Today is opening day in Major League Baseball. One of the holiest days of the year. Well, it is for everybody except the Rays and Orioles who will not play until tomorrow night at The Trop.
So everybody else gets to celebrate and we are left chomping at the bit for another 24 hours. So to bide the time and satisfy our cravings, I dusted off my copy of the 2008 ALCS Game 7 and decided to write a retro diary of the game.
0:00 – FOX starts us off with the pre-requisite aerial shot of The Trop. I always wondered why networks deploy blimps to domes. While The Trop is underrated inside, the aerial shot reminds us that from the outside it looks like the biggest game of the 2008 season is about to take place in a grain silo. Every discussion about a new stadium for the Rays should just start and end with this image.
0:01 — I assume I was pretty nervous at this point when the game happened originally. I have no idea. There is a good chance I had started drinking about 8:00am that day. But even though I know the ending, I am sitting here nervous as hell. BARTENDER!
Immediately I notice the amount of Red in the stands which instantly increases the Sox odds of winning this game because Red Sox Nation is better than other fans. They’re such amazing fans that they can walk on water and had the power of invisibility back in the early 80s. And there is no such thing as a bandwagon Red Sox fan. Every single Red Sox fan is descended from a guy named Sully that came to this land on the Mayflower wearing a hat with ‘B’ embroidered on it, red socks and chanting “Yankees Suck!” the entire trip.
Matt Garza is on the mound for the Rays. It is fun to see 2008-Matt Garza. His sideburns and chin-pubes were so cute back in ’08. They just say, “hey, we just went through puberty.”
0:02 — It is amazing to think how lucky the Rays were to have this game at home. I know The Trop can be very loud at times (I was there for games 1 and 2), but right now we are literally seconds from the first pitch and the place is very quiet. Think that would happen at Fenway?
And immediately after 2 pitches we get the first shot of Garza’s ear plugs which look more like Dioner Navarro stuck a spit ball in his ear when he was taking his afternoon nap.
0:03 — I don’t remember thinking too much about the announcing team back in ’08. But in hindsight, how much more enjoyable was this series simply because we weren’t subjected to Joe Buck and Tim McCarver? I am certain I would have been on TV #3 by game 7 if we had been. Instead we got the very benign Chip Carey, Ron Darling and Buck Martinez.
TOP OF FIRST
Coco Crisp starts the game by attempting a third-pitch drag bunt. Carlos Pena is lucky he was wearing a glove because I am pretty sure he would have died as the throw to first from Garza was his hardest throw of the year and aimed right between Pena’s eyes. You can even see Pena duck his head a tad as his glove snaps back over his head.
0:05 — Garza just threw what I can only assume was a slider on 1-1 to Dustin Pedroia. It was 84-mph, it was letter-high, did not break a lick and landed 5 rows deep just down the left-field line. I hate Hobbits. They’re dirty little creatures.
0:08 — Garza gets to 2-2 on David Ortiz and the crowd is up on its feet. Still though, the noise is more like a golf-clap. You can tell the crowd started nervous, and the Hobbit’s home run just took any wind they might have had in their sails and popped it.
0:09 — Ortiz walks on a full-count pitch that just misses away. And we get our first look at the Rays lineup. Pretty standard, most of which will be the same tomorrow. The two differences are Aki Iwamura at second base and some guy in right field named Rocco Baldelli. Never heard of him.
0:10 — I can tell it has been a while since I have watched a Red Sox game because I had forgotten how much I want to see Kevin Youkilis get kicked in the balls.
First pitch to Youkilis is up-and-in and almost hits him. Buck Martinez approves saying “that never hurts, even if it is unintentional.” In hindsight, I’d say that was intentional. First pitch of the at bat. Youk had 10 hits (2 HRs) in the first 6 games and Garza hasn’t been wild yet despite the walk. That was certainly a message pitch. Youk then pulled the next pitch, a 96-mph fastball, into the third base dugout. Hard to be early on that kind of heat.
