Lucid Culture


Phillies 5, Red Sox 3 6/13/10

When someone offers you tickets to the most beautiful ballpark in the majors, there’s only one conceivable response. Fenway Park is still a shrine, still pretty much lost in a time warp before hip-hop, before cable tv and especially before the game itself took a backseat to advertising at most sports venues. At the new Shea, the ads bombard you between innings at top volume, and everything that happens on the field seems to be sponsored by some corporation. Not so at Fenway. The digital screen above the leftcenterfield bleachers is tiny by comparison to other parks, and the old manual scoreboard at the base of the leftfield Green Monster still draws the eyes far more quickly and comfortably. And sightlines are minor-league quality, in other words, terrific -ordinarily you have to go to a minor-league stadium, like Keyspan out in Coney Island, to feel this close to the action. 

The crowd was also almost shockingly mellow – then again, watching your team enjoy a winning season for the last fifteen years will put you deep in the comfort zone. Fenway these days is just as expensive, maybe even more expensive than the other Major League Baseball stadiums, but the crowd is strikingly blue-collar, although sadly less racially diverse than either the new Shea or Yankee Stadium (then again, Boston has a far more odious history of segregation than New York does). Concessions are expensive, but not as outlandishly priced as they are in Flushing or the Bronx – and there were some bargains. Our crowd went wild over $12 lobster rolls (if you haven’t had one lately, restaurants sometimes charge twice that much), simple grilled hot dog buns filled with generous chunks of meat tossed with a light layer of lo-fat mayo – no excess, gooey mayo filler or cheap, distracting celery. The vegetarian contingent gave the thumbs up to the pricy ($4.75) but tasty veggie dog with the works, including fresh chopped onion. And a $6 bag of caramel popcorn was easily the equivalent of a couple of boxes of Crunch N Munch, just sweet enough that the caramel didn’t overwhelm the saltiness of the popcorn.

Interestingly, the most popular name on the many, many Sox uniform jerseys throughout the crowd was not slugger David Ortiz, or weirdly charismatic closer Jon Papelbon: it was steady, soft-spoken catcher Jason Varitek, followed by overachieving second baseman Dustin Pedroia, with speedy, injured outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury (a special favorite of the girls) close behind. So much for the assumption that all fans care about is home runs or pitchers who throw 100 MPH.

About the game: when veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield resorted to throwing one of his 71 MPH fastballs just six pitches into the first inning, it signaled that he might not have his best stuff. As it turned out, he did, save for one bad inning, the fourth, when the slumping Phils scored all the runs they needed, rapping out four consecutive hits at one point including a two-run homer into the rightfield bullpen by leftfielder Raul Ibanez. Meanwhile, Wakefield’s counterpart, lefty Cole Hamels kept the Red Sox’ hitters off balance, mixing a devastating 78 MPH changeup and a slow curve in along with a blistering fastball that consistently hit 95-96 MPH on the stadium gun. The only damage he allowed was a second-inning solo homer into the Monster seats in left by third baseman Adrian Beltre. This Sox lineup, banged up as it is (first baseman Kevin Youkilis took a Chad Durbin fastball off the wrist yesterday and was out of the lineup; Ellsbury and leftfielder Jeremy Hermida are both out with broken ribs from collisions with Beltre) proved over the past couple of days that it’s capable of mauling a bad pitcher. Today they proved they’re not up to the challenge of overcoming a good one. Hamels stifled the one threat he faced after shortstop Marco Scutaro doubled in the third, then mystifyingly stopped at third base after a Pedroia single. Catcher Victor Martinez (who used his first baseman’s mitt masterfully in corralling the elusive Wakefield knuckler) was then induced to swing at the first pitch, resulting in a harmless infield popup.

Wakefield made it into the eighth on a day when the Sox relief corps, depleted from yesterday’s heavy workload, really needed  a lift. Lefty specialist Dustin Richardson, up from the AAA team at Pawtucket for insurance, made a strong case for a longer stay as he made short work of the Phillies’ lefty sluggers Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, with some help from an overshifted infield.

In the top of the eighth, with reliever Ramon Ramirez on the hill, the Sox’ battery picked the worst possible time to fall asleep on the job. Phillies rightfielder Jayson Werth walked and stole second, then took a big lead off second that nobody except the crowd seemed to notice – and then took third without a throw. He scored with a perfectly executed if ultimately unnecessary hook slide on a flyball to shallow right by designated hitter Ben Francisco as J.D. Drew’s throw to the plate was up the first base line.

In the bottom of the ninth, David Ortiz, of all people, manufactured a run when he doubled into the rightfield corner, took third on a shallow fly to right by first baseman Mike Lowell and then scored on a wild pitch by his old pal J.C. Romero. Romero then walked Drew and was replaced by Brad Lidge. Since Lidge Time has become synonymous with Funtime (for opposing batters), it looked like the Sox might be able to send a sold-out crowd of 39,000 or so home happy, especially when rookie leftfielder Daniel Nava (who’d hit a grand slam the previous day on the first pitch he saw in the majors), singled Drew home. But the normally patient Scutaro couldn’t deliver – even though Lidge was having trouble locating his slider, Scutaro swung early in the count and popped out harmlessly to third.

And when there was music, at least it wasn’t offensive – most of the time (that Neil Diamond ditty is no less awful than it was in 1967, or whenever it came out). Lowell’s signature song, as it turns out, is London Calling (just like the Mets’ Aaron Heilman, before the pitcher chose another to play over the stadium PA at home games – and his career went south). And after the game, organist Josh Kantor ushered the crowd out with a wistful version of Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.

June 13, 2010 Posted by | baseball | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment