Through a fortunate turn of events, I had amazing tickets for last night’s Red Sox-White Sox game at Fenway Park, a 7-2 win that saw Jake Peavy go seven innings for the win. In the ninth inning, Drake Britton, Boston’s young, flame-throwing lefty, came in for some work and closed out the game.
It was incredible to see him work up close. His deliver is one where he’s almost jumping out at the batter from the mound, a compact series of movements where he winds up punching the ball towards the plate. A couple of rising fastballs hit David Ross’ glove with an alarming pop. It was impressive, to say the least.
There were a couple of kids in the row next to us, and they were clearly enjoying themselves, running out on their own for hot dogs and happily tipping the vendors as they came through our section. Later, for whatever reason, I thought of myself at 10 or 11 and watching the Red Sox, and how different that experience probably was. Mostly because I’d hitched my wagon to the 1993 Red Sox, a group that finished 80-82, and if I’d had these same seats that year, I’d probably be watching Greg Harris mop up another 6-3 loss to Detroit or something.
At that point, I’d liked baseball for some time and watched games as individual snatches of time devoid of any connection to standings or pennant races, just real-life versions of my baseball cards and a glimpse of baseball outside of Boston.
But 1993 was special in that it was the first season I watched wire to wire, with an awareness of the standings and of things like lineups and rotations. The season started with me in fifth grade and ended with a move to sixth grade and the bigger, scarier middle school across town. I was in completely and fully with the Red Sox that summer, and from the outside, I picked kind of a dud season to devote all my time and energy.
What, to the outsider, could be the more notable bits on the 1993 Sox? I thought about it and I came up with this:
1. Mo Vaughn had his true breakout year, leading the team with 29 home runs and 101 RBI.
2. In spite of that, Scott Cooper was chosen for the first of his two All-Star Games ahead of Vaughn.
3. It was the first chink in Roger Clemens’ armor. He was not very good that year, going 11-14 with a 4.46 ERA and only 160 strikeouts, which was low for him.
4. Andre Dawson had signed with the Red Sox that offseason, and his first home run of his injury plagued year was his 400th.
5. They traded for Rob Deer. That was something.
6. It was Aaron Sele’s rookie year, and he triggered a brawl after he hit George Bell that climaxed with Bell being clothes-lined by Vaughn on his way to the mound.
7. It featured that bizarre game on Saturday afternoon where a fan ran on the field, negating the last out and triggering a Yankee rally for the win.
All in all, that’s a weak list for the results-oriented fan who wants to see some kind of growth or winning culture in a team. But I don’t know that I was after that. More than rooting for the best, I wanted to root for something that felt like home. And the Sox that year were an interesting bunch, and they lost in creative ways.
Greg Harris was on the mound for that Yankees game. He led the league with 80 appearances that season, and his decidedly mediocre performance defined a decidedly mediocre team. He wasn’t their best pitcher, obviously, and he wasn’t their worst, but he was just there all the time. He was there for that game, and he thought he’d gotten Mike Stanley to end the game on a lazy fly ball to Mike Greenwell.
But in the middle of that pitch, the umpires called time because some fan had sprinted from his seats to the field, forcing Harris back on the mound and Stanley back to the plate. This time, Stanley singled to left, and that brought the top of the Yankees order up. Wade Boggs singled home a run. Dion James worked a walk. And Don Mattingly hit another single to bring home two more runs. A 3-1 win became a 4-3 loss.
If that didn’t sum up the season, the last game did. Needing a win to finish the year at .500, the Sox sent Danny Darwin to the mound against old friend Tom Brunansky and the Milwaukee Brewers. Tied 1-1 going into the ninth, Scott Bankhead gave up two runs to give Milwaukee a 3-1 lead going into the bottom half of the inning. It didn’t look good, to be sure.
But in the home half, walks by Cooper, Greenwell and Tim Naehring set up Bob Melvin for a line drive that drove home two runs to tie it up. The game waffled from there, both teams trading outs until Milwaukee broke through for three runs in the top of the 14th. There wouldn’t be an answer for that, and another losing season was over.
But that’s not how I remember it. I watched that entire game at my grandmother’s house, and when it was over I remember feeling disappointed that there wouldn’t be any more baseball. After the game, the Sox players stood on the dugout roof and started tossing souvenirs into the stands, and I imagined being in the stands then, and I thought of that moment again after last night’s game.
It didn’t matter that they’d finished below .500, or that it wouldn’t be the year they’d win the World Series. I definitely preferred it if they’d win, of course, but I just liked them. I liked Mike Greenwell. I liked Andre Dawson. I liked Mo Vaughn. I liked Bob Zupcic. I liked Danny Darwin. I even liked Greg Harris.