0:11 — Youk flies one down the right field line that slices like one of my drives. Rocco makes a running knee-high catch after starting somewhere near the Rays tank in right-center. Gomes and Hinske were both left off the roster. Neither of them make that catch. Instead of 2 outs and man on first it would have been 1 out and 2nd and 3rd with the Red Sox primed to break the game open. Joe Maddon is so wise. He is like Buddha, if Buddha wore Sarah Palin glasses and a white mohawk.
0:13 — Garza gets JD drew on 2 nasty breaking balls, the first a knee buckler and the second in the dirt, ending the inning.
BOTTOM OF FIRST
0:14 — Now we get a look at the Rays batting order and it is not familiar at all. Crawford who spent most of the season batting second, but was dropped to third behind Aki and Upton in August missed the final month of the season. In this game he batted fifth with Upton 2nd followed by Pena 3rd and Longo 4th. That light-hitting team MVP (Bartlett) bats 9th.
Jon Lester is on the mound. If I remember correctly he was a guaranteed 2 wins for the Sox entering this series. Aki leads off and man do I miss his high-cuffed pants.
0:15 – Chip Carey announces that the Red Sox have “high hope” because Jon Lester has “never lost back-to-back starts in his entire major league career.” Granted that is a span of 58 starts (up to that point), but I am thinking the Sox’ confidence went beyond the arm of a 24-year old starting pitcher.
0:17 — After a weak ground out to second by Aki, Upton comes up with an air of confidence we haven’t seen in a long time. And the bat speed! I heart you.
0:19 — We now see a graphic telling us that Upton is already 1 HR shy of the all-time record for HRs in a post-season. It is still only the ALCS. And showing how much power he used to be able to generate with those quick wrists, Upton flicks his wrists and drives a ball to the warning track in right field.
0:22 — Just to show you how much of a pass Joe Maddon was getting at that time, we have no idea why this lineup didn’t bother us more back in ’08. JoeMa is a little too obsessed with breaking up the batting order (righty-lefty-righty, etc.). In this case, why was Pena batting 3rd against a tough lefty? It doesn’t take much to fill out a lineup card. You don’t need a college degree. You don’t need bookkeeping experience. You just need to be able to wipe your own ass.
And in his first at bat Pena looks bad striking out, missing a breaking ball by 6 inches.
TOP OF SECOND
0:25 — Garza starts the second by striking out Jason Bay. Garza is definitely throwing with extra adrenaline. If Garza had a tired arm in ’09, we can probably blame this game a little bit. Every single pitch looks like Garza is throwing with maximum effort…This is followed by Bartlett making a play on a ball to the right of the second base bag. I just started chanting “MVP, MVP!” Even 6-month old Baby Prof looked at me as if to say “Let it go.”
0:30 — The TV crew has now spent 3 pitches talking about Varitek’s impending free agency. Obviously this is pertinent as this could have been his last game in a Red Sox uniform, but this is a Game 7. Anything more than a brief mention is too much…Varitek goes down on strikes and Garza has now struck out 3 of the last 4 batters.
BOTTOM OF SECOND
0:32 – Longoria leads off the second and works the count to 3-0 before taking a questionable high and tight called strike. And in a clear case of “occasionally getting one right” Fox goes to a tight shot of Joe Maddon as he yells “that’s enough of that shit!” to the umpire.
0:33 — Longoria grounds out to short in what is a clear reminder of how far the Sox have come in their defensive philosophy. Alex Cora made this one, but he is toilet, both at the plate and with the glove. In hindsight, the Red Sox couldn’t have possibly won the World Series in ’08 with Alex Cora playing short.
0:35 – Crawford strikes out and Aybar grounds out. 6 up and 6 down for the Rays to start the game.
TOP OF THIRD
0:36 — After Cora flies out to left, Coco Crisp comes to the plate. Buck Martinez says Crisp is getting a “rude reception” because of the brawl earlier in the season when Crisp charged James Shields. Not even exagerating, I think 10 people boo’d…Crisp strikes out and that is 7 in a row for Garza since the first inning walk.
0:41 — Buck Martinez just called the pitch Pedroia hit for a home run a “high fastball” and that “anybody can hit” one of those. One problem. That pitch was 84. Garza hasn’t thrown a fastball 84 since the 2nd grade. It wasn’t a fastball.
