams that had lost the first three games of a baseball playoff series, only two had even gone as far as game 6.  The Sox were the first to force a game 7 after dropping the first three, and it seemed perfectly logical that they would find a way to blow it after getting the Nation’s hopes up.  But on the strength of Derek Lowe’s pitching and Johnny Damon’s grand slam, the Sox completed their comeback with a 10-3 win, going on to beat the Cardinals in the World Series for their first championship since 1918.  It’s too bad that no World Series trophy will be raised in Boston in 2011, but there’s always next year–and the hope that by opening day in 2012, the Yankees will have added more great losses to this list.