July 6, 2009…Nomar is playing in a game at Fenway for the first time in almost five years.
The last time was July 25, 2004. It was a 9-6 victory over the Yankees. The day after the big brawl that started when Jason Varitek and A Rod got into it and ended after the benches cleared and Pedro had shoved Don Zimmer to the ground. Nomar, batting 5th behind Manny, went 1 for 5.
A major ovation.
Monday night Nomar lead off the second inning and got what must be the biggest ovation ever for a returning former player. A prolonged standing ovation that required multiple tips of the helmet. Then he stepped into the box, fiddled with his batting gloves, of course, and then did not swing at the first pitch. Probably due to the emotion of the moment.
But after that…
He came up three more times and swung at the first pitch each time. He wound up with two hits. Rocco Baldelli was in right field wearing Nomar’s old #5. On Tuesday night Nomar wasn’t in the lineup, and in the 7th the crowd was chanting “We want No-mar.” He did come out to pinch hit in the 9th, but the guy ahead of him struck out to end the game. On Wednesday he pinch hit and again swung at the first pitch, popping up to Mark Kotsay.
A pitching matchup for the ages.
The other part of the story was the pitching. A’s 22-year-old rookie Brett Anderson, making his major league debut, faced 42-year-old John Smoltz, who was making his Fenway debut as a member of the Red Sox. The A’s shut out the Sox, 6-0. I suspect that by August the “…oltz” in the Sox rotation will start with “Buchh” instead of “Sm”
Blowing a 10-run lead.
Smoltz has had three starts and is 0 and 2, with an ERA of 6.60. The first and third starts were not good. The middle one was the game against the Orioles where Smoltz left after four innings with a 9-1 lead. It was 10-1 Boston in the 7th when the sky opened up, and Baltimore mounted a post-rain delay comeback to win the game, 11-10. The last time the Red Sox had blown a 10-run lead was 20 years ago…June 4, 1989 against the Blue Jays. Boston lead 5-0 after one inning, 8-0 after four, and 10-0 after 6. Toronto came up with 2 in the 7th, 4 more in the 8th and another one in the 9th when closer Lee Smith was summoned with the score 10-7. It was now a save situation. Smith, however, gave up a grand slam to catcher Ernie Whitt and suddenly the 10-run lead was history. Boston tied it in the bottom of the 9th, and it went to the 12th when Junior Felix hit a 2-run homer to put the Jays ahead for good.
How to empty the park in 12 seconds.
Two nights earlier, on Friday June 2nd, I had been at the game with my brother Hugh. Toronto was leading Boston 3-2 in the 9th when Bob Stanley loaded the bases and Junior Felix hit a ball into the triangle in center that turned into an inside-the-park grand slam. It only took Felix 12 seconds to round the bases. The place emptied quickly after that
But back to the future.
NESN showed a montage of former players being welcomed back. When Dwight Evans, after 19 years as #24 for the Red Sox, returned to Fenway as an Oriole in 1991, he got a very warm reception – worthy of a tip of the cap. Johnny Damon, who left as a traitor defecting to the Evil Empire, got a major wag of the finger in 2006 (credit Stephen Colbert for the tip/wag lines). The wag of the finger actually it was a loud round of booing followed by a louder “Johnny sucks” chant when Carl Beane announced Damon over the PA. Even today, in every at bat when the Yankees are at Fenway, Damon still gets a booing that rivals A Rod’s. Pedro returned as a Met and was so overwhelmed with emotion he didn’t make it to the 3rd. Derek Lowe got an impressive reception. Bill Buckner came back to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day and got a long, standing O. Trot Nixon returned as a Cleveland Indian and got a very respectable ovation. Same for Kevin Millar and Derek Lowe. Todd Walker and Mark Bellhorn returned as pinch-hitters and each got a nice applause. Every former player – as long as they didn’t go to the Yankees – has been warmly welcomed back…but Nomar got the biggest and longest welcome of all. It was a great Fenway moment.