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Imagine A Season in which the Red Sox Never Lose
By Mark Cofman
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2010 Mark Cofman
All rights reserved.
April 1, 1998
Red Sox 2, Athletics 0
Red Sox Welcome Pedro
It's reasonable to argue that between 1997 and 2004, Pedro Martinez enjoyed the greatest eight-season stretch of any pitcher in baseball history. Thanks to the economic realities of the game, all but one of those seasons were produced for the Red Sox.
Fresh off his astonishing 1997 National League Cy Young Award performance with the Montreal Expos (17–8 record, 305 strikeouts in 241 1/3 innings, 13 complete games, major league best 1.90 ERA), the 26-year-old Martinez was just one year away from free agency. The economically challenged Expos, in what would become a recurring theme for the ill-fated franchise in the late 1990s and into the new century, understood they would not have the financial resources to re-sign Martinez after his walk year. As a preemptive measure to losing him in the open market with nothing to show for it, the Expos began to look for a trade partner that off-season and quickly found an eager one in the Red Sox, whose general manager had once occupied that same position in Montreal.
Taking advantage of his inside track with the Expos' front office to strike quickly, Dan Duquette shipped minor leaguers Carl Pavano and Tony Armas Jr. to Montreal on November 18, 1997, in exchange for Martinez.
In what amounted to robbery, the Sox snagged for themselves a dominant starter who was just entering his prime. Duquette knew from the outset he'd never have to look back on this deal.
Martinez never looked back, either. In his very first start for the Sox on Opening Day 1998, he mowed down the Athletics in a 2–0 victory, striking out 11 while allowing just three hits and walking two in seven innings. A crowd of 36,915 at Network Associates Coliseum in Oakland got a glimpse of what life would be like for American League hitters facing Martinez during an era known almost exclusively for beer-league softball scores and record-breaking offensive performances.
"He's unbelievable," said A's second baseman Scott Spiezio, who went 0-for-3 with a strikeout against Martinez. "He throws 95, he throws a slurve, and he's got a Bugs Bunny kind of changeup. You can swing at it three times and still not hit it."
Jason Giambi, Ben Grieve, and Matt Stairs were the only A's to hit safely off Martinez, each with a single.
At a Glance
WP: Martinez (1–0)
S: Gordon (1)
Key stats: Martinez 7 IP, 11 K, 3 H, 2 BB
April 2, 2008
Red Sox 5, Athletics 0
Youkilis Etches Name on Bag at First Base
Strictly in terms of geography, the start of the 2008 season had great significance for the Red Sox. Defending their second World Series title of the decade, the Sox opened the major league regular season in Japan, splitting a two-game set with the Oakland Athletics in front of capacity crowds at Tokyo Dome. A week later, the Sox were at Oakland Coliseum to resume the regular season with two more games against the Athletics on April 1–2.
The Sox won both games in Oakland, the second a 5–0 shutout made historically noteworthy by Kevin Youkilis' performance. Youkilis etched his name in baseball's record book by breaking Steve Garvey's major league mark for consecutive errorless games by a first baseman at 194. Youkilis, who would enjoy a breakout season in 2008 to become one of baseball's best all-around performers, also contributed at the plate with a pair of hits and an RBI during his record-breaking game after collecting three hits the day before.
Jon Lester started the game for the Sox, going 6 2/3 innings before Bryan Corey and Manny Delcarmen put the finishing touches on the club's third win in four outings to open the season. Fittingly, the game ended with Youkilis handling Jack Cust's grounder to first base and stepping on the bag for an unassisted putout. Youkilis was able to take the first-base bag as a personal keepsake. The ball with which he recorded the final out was donated to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
Youkilis had teammates autograph the dirt-covered base before stowing it away. "I thank the Oakland A's for giving me the base as a memory to keep around the house," he said. "It will be something cool to have in the collection. It's an achievement you never set out to do, but it happened and it's great to have."
Said Sox manager Terry Francona, "Good for him. I think what means more is not just going that amount of games, but it's the way he plays, because Youk plays an aggressive first base. The kid comes up as a third baseman and moves to first. This is not a fluke thing he's done. He scoops balls in the dirt, he's active, he's all over the place. I think what this does is brings some attention to him nationally where we can brag about him a little bit."
Coincidentally, Youkilis had met Garvey for the first time just a few days earlier while the Sox were in Los Angeles to play the Dodgers in a weekend exhibition series before resuming their regular-season schedule. Garvey's record of 193 games had stood for 23 years.
"I go out there with the mindset every day of trying to play the game the right way," said Youkilis, a Gold Glove recipient in 2007. "I try to do everything soundly, try to go out and have good at-bats, play the field right and run the bases. That's my attitude every day. I try to get better on a daily basis."
At the point of his record-breaking game, Youkilis had handled 1,628 chances without an error, dating to July 4, 2006. He went on to handle a total of 2,002 chances without an error at first base before the streak ended at 238 games two months later against Seattle.
