This morning I went out to grab my morning paper—yes, I still get one—and noticed a pack of turkeys striding across my neighbor's lawn. I almost felt compelled to go over and give them directions to Fenway Park.
I broke my word last night to not watch another Red Sox game this year, and turned on NESN for the ninth inning from St. Petersburg. Big mistake. Andrew Bailey was on the mound, Bobby Valentine was in the dugout, but I felt like I was watching Grady Little and Pedro Martinez during Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS.
Matt Joyce, leading off – single to center. OK, no big deal, still a three-run lead.
Jeff Keppinger – line-drive single to center. Damn, that was pretty well hit. C'mon, Bailey, don't make this a nail-biter. The closer gets a coaching visit to the mound, presumably to tell him to cut the crap and throw some strikes so we can fly home.
Luke Scott – sharp grounder to first. James Loney fields it cleanly but struggles to get the ball out of his glove and is forced to make the play at first rather than second. Ugh, another well-hit ball, and now two runners are in scoring position. But at least there is one out.
Carlos Pena is up next, a .199 hitter but a certifiable Red Sox killer. He seems to relish facing the hometown team that let him go before he found his 40-homer stroke. Bailey has the deer-in-the-headlights look of Calvin Schiraldi at Shea Stadium, and two relievers start warming up for Boston.
Line-drive single to center by Pena – Joyce scores, Keppinger to third. Enough is enough, Bobby V. Bailey has nothing and everybody knows it. Take him out now and let's try and end this road trip on a decent note.
Shot to Bobby Valentine in the dugout – smirking but not moving. Hey, Bobby! Bobby!? Let's get out there already and yank Bailey, before you have another Daniel Bard on your hands.
Suddenly it occurs to me – this is just like Grady and Pedro at Yankee Stadium in '03. It was clear back then that Martinez had nothing by the eighth inning of Game 7, but Grady left him in to implode and set the stage for Aaron Boone in the 11th.
Sure, there were some differences. Little was playing for the World Series, and Valentine is playing for nothing – not even his job. He certainly knows that's long gone, whatever he says.
But haven't these guys been through enough? Don't they deserve to fly home feeling at least a little good about themselves – after taking three-of-four from the Rays and essentially ending their playoff hopes?
If this was Fenway during the last homestand, this would have been the moment that fans who had opted for free “FIRE BOBBY V” stickers from the Boston Baseball hawkers on Brookline Ave. (they far outnumbered the "KEEP BOBBY V” versions inside the park) would have held them up or collectively crumpled them into balls to throw in the general vicinity of the Red Sox dugout.
But in this case, all fans listening and watching across New England can do is yell at their radios and TVs while Bobby V. stays put and pinch-runner Rich Thompson takes Pena's spot at first. Next up, pinch-hitter Stephen Vogt. He's 0-for-11 on the season, 0-for-19 in his ML career, so maybe Bobby figures that even without his good stuff Bailey can get him.
Thompson steals second – putting the tying run in scoring position.
Great, this will likely rattle Bailey some more.
Stephen Vogt – walk on a full count, loading the bases. Look at the bright side: The Sox are still up 4-2, and at least he didn't get a hit. But Valentine needs to get someone else in there to keep this thing from going extra innings.
Shot to Bobby V. – a little body movement, but he's still staying put. Valentine would later tell reporters he stuck with Bailey because it was the “first time he was in trouble. Got to give him a chance to get out of it, I think. Wanted to see what he would do.”
Well, we already saw what he could do in trouble two batters ago, and one batter ago—he was just making the trouble worse. Elliot Johnson runs for Vogt at first, trying to lessen the chance for a double play and a scoring chance on a gap hit. He represents the winning run with one out.
Desmond Jennings – who has a single and double in his last two at-bats – steps in.
Desmond Jennings – line-drive single to center on the first pitch. Keppinger and Thompson score, Johnson goes to third, and Jennings takes second when center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury bobbles the ball for an error. Tie game.
Now, of course, Bobby V. comes out for Bailey and brings in Vicente Padilla to complete his Grady Redux moment. Google Padilla and the first three hits you get are “children” “kids” and “shot” – links that take you to stories about the multiple babies he's allegedly fathered with different women and the fact he once shot himself in the leg at a shooting range, lost 1.5 liters of blood, and initially lied about it to save his career.
Oh yeah, he also has a 4.60 ERA as he takes the mound and B.J. Upton comes up.
By now I figure this can only end one of two ways: either Upton will hit his 24th homer for a 7-4 victory, or he'll rope a liner to left, and Carl Crawford will jump from the stands to take Scott Podsednick's place and trap the ball as Johnson races home for a 5-4 win.
Belt-high fastball to Upton – homer over the center-field wall. Rays win, 7-4.
This is probably when the turkeys started assembling on my street. It's about a six-mile walk to Fenway, but if they hurry they should make it in plenty of time for tonight's 7:10 start against the red-hot Orioles.
Jon Lester gets the start for Boston and is 14-0 lifetime against the Birds, but this is 2012 and the Orioles appear to be a team of destiny playing for their first postseason appearance since the Clinton administration.
Bobby V. and the Red Sox? They are just playing out the string.
Saul Wisnia lives less than seven miles from Fenway Park and works 300 yards from Yawkey Way. His latest book, Fenway Park: The Centennial, is available at http://amzn.to/qWjQRS, and his Fenway Reflections can be found at http://saulwisnia.blogspot.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @saulwizz.