Wednesday, May 30, 2012

An evening at Fenway: Red Sox 6. Tigers 3

I was lucky enough to get to go to the Red Sox game last night. A friend called last week and said he had extra tickets, which made me excited. Then I found out that Justin Verlander was scheduled to start, which made me even more excited. Then the Red Sox won on Monday, meaning that a win on Tuesday would bring them above .500 for the first time all season, and that made me apprehensive. After all, they'd been .500 six times already, and were 0-6 in games that would put them over the hump. With the seeming mismatch of Daniel Bard vs. Verlander, it seemed like they could be in line to make it 0-7.

Anyhow, my fears were allayed as the Red Sox won. The lessons from the night are that a) you don't pitch against the opposing starting pitcher, you pitch against the opposing team - this is important, because the Red Sox offense is excellent, and the Tigers really stinks, b) David Ortiz is really, really good, once again. 

From our seats up in the right field roof boxes, it was tough to tell how sharp either pitcher was. Verlander didn't get the results he normally does, but his fastball was hard, and it seemed like he had a good changeup. It looked as though the Sox really just did a good job hitting. The same cannot be said of the Tigers, baseball's most disappointing team right now at 23-26. After the signing of Prince Fielder, it looked like they were to be one of the better teams in the game, but they are eighth in the American League in scoring while allowing the fourth most runs in the league. While the pitching should come around - Scherzer is pitching better after his usually early-season troubles, and the rest of the starting rotation seems sound - the offense may be in more trouble. After Cabrera, Fielder and the injured Austin Jackson, they haven't received that much of an offensive contribution elsewhere. Alex Avila was in an awful slump but has brought his slugging percentage back over .400. The bigger issues are the sub .300 OBPs from right-fielder Brennan Boesch and designated hitter Delmon Young, along with the vortex that has been their second base position. Led by Ryan Raburn and Ramon Santiago (combined -2.1 WAR), Tigers' second sackers are batting .175/.253/.250, which probably has 55-year old Lou Whitaker interested in a comeback. The Tigers have built a pretty deep hole for themselves, and without some upgrades, will not be able to dig out of it.

As far as Ortiz, it's really a treat getting to watch him. My guess is that this won't actually be his last year in Boston, but it could, so I'm glad I got the chance to see him again. Ortiz went 3 for 4 with two doubles and a laser beam home run over the Green Monster. He's been one of the best hitters in the American League this year, and now has 331 home runs in a Red Sox uniform. I'm lucky to have had the chance to see him so many times.

Daniel Bard, who I wrote about this past weekend, had a nice game, though it's hard to say anything definitive. He was generally throwing about 93, where he's been all season, but did seem to have a few more topping out in the 95-96 range. It took him 94 pitches to get through 5.1 innings, and he allowed two home runs after only allowing three in his first nine games. Without Jackson in the lineup, the Tigers lineup wasn't Bard's toughest test, but it was a solid outing.

As far as the experience goes, the game was a blast, as Fenway Park almost always is. We had about a 45 minute rain delay as some pretty crazy thunderstorms moved through in the eighth. After that, it took only about 15 mintues to close out the game. I like the right field roof box seats, which give a nice open view of the field at a reasonable price. It's amazing to walk through and look at the changes made in the 10 years since the new ownership came on. Some of it is obvious to those watching at home, like the Green Monster seats and the roof deck over where the retired numbers are. 

My personal favorite is the concourse and picnic area in what used to be a storage area between the grandstand in the bleachers. It's a wide open area filled with food vendors and maintains the feel of the park, while also fixing what was once the biggest flaw of Fenway - the fact you couldn't walk all the way around it. If you had bleacher tickets, you were stuck either in the bleachers, or the area underneath. Now you can enter in any gate. 

My least favorite improvement is the shutting down of Yawkey Way on game day. It detracts from the whole "downtown ballpark experience" in my view. Part of the fun of having a park in a busy city location is all the people who don't have tickets walking around, enjoying the area - and just living. People who live over on Brookline Ave. or Boylston Street are just there. Now, though, if you want to get around the park on the outside, you have a pretty long route to navigate, making a miserable experience for the neighbors. I agree with closing the street to vehicle traffic, but you shouldn't need a ticket to walk down Yawkey Way.

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