Sizemore was good, but he didn't quite match Evans' Opening Day record.

Sizemore was good, but he didn’t quite match Evans’ Opening Day record.

At this point in the season, it may finally be safe to assume that all Opening Days, save for the home openers of individual teams that may not have happened yet, are finally in the books. Overseas, Sunday nights, the real thing Monday, the Yankees and Astros finally playing a game on Tuesday, and then teams even getting in a second and sometimes third or fourth game as of yesterday. Baseball is back, officially back, standings count, statistics are being accumulated, and so on.

Focusing squarely on the Monday Opening Day, when most teams played their first game and played most of them in the day, there was no shortage of highlights amid the excitement. Neil Walker hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 10th inning to give the Pirates a win over the Cubs. Old friend Alex Gonzalez gave his new team, the Tigers, a game-winning hit against the Royals. The Mets game was delayed when they didn’t have a first baseman on the field, so they’re already in mid-season form.

And here, Grady Sizemore, playing in his first Major League game since 2011, hit a home run in what became a 2-1 loss in Baltimore against the Orioles. Where Opening Day is a time to quickly survey the rest of the league, most of Spring Training was focused on the Red Sox, and Sizemore’s phoenix-like comeback had been the focus. Seeing him already playing well in his first real action seemed like a good harbinger for the upcoming season. (more…)

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As painted-on uniforms go, this one isn't bad.

As painted-on uniforms go, this one isn’t bad.

I’ve been off the baseball card game for a while. Not that it’s a huge change; the days of buying complete sets and boxes are about 20 years past, and the deteriorating quality of Topps (and the fact that Topps is the only company in the game now) have left the urge to buy lots of packs or splurge cards minimal. There’s always nostalgia, but that only goes so far.

But I still have my Red Sox binder, and the urge to keep accumulating players as they pass through Boston is still strong. It’s more of a scrapbook than the investment portfolio I thought I was assembling when I was 10. Alas.

So in the throes of winter and this typically weird New England cycle of mild, sunny days in the 30s and near-blizzards with highs of 4 degrees, I’ve renewed myself a bit to picking up some of the Red Sox cards from the past season. It was a memorable one, of course, and having certain guys in the binder became important. So joining the stalwarts David Ortiz, Pedro Martinez and Jason Varitek and curiosities like Darren Bragg,  Corey Bailey and Darryl Irvine are Ryan Dempster, Shane Victorino and even Joel Hanrahan. And of course, Koji Uehara. (more…)

World Series Cardinals Red Sox Baseball

It’s two days later. It’s been two days since I started hugging and high-fiving strangers in the Dubliner Pub on Mass. Ave. and singing “Sweet Caroline,” for god’s sake. “Sweet Caroline.” I can’t stand that song.

But it was in that bar where we booed whenever Cardinals manager Mike Matheney called for David Ortiz to be intentionally walked, the last act of an exasperated team in dealing with the hottest hitter on the planet. And it was in there we cheered and screamed and ordered more beers when Shane Victorino cleared the bases with a triple. And it was in there were everyone grew simultaneously silent, then roared when Koji Uehara’s 2-2 pitch missed Matt Carpenter’s bat for strike three, the third out of the ninth inning.

And just like that, the 2013 Boston Red Sox had won the World Series.

It wasn’t until that 2-2 pitch that the enormity of the situation began to sink in. Yes, I was very aware that I was watching what could potentially be the clinching game of a championship season — I’d spent the two days prior sitting at my desk and sweating over the ramifications of it all. And I stood nervously with my friends while we watched John Lackey work into the seventh inning, cinching his spot in Boston lore forever with his bounce-back season and his stellar pitching in October.

But it wasn’t until Uehara was a strike away on Carpenter that I realized what I was watching: there were only two teams left playing Major League Baseball, that 28 others had already ended their season in disappointment, and the 29th was on the ropes and clinging to a fraying thread of hope, and that when that third strike found its way into David Ross’ glove, they’d be gone, and the Red Sox would be left with the glory and immortality and triumph that await the World Series champion.

