8.15.02: From the Where Were
You When (Unpleasant Memory Here) Happened File:
In a season of few thrilling victories and numerous crushing
defeats, the worst loss remains the most improbable.
Unlike 10/25/86 and 10/2/78, 7/23/02 will not be a date that
lives in infamy for Red Sox fans. Less than one month later and the disaster of
that summer night has been largely obscured, sandwiched as it was between the
back-to-back heartbreakers in the Bronx and the cruelty of Terrence Long's "best
But for the astute fan, no loss this season compares to the
meltdown of July 23, when despite outscoring the Devil Rays 26-0 over a span of
15 innings, the Sox managed to split a doubleheader by blowing a 4-0
ninth-inning lead in the second game.
We're not quite to the Look Back in Anger phase of the
season, but it is fast approaching, so - unlike certain Sox outfielders - we
might as well get a good jump.
While it may not have been as vexing as watching it unfold
live, I experienced 7/23 in a most unique - uniquely excruciating - manner.
Bursting with joy at Nomar's birthday bash in the opener and brimming with
confidence as D-Lowe took the hill for the nightcap, I settled in for the second
game, knowing I'd have to leave midway through for a business dinner. But
thanks to NESN's Sox in 2 replay, I'd be able to catch the second half of the
game in a nice, condensed package when I got home. As I headed out, the boys
had just taken a 4-0 lead, fairly insurmountable against a team with baseball's
Dinner ran late and by the time I got
home it was already the bottom of the eighth inning. With all the resolve of an
Olympic hockey fan in 1980, I had made sure not to hear the final on the radio
or see it on an indiscrete ticker in the restaurant's bar. I sensed trouble
immediately. It was only 10:15. The rebroadcast runs to 11 p.m. on the West
Coast, which meant there were still 45 minutes of replay remaining. Uh-oh.
Okay, deep breaths, maybe the Sox will push across a crooked
number here in the bottom of the eighth and eat up most of this 45 minutes,
setting the stage for a 1-2-3 top of the ninth.
No such luck. The Sox went quietly and - after the
commercial break - there were still 38 minutes of replay. Chris Haney was on
the mound. Ugueth Urbina, who had an off day to recover from his brutal loss to
the Yankees on Sunday, looked on from the bullpen. The score was 4-0, not 9-0
as Grady Little's managing over the next few minutes might have indicated.
Haney, a reclamation project best known for serving up Wade
Boggs' 3,000th hit via a home run, entered the 2002 season with a career ERA of
5.11 and a staggering career WHIP of 13.2. When he surrendered a leadoff double
to the left-handed hitting Aubrey Huff, I figured we'd see some stalling at the
mound and the call to the pen. Nope. But surely when John Flaherty followed
with a base hit to left that would be it for Haney. Nope.
The clock was ticking but not fast enough. With 33 more
minutes of rebroadcast, I realized the Sox were destined to bat in the bottom of
the ninth, so I was reduced to hoping the Rays only tied it.
Haney continued his unraveling act by hitting Ben Grieve to
load the bases, apparently waking Grady from his slumber in the process. The
Head Bumpkin signaled for Urbina, summoning him into every closer's favorite
situation: bases loaded, nobody out. The pitching change ate up a few minutes,
but barring a flurry of streakers on the field or a bench-clearing melee (not
out of the question with these two teams) the Sox were going to have to bat in
the ninth. The only remaining question was how in the name of Andy Sheets (.095
in his brief career with the Red Sox) were the Rays going to score their runs.
Before you could say Skip Lockwood, Sheets had ripped a
ringing two-run double off the Monster and Jared Sandberg had cracked a
three-run homer to make it 5-4 Tampa Bay.
So now I needed as much time on the clock as possible, since
the Sox would have to stage a rally in the bottom of the ninth.
But truth be told, I couldn't take anymore. I switched to
ESPN News just in time to see Esteban Yan strike out Manny, the final highlight
before that sickening score panel slid across my screen.
When Rey Sanchez led off the ninth with a walk, the obvious
move was to bunt him over to second, where he might have scored the tying run on
Nomar's two-out base hit. But Grady, citing bullpen fatigue, decided instead to
play for the loss. Only Grady could lose the same game twice for the same
reason. He left Haney in because he wanted to save Urbina for... winter
ball? And then didn't bunt because... he wanted to save Wayne Gomes for...?
For the most part NESN's two-hour replay has been a kind
public service. Checking the final score on-line at work then watching the
replay at home on the couch has kept my blood pressure in check and my ragefests
to a minimum.
But on 7/23 I was so confident of victory that I tried to
have it both ways. Silly me, I thought that maybe, just maybe, that 26-0 run
would be enough to carry us to a sweep. But thanks to Grady, no such luck.