My Magic Summer at Fenway continued last night when my cousin Rob called me at 5PM to offer me a pair of tickets he couldn't use to the Sox-Orioles game. Of course I immediately told him I'd take the tickets, but that's not the whole story. You see, these were the John Hancock season tickets in the .406 Club.
The .406 Club is the luxury box area high above home plate and enclosed in glass. The view looks something like this (minus the toolbox in the foreground). These are the most expensive seats in the most expensive ballpark in the majors. You can only buy them for an entire season and if you divide the annual price into 81 home games, my Dad and I sat in seats which cost the good people at John Hancock $444 each. This made it slightly easier to stomach (literally and figuratively) forking over $6.11 for a Fenway Frank and an astonishing $8 for a bottle of Sam Adams. On the plus side, they did serve free popcorn (to make you thirsty enough to buy another beer). When I picked up the tickets at 6PM I glanced at the attached .406 Club info card and discovered that there's a dress code which requires gentlemen to wear slacks and a collared shirt. Thankfully I had foregone jeans that morning in favor of something classier, so I was all set. I did have to call my Dad back though and make sure he didn't change out of his work clothes before coming over to the game (and it's a good thing 'cause they were pretty strict about the dress code).
It was a bit weird to watch the game from inside the soundproofed area, with the PA announcer piped in along with the NESN broadcast. I have to admit it was nice to be able to glance up at the TV for a replay of any interesting action. As one might expect the place was full of businessmen trying to impress each other and rich old farts (including the guy next to me who was asleep by the 4th inning). Not quite the same as watching the enraged drunks get into a fistfight with Jeff Nelson in the bleachers.
Besides all the hooplah of the seats we scored, the game was absolutely insane. Schilling threw 8 innings of 3 hit ball and registered a season high 14 strikeouts. Plus, certified Red Sox killer Rodrigo Lopez (not to be confused with Javy Lopez or Luis "I'm hitting .195" Lopez, who also play for the O's) was confounding the Bostonians, as usual. So we go to the bottom of the 8th with runners on 2nd and 3rd and one out as the Orioles decide to intentionally walk David Ortiz to load the bases. The Orioles go with BJ Surhoff, one of the toughest lefties in the AL and Tito counters with Kevin Millar to pinch hit for Trot Nixon (who's a lefty). Millar fights and fights in the at bat, including two of his patented scorching line drives pulled just foul of 3rd. Finally he lofts a fly ball to right with enough oomph on it to score the Johnny Damon with the game's first run from 3rd. Fenway goes nuts and we head into the top of the 9th with a 1-0 lead.
Keith Foulke comes on for the save and has the Orioles down to their final strike with a man on 2nd when he throws a change-up that the aforementioned Javy Lopez sent over everything in left field and into the westbound lane of I-90 to make it 2-1, Baltimore. Fenway went from rocking to dead silent in approximately 3.2 seconds. Around this time I glanced at the out-of-town scoreboard and mumbled to Dad, "Yankees won."
"Yup," he said.
Fast forward to the bottom of the ninth. Runners on 2nd and 3rd after a Youkilis walk (he saw 4 straight balls that were so far outside he couldn't have hit them with an oar) and a scorching Mueller double off the wall. Tito inexplicably hits Dave McCarty for Pokey Reese when Pokey easily could've put down the squeeze bunt for super-fast Dave Roberts (running for Youk) to score from 3rd. Of course McCarty pops out on 3 pitches and the game is in the hands of Johnny Damon who is approximately 0 for 229 against Surhoff (still in the game). Damon strikes out looking and the game is in the hands of the man who is two strikeouts away from breaking the Red Sox franchise season record of strikeouts (fairly remarkable since he's only played in 85% of this season's games): Mark Bellhorn.
Now I've given Bellhorn a hard time all season (mostly because he seems to make striking out his personal hobby) and he's twice been up in a key situation with the game on the line and I have twice sworn to give him lifetime amnesty from my mockery if he could come through. Both previous times he (what else?) struck out. With my heart in my throat I said to Dad, "I smell a strikeout."
Dad, who had watched the Sox blow games for the past 55 years kind of smiled and said, "I smell a two-run, game winning hit."
I guess that's what it means to be a Sox fan, and this time, Bellhorn crushed the 4th pitch into the triangle in center field and even the stuffed-shirts in the .406 club were on their feet. Sox get a "W" and Bellhorn gets carte blanche for the rest of this season.