Will Middlebrooks. Will Middlebrooks? Will Middlebrooks!
The young third baseman showed up again for the Sox last night, hitting a single, a double, and a homerun to pace Boston to an 8-4 win over the Atlanta Braves last night at Fenway Park.
This game was special to me, because I decided to get tickets and take my father to his first game at Fenway. My dad was in town helping us with some construction/handyman stuff around the house (we’re expecting our first child in August, so needless to say there’s a massive Purge And Organize All The Stuff RIGHT NOW WE’RE RUNNING OUT OF TIME project underway at my place), and I couldn’t think of a better way to thank him for a day of lifting, carrying, and hammering than to grab some decent tickets and treat him to a game.
My dad is a Brooklyn native, New York City born and bred, so his reference points for baseball stadiums are Yankee Stadium, Shea Stadium, and now, Citifield. He vaguely remembers Ebbets Field from his days as a yute in Brooklyn. He was so excited to go to Fenway, and I gave him the grand tour: Yawkey Way, the concourse, the view from behind home plate, I pointed out the Monster, the press box, Williamsburg, the Pesky Pole – those things you see on TV all the time (especially if you watch the hundred million Yankees-Red Sox games every season) but can’t really see until you’re right in front of them.
Disclosure: I’m from New York, and I’ve always considered the Yankees my team (it’s kind of unavoidable when you came of age during the mid-90s dynasty). I don’t see my allegiances switching any time soon, but I’ll say this: I’ve lived in Boston for almost nine years now, and I’ve developed a serious soft spot for the Red Sox. In 2004, I was in Boston for the first three games of the famed ALCS between the Yankees and the Red Sox, and I remember sitting in a bar (one of those gritty bars in my gentrifying neighborhood that’s since become a swank restaurant) watching the Yankees hammer the Red Sox to a 19-8 win to take a 3-0 series lead. Eerie, because the Sox had last won the World Series in 1918, and the final score seemed in my mind to solidify that damning legacy.
For Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS, I was in Durham, New Hampshire. The Yankees lost, and I was, for lack of a better word, pissed. I had an early class back in Boston the next day, though. As I drove down I-93 through Medford, Dunkin Donut’s coffee in one hand, WEEI on the radio, I saw the Boston skyline for the first time: it looked – different. Shinier, almost. Newer, almost. Reborn, definitely. I can’t say that I was happy, but the first glimmers of understanding broke through my pinstriped skull. I took Storrow Drive towards Back Bay, and I noticed that someone had already repainted one of the “Reverse Curve” signs to read “Reversed the Curse” and I smiled.
Anyway, a lot of the credit for why I have a soft spot for the Red Sox goes to Fenway Park, the ancient ballfield they play at. It’s small and intimate – even the worst seats in the park are pretty close to the action. It’s beautiful – the green walls and open grandstands are, I think, unmatched in major league baseball. And, it’s a place where, every time you go, you’re likely to run into someone you know, because everyone goes there. Fenway fits perfectly and unobtrusively into its footprint: you round a corner and suddenly you’re there. There’s no sea of parking lots, no towering upper decks, not even very many Red Sox-themed businesses in the area (my personal favorite, though, is the Popeye’s near Kenmore Square that has a banner proclaiming itself the Red Sox pitching staff’s favorite fried chicken since 2011). It fits very naturally into Boston, and unless you’re looking for it, you don’t even know it’s there. Without Fenway Park, the Red Sox would be just another big-market, free-agent, high-spending, anonymous team. With Fenway Park, though, the Red Sox are a legacy, a history, and a standard that puts them in baseball’s upper echelon.
By the way, my dad loved Fenway. We walked in and he fell silent, just looking around as we made our way through the bustling concourse and around the stands to our seats. He just kind of looked around for a while, nodding occasionally. When I finally asked him what he thought, he said it was “small… but gosh, it’s pretty.” Then he asked me why our seats in right field pointed towards center field instead of towards home plate, and suggested that maybe they should be swivel seats instead. Nope, Dad, that will never happen – just look to the left if you want to see the infield. and take solace in the fact that you get to watch a baseball game today.
Big tangent. At any rate, the Sox pummeled the Braves last night. Atlanta scored first in the top of the first inning, but that was the last time they’d hold the lead. The Sox scored twice to get back on top, and cruised from there. The Braves starter lasted 1.1 innings, which allowed the Sox to dig into the underbelly of the Atlanta bullpen early and often. Dustin Pedroia had a three-hit night to match Middlebrooks, and Adrian Gonzalez, Mike Aviles, and Cody Ross each proved their mettle with two-hit games.
Meanwhile, for-now Red Sox starter Franklin Morales pitched a six-inning, three run game, which Bobby Valentine told reporters was enough to earn him a third start. Since he’s filled in for Josh Beckett, Morales has only given up four earned runs in eleven innings of work, and he’s struck out 17 batters while only walking one (the lone free pass came in the first inning last night).
Meanwhile, Will Middlebrooks remains on fire. During his last at bat, the stands were buzzing because he only needed to hit a triple to hit for the cycle – and everyone in Fenway thought he had a more-than-decent chance of actually doing it. How often do you see 30,000 people confident in someone’s ability to just hit a triple on demand? the fact that he didn’t do it was, frankly, a little surprising, which shows you how far Middlebrooks’s stock has risen lately.
The coolest play of the game came care of Boston eighth-inning guy Vicente Padilla, who threw one of those ridiculous 50-mph curveballs to Jason Heyward. Heyward bounced the ball back to Padilla, who then threw Heyward out at first. That curveball looked so slow, I was sure for a moment that Padilla messed up, or was hurt, or slipped, or something. I mean, really, 50 miles per hour?
Here’s a link to the box score from my dad’s first game at Fenway, courtesy of the Red Sox. The Sox take on the Braves in a matinee today. Clay Buchholz is sick , so Aaron Cook will take his start. Cook is just back from the DL after having his shin gashed open by a spike on a play at the plate on May 5. That May appearance was Cook’s only appearance for Boston this year, and it wasn’t great: he lasted 2.2 innings and gave up seven runs and eight hits en route to a loss to the Orioles. Cook will take on Mike Minor (3-5, 6.04 ERA).