0:43 — Garza hits Pedroia on the elbow with an 0-2 pitch that got away. That was 95mph. THAT is a Garza fastball. And the Red Sox faithful boo…Seque: Whenever a (usually) hometown player gets hit by a pitch the home crowd will boo even if it was obviously unintentional. I hate that announcers always assume the crowd is not baseball savvy and assumes the pitch was intentional. Can’t the crowd just boo because they don’t like their player getting hit?
0:47 — The Hobbit steals second against the shift, but it is for naught as Big Papi goes down swinging to end the inning. Outside that 0-2 pitch that got away and hit Pedroia, Garza is in a zone, retiring 8 of 9.
BOTTOM OF THIRD
0:50 — Navi strikes out to start the third and Lester is perfect through 2.1 innings. I will now try to jinx the perfect game by typing PERFECT GAME in all caps.
0:51 — I see Rocco. He looks glorious. Not only does Rocco look like actor Ethan Embry, but both have had hugely disappointing careers. I mean, who didn’t expect great things from Embry after “Can’t Hardly Wait”?…Rocco strikes out and Bartlett pops up. 9 up, 9 down for Lester. At this point back in ’08 I am fairly sure that I was NOT my usually pleasant self.
TOP OF FOURTH
0:54 – The fourth starts with a nice running throw by Longoria on a groundball by Youkilis.
0:55 — More evidence that JoeMa could do no wrong in our eyes back in 2008, FOX shows an interview with Maddon conducted between innings. Why did it not bother me that Maddon looked like he had no idea that the Rays were trailing in Game 7 of the ALCS and had yet to even see a batter reach first base? Doesn’t Maddon have more important things to worry about at this point than answering questions about how well he knows the Red Sox?
0:56 — After a JD Drew popup we get our first shot of Rayhawks in the stands. There must be 2,000 people in the stands will blue-dyed mohawks and what does FOX show? Two fans with fake mohawks. Thank you FOX for shitting on our one shining moment. Blue Mohawks were our thing. It was stupid as hell, but it was ours.
0:58 – Bay strikes out on a fastball that absolutely paints the corner down and away. This after a nasty 12-6 curve that Bay gave up on before it even reached the plate. Garza is on fire. 11 of 12 retired.
BOTTOM OF FOURTH
0:59 – Aki leads off the fourth with a line-drive single to left to break up the perfect game. I’ll take all the credit. And with that we are reminded what team is still king in Tampa Bay with a zoomed-in shot of a fan wearing a retro John Lynch jersey. C’mon people. A Bucs jersey at Game 7 of the ALCS is not OK. And we know there were a lot of Red Sox fans there, but couldn’t FOX find one Rays fan in a, you know, Rays jersey? Thank you FOX for perpetuating the myth that all Raysheads are bandwagon jumpers.
1:02 — Upton just struck out and gives us the Upton face. You know the face. We see it everytime he is picked off first base and gets that look on his face like he is wondering if he remembered to feed Deuce that morning.
1:03 — And here we have Pena up with 1 out and a runner on first. Big spot and Pena is up facing a tough lefty because Maddon needed his left-handed bat in between the two righties. Ron Darling reminds us that 18 of Pena’s 31 HRs tied the game or put the Rays ahead. He doesn’t mention that Pena hit .190 against lefties in ’08 (why am I so bitter about this 2 years later?) Pena grounds to second and Aki is forced. Two down.
1:08 — After spinning himself into the ground and looking like a rookie on a breaking pitch, Dirtbag shortened his swing and pokes a ball right down the right field line. Might have been the weakest swing of Longo’s career. But let’s face it, he is Dirtbag. When he wakes up in the morning he pisses excellence…Pena comes all the way around from first base to tie the game. Pena is out if Pedroia’s relay isn’t up the line. Probably was the play of the game. If Pena is thrown out at home, that might have killed the Rays psychologically. Of couse some sabermatatricians will tell you that baseball players don’t have a psyche. And just by typing that I will be labeled as “anti-good-stats,” which couldn’t be further from the truth.
1:10 Crawford strikes out for the second time, this time to end the inning.