Carpenter chased a pitch outside and missed. And that’s when the singing started.

★ ★ ★

This season has been something like a dream, for a lot of reasons. I’ve written before about how, living not just in Massachusetts again but in Boston, the team felt a little closer than it had in years. Removed from the ongoing horror show of Bobby Valentine and free of the cursed sell-out “streak,” the Red Sox felt like the team I grew up with. They’d play hard, they’d be respectable and they probably wouldn’t be the best, but that’s okay.

And it was fun. I went to games early in April and took advantage of buy one, get one free hot dogs and brought friends up to the standing room sections of right field — and then things got weird. And instead of a way to pass the time, baseball became one of the places I escaped to. A lot of people felt the same way. I channeled a lot of it into David Ortiz, that pillar of strength whose own 17-year career has been a testament to resolve. Released at 26 by the Minnesota Twins, picked up off the scrap heap, transformed into a hero, into a goat, into a hero and finally into one of the greater World Series hitters the game has ever seen.

His march during the season back to 30 home runs was a fun side story along with every other amazing turn of events that took place this season — Uehara’s ascendance to the closer’s role, Jon Lester’s revitalization on the mound and the team’s run to first place among them. Watching Ortiz lumber up to the plate, stop, spit on his hands and settle into the box is another comforting sight and a reminder of normalcy. How bad could things really be if David Ortiz is still hitting fourth for the Red Sox?

But his performance in the playoffs was another beast entirely. It was a stinging reminder that he’s among the greatest October performers of this generation, and if his home runs against Tampa Bay weren’t proof enough, his grand slam in Game 2 of the ALCS against Detroit was, complete with Officer Steve Horgan’s raised arms for eternity.

And in the World Series, as far as St. Louis was concerned, he was unbearable. Reaching base 19 of 25 times, hitting .688 with a 1.948 OPS and driving the Cardinals insane, he cemented a playoff reputation that never should’ve been in doubt to begin with. His play lifted his career World Series average to an astounding .455, and he was rightly given the MVP trophy.

This was the same guy who carried them in 2004 and again in 2007 to the ultimate goal, who salvaged his career in 2009 and who, in April, became the glorious, defiant face of a team and a city that would always go down fighting.

Ortiz was one of the first out of the dugout after Ross sealed the last out in his glove, clad in an army helmet and champagne goggles. The players mobbed on the field. Ortiz picked up Uehara and carried him around the diamond. Manager John Farrell hugged everyone in sight. Smoke from fireworks clouded the park.

Uehara’s third strike on Carpenter didn’t just mean that the team I happen to like more than other teams would be the best of the 30. It meant that the revitalization of that entire organization would be complete, that Ortiz had come through to deliver perhaps the most meaningful of the three World Series he’s won, and that the city that supported them would be given an excuse to cheer and shout and scream the words to a terrible Neil Diamond song en masse in a tiny Irish Pub six miles from the park. It felt like home.

World Series Cardinals Red Sox Baseball

I watched the Red Sox win the 2007 World Series at a party in Phoenix, where the majority of the people there weren’t Red Sox fans or really baseball fans at all. What wound up happening was that, as the game went on, it became clear that I was tuning out the rest of the party and zeroing in on the TV with maniacal force. It was probably a little off-putting. I don’t think I cared.

In going to the party, I wanted to reclaim some of the feeling from 2004, where, after we made deadline in the newsroom, a coworker and I went out to a bar that was hopelessly overcrowded and hung out with close to 200 folks who couldn’t get inside. The Red Sox are such a regional presence and such a big part of so many lives that it felt right to turn the moment into a communal one.

Living 3,000 miles away, there was no way to replicate that, and I should have known better. I should have just stayed home, maybe made a trip to Dunkin’ Donuts to get a little New England-vibe in the desert, and enjoyed Jon Lester’s Game 4 start in Colorado. (more…)