TOP OF FIFTH
1:14 We remember Garza having a good game in game 7, but it is amazing to look back and see just how dominating he was. Every one of his pitches is working. His curve was as good as we have ever seen it. At least 4 times to this point he has dropped a curve that the hitter didn’t even think about swining at. No Red Sock has even made good contact since the first inning and after another 1-2-3, Garza has retired 14 of 15. The one baserunner was an 0-2 hit by pitch.
BOTTOM OF FIFTH
1:17 — To start the 5th, Aybar hits a curve ball that was maybe 2 inches off the ground and golfs it off the wall down the left field line. The pitch was so low, Varitek was already in position to block it in the dirt…I have been thinking about that left field corner at The Trop. We are about 4 or 5 more Gabe Kapler cheap home runs from renaming that part of the field “Kapler’s Korner.” I know Kapler OPS’s like a stud against lefties, but he should thank that short porch for still having a job with the Rays.
1:21 — Remember when I was trashing Alex Cora’s defense earlier? Navarro just hit an infield single that Cora had to move about 3 steps for. Cora didn’t even make a throw. How many infield singles does Navi have in his career? Two? How bad do you have to be to give up an infield single to Navarro on what should have been a routine groundball? Even Brendan Harris would have thrown out Navi and that guy plays like his feet are in cement.
1:23 — Rocco just missed his one shining moment (trying to stay topical) by towering a flyball down the left field line that just missed being a 3-run HR…He follows that with groundball single to left that drives in Aybar for a 2-1 lead…And what are we subjected to? Dick Vitale jumping up and down and everybody around him ignoring him completely…On a side note, gutsy move by Tom Foley to send Aybar home. Granted he beat the throw easily. But if he doesn’t go, it is bases loaded with no outs and 9-1-2 due up. Pretty good odds that Aybar will score anyway if he is held up. So yeah, gutsy call.
1:26 — Even worse than wearing a retro John Lynch football jersey to ALCS Game 7? Wearing a Redskins jersey. Not even Jason Collette would do that and he still has a picture of John Riggans hanging somewhere. Please tell me this happens at other ballparks? Can you imagine what would happen if somebody went to a Game 7 at Yankees Stadium wearing a Rams jersey? That guy would be covered in beer by the second inning.
1:27 — Bartlett strikes out. MVP! MVP!
1:28 – Aki grounds out weakly to the pitcher and Upton again puts his immense bat speed on display by rocketing a ball down the left field line that goes just foul. Granted Navi was on second and probably wouldn’t have scored. Still, I don’t think Upton hit a ball that hard at all in 2009…He lines out to SS to end the inning.
TOP OF SIXTH
1:31 – Coco (I hate that his name no longer makes me giggle) hits a line drive that goes foul. That is the hardest hit ball off Garza since the first inning…FOX now shows a close-up of Joe Maddon and Dave Matinez. Why does Davey look like he is a foot shorter than JoeMa? Do you think JoeMa makes Davey stand on a lower step? And speaking of Martinez, what are the odds he is managing the Padres or somebody else next year? Even money? 2:3? If the Rays make the playoffs this year, Davey will be on top of everybody’s list after the season…And for the second time this game, CooCoo grounds out to Garza, this one on a pitch in his eyes. That is not easy to do.
1:35 – Garza’s run of retiring 15 out of 16 batters ends with a Pedroia walk in an 11-pitch at bat. The Red Sox have had 4 baserunners. Three of those were Pedroia. Stupid Hobbit…Based on “Win Expectancy,” at this point the Rays have a 65% chance of winning the game. And even though I know the outcome, I feel like it is about 35%.
1:42 — Garza comes back and gets Ortiz and Pedroia on a strike-em-out, throw-em-out. And look at how far Pedroia was out by. Remember when Navi actually threw out base stealers? Yeah, neither do we…And I am pretty sure I just smashed a beer can on my forehead. Not back in 2008. Just now…Despite the walk, Garza faced only 3 batters that inning, but he needed 25 pitches to do it. You can see the ’09 season slip further and further with each pitch.
BOTTOM OF SIXTH
1:45 — Pena pops up, and Longo just misses a home run as he got under a pitch a tad and flies out to deep left.
1:46 — Crawford takes a ball to deep center, but it is a can o’ corn. That’s Lester’s first 1-2-3 inning since the 3rd when he still had the perfect game going.
TOP OF SEVENTH
1:48 — Youkilis leads off. Skip Carey tells us that Garza is over 100 pitches and that there is action in the Rays bullpen. Does he tell us who is warming up? No. Do they show us the bullpen? No…Youk pops up to SS and now we get a shot of the bullpen with Trevor Miller and Grant Balfour warming up…One of the few things I truly hate about The Trop is that the bullpens are on the field. High school teams have bullpens on the field.
1:50 – JD Drew walks on 4 pitches. He is the first non-hobbit baserunner for the Red Sox since Ortiz walked in the first inning.
Navarro visits the mound and he looks genuininely nervous that Garza might spit on him. Is there anybody in baseball that spits more than Matt Garza? And that guy constantly has the biggest loogys. How does he do it and not die of dehydration on the mound?
1:52 – Bay singles to left. The Rays win probability was 73% at the start of the inning. It is now 61%. Time for a new pair of boxers.
Joe Maddon visits the mound and no doubt asks Garza if it is bad luck to drink red wine during a Red Sox series…But instead of going to Miler against the lefty Kotsay, he stays with Garza with the tying run on second and go-ahead run on first with only 1 out.
1:54 – And on a 2-1 pitch, Garza gets a fastball in on Kotsay breaking his bat and getting a lazy flyball to right field…Varitek comes up with 2 outs and the tying run on third.
1:58 — Garza gets Youk on a 58-footer. Followed by Skip Carey calling him “Big Game Garza.” James Shields is not happy.
BOTTOM OF SEVENTH
1:59 — Skip Carey, thinking Raysheads aren’t nervous enough reminds us that we are 6 outs away from the World Series. The Rays win probability just went from 78% to 12%. Thanks Skip. Thanks.
2:00 — Lester is still in the game to face Aybar and on a 3-2 pitch, Lester throws an 88mph belt-high fastball that Aybar just tattoos into the left field seats. Oh Mama! Not even Skip Carey can ruin this now. Who would have ever guessed before this game that we would enter “Awesomeville: Population Willy Aybar”?
2:05 — Buck Martinez reminds us that the game is apparently not over yet by stating “there are 50 guy on this field tonight and no one thinks this game is over.” Thanks Buck. I actually thought there was a 2-run rule in baseball after the 7th inning.
2:07 — Navi flies out, Rocco strikes out and Bartlett flies to center. Masterson and Okajima warming up for Boston, so Lester’s night is over. 4 batters too late.
TOP OF EIGHTH
2:08 — Interestingly, JoeMa puts Gabe Gross in right field. Why make that move then? Was Gross that much better than Rocco defensively? Why not wait until Rocco’s next time up to bat to make sure there is a right-handed pitcher on the mound or to force Francona to make a move earlier than he wants? Another questionable move by JoeMa that we never saw when we were wearing Merlot-tinted glasses.
Garza starts the inning and faces Cora. For all the great players in Red Sox history, they always have a shit-player like Cora.
2:09 — MVP Jason Bartlett boots an easy groundball and that is it for Garza. Guarantee you that Garza still reminds Bartlett of that groundball at least once a week.
Dan Wheeler is the first arm out of the pen. How I even still had a pulse at this point back in ’08 is a testament to the alcohol…Garza only gave up 2 hits in 7 innings. It is 17 months later and I am giving Garza a standing O.
2:13 — Buck Martinez reminds us that Dan Wheeler “is not overpowering.” Thank Buck. Twist the knife a little more.
2:14– And CooCoo Crisp singles to right. 2 on, nobody out. At this point back in ’08 I am pretty sure I had a heart attack in my ass…Guess who is up? Pedroia. With Wheeler on the mound. Red Sox fans were probably planning world series parties at this point.
2:16 — And the Hobbit put on a home run swing on a home run pitch and just gets under it. The Rays dodged a bullet.
Maddon back out to the mound. This time it is JP Howell to face Big Papi.
2:19 — Who knew Paul Giamatti was a Rays fan? “if Joe Maddon orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am NOT drinking any fucking Merlot!”
2:20 — Howell gets ahead of Papi 0-2 with his 88mph cheese…Howell has got guts. At this point I wouldn’t throw Papi anything but curveballs in the dirt and pray.
Segue: Anybody else disturbed by the ESPN commercial where Ortiz is wearing a Yankees cap? How is this not a bigger deal to Red Sox fans? Would Larry Bird ever wear a Lakers jersey?
2:24 — And on the 7th pitch, Howell gets Ortiz to ground weakly to 2B into the shift and Crisp is forced at 2B. Huge play, keeping the tying run out of scoring position. And how close was it? Crisp is safe if he goes for the bag. Instead he tried to break up a double play that was never going to happen. If Crisp goes for the bag, it is bases loaded with 1 out and Youkilis at bat. How many bullets did the Rays dodge in this game?
Howell is out after just one batter. Now it is Chad Bradford to face Youk.
2:29 — Bradford walks Youkilis to load the bases. And amazingly the win probability at this point is still 80%…for the Rays! Even more amazingly, we have now had at least our third close-up of a “Rays fan” wearing a Bucs jersey. “Don’t worry guys. Monte will call for a blitz here and force Drew into over-throwing his receiver in the flat.” Ugh.
2:30 — And who is the 5th pitcher of the 8th inning? David Price. Think about this. 16 months before this he was pitching for Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt. 2 months before this he was in the minor leagues. Now he is called upon in the 8th inning of ALCS game 7 with a 2-run lead and the bases loaded..And he is using an illegal glove. Pitchers are not allowed to use gloves that light in color. Price nowadays uses a much darker model. Can you imagine the scene had Francona asked the umpires to make Price change his glove. Unbelievable.
2:31 — How nervous is Price? Not at all. He starts Drew with 2 sliders. Both strikes. After a 96 mph fastball out of the zone, he paints the corner with a 97mph fastball that just freezes drew. Price gives a very emphatic body convusion, followed by the cermonial eating of the illegal glove.
BOTTOM OF EIGHTH
2:33 Lester is finally out of the game. Okajima is in. An Aki groundball, Upton flyout to CF, Pena strikeout and 9 pitches later, the Rays are done in the 8th. But who cares. Let’s get to the 9th!
TOP OF NINTH
2:40 — 3 outs to go! I’m in a glass case of emotion!
Price looks to get Bay on a 2-2 pitch. Bay checks his swing and gets the benefit of the bad call from the umpire. He walks 2 pitches later. The Rays win probability at this point is 84%, but it sure doesn’t feel like it…Kotsay is up.
2:43 — Price gets Kotsay looking on a pitch that absolutely paints the outside corner. Then again, the replay shows it is a couple of inches outside. Mark one down for the good guys.
2:46 — Price gets Varitek swinging on a slider. Aybar reminds Price that they only need 1 more out. That or he is pointing out the hot chick behind the dugout to Price.
Jed Lowrie is the final batter for the Sox. What must Red Sox fans be thinking at this point. Up until this point they had to like their chances even when trailing by 2 runs late in the game. Afterall, they are the Red Sox and this was the Devil Rays. Now all of the sudden they are down to their final out and who is up to bat? David Ortiz? No. Manny Ramirez? No. Kevin Youkilis? Dustin Pedroia? No and No. Hell, it is not even JD Drew. Nope. They get Jed Effin’ Lowrie to try and save their season. Ouch.
2:47 — And on the second pitch Lowrie hits a ground ball to Aki who takes it himself…Two things about this groundball: 1) Aki has never gotten enough credit for this play. This was a wicked hop (Boston pun intended). This image doesn’t do it justice. Aki thought this ball was going to be a couple of inches off the ground and instead it almost takes his head off on the bad hop after it hits the lip of the infield turf; 2) Look at Price in this image. Aki is still 10 feet from the bag and King David is already looking for his crown. I love it.
In the aftermath, Navarro is obviously the first player to reach Price. But who was the second? It is hard to tell from this picture, but it is Jonny Gomes of course. Love that guy.
What a great end to a great season. I’ve heard rumors that the Rays played a few more games after this. News to me.