April 4, 2001
Red Sox 3, Orioles 0
Nomo-Mania Alive and Well at Camden Yards
When he left Japan to join the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1995, Hideo Nomo was already a star-quality pitcher who had dominated the Japanese big leagues during the first half of the decade. Armed with his funky "tornado" delivery and featuring a nasty forkball and split-finger fastball, Nomo took the American major leagues by storm, becoming the first Japanese import to be selected to the All-Star Game en route to 1995 National League Rookie of the Year honors. In his second major league season, Nomo no-hit the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field, the only no-hitter in that ballpark's history.
The off-the-charts fanfare he was generating across the country and in the Far East — coined Nomo-mania — couldn't have come at a better time for baseball as the game attempted to recover from the public-relations nightmare of the 1994 work stoppage. By the time Nomo signed as a free agent with the Red Sox in 2001, however, injuries and general wear and tear had reduced him to little more than an interesting reclamation project.
Joining his fourth team in three years, Nomo was hoping to rediscover at least some of the magic that had made him an international sensation just a half-decade earlier. In his debut performance with the Sox, the magic reappeared.
Nomo made history again by pitching a no-hitter against the Orioles in a 3 – 0 victory on April 4 in Baltimore. Brian Daubach provided the offensive fireworks with a two-run homer in the third inning, but the night belonged solely to the man most responsible for blazing a trail for future Japanese stars to make their mark in the major leagues. Nomo struck out 11 and walked three in his dazzling performance, the first no-hitter by a Sox pitcher in 36 years.
"Personally, it was like I was in a bad nightmare," said Baltimore's Jerry Hairston, who struck out three times in the game. "I've been in the major leagues for parts of four seasons, and that's the best split-finger fastball I've ever seen. He was throwing 88–89 (miles per hour), but with the splitter it seemed like 95 with movement."
The game was delayed at the start for 43 minutes because of a power outage, but Nomo never lost focus. From the outset, he appeared to his teammates and the Sox coaching staff to be on a mission.
"You could see on his face that he was locked in," said Sox pitching coach Joe Kerrigan. "Nothing was going to bother him. It was one of those situations where a bomb could go off on the side of the mound and he'd still be looking for a sign. He had great intensity."
Nomo, 32, needed 110 pitches to complete the no-hitter, the first of four thrown by the Sox in this century. "As a catcher, this is a dream come true," said Jason Varitek, who would be on the receiving end of the next three Sox no-hitters to tie a major league record. "My fingers and his pitches did all of the talking. I didn't second-guess anything he did. We just mixed things up, kept batters off-balance and got ahead [in the count]."
It marked the first no-hitter in Camden Yards history. Many of the 35,602 in attendance at the park that night began to switch allegiances in the late innings to cheer on Nomo.
"People in the U.S. like good baseball, whether you're on the home team or not," Nomo said through an interpreter. "I felt pretty good throughout the game. As I was going into the ninth inning, I was not nervous."
Up in the broadcast booth, another member of the Sox traveling party was making his regular-season debut, as well. Don Orsillo referred to his experience that night as surreal, particularly when his play-by-play call went national as Nomo put the finishing touches on his gem. "To have a no-hitter to call on day one — to be able to announce, 'I'd like to welcome ESPN's Baseball Tonight viewers to our telecast.' It was an amazing experience," said Orsillo.
Not wanting to rain on Orsillo's parade that night but trying to incorporate some levity to his new partner's euphoria, analyst Jerry Remy said, "Believe me, Don. They're not all going to be this much fun."
Nomo remained with the Sox for just one season and later in 2001 threw a one-hitter on May 25 in a 4–0 victory over the Blue Jays at Fenway Park.
Nomo's no-hitter in Baltimore made him one of four pitchers in baseball history to throw no-hitters in the AL and NL, joining Cy Young, Jim Bunning, and Nolan Ryan. Randy Johnson became the fifth pitcher to accomplish the feat three years later.
April 6, 1973
Red Sox 15, Yankees 5
Nothing Like a Rout of the Yankees to Get Things Started
Any double-digit victory against the Yankees would qualify as a keeper in the memory banks of Red Sox fans, but this Opening Day rout at Fenway Park was accompanied by a revolutionary part of history. Ron Blomberg, batting against Sox ace Luis Tiant with two outs in the first inning, became the first designated hitter to bat in baseball history.
Thanks in large part to years of relentless lobbying by maverick Oakland Athletics owner Charles Finley, American League owners finally gave in and by an 8–4 margin in January voted to implement the DH for the 1973 season. The National League, though not by a landslide, voted against the new rule, which was the latest attempt by baseball to inject more offense into the game. Four years earlier, both leagues lowered the height of the mound.
Back to Blomberg. The young first baseman was written into the lineup card as the Yankees' DH because he was nursing a hamstring pull. "[Yankees manager] Ralph Houk told me that I was the designated hitter, and I had no idea that it would have this kind of impact on baseball," Blomberg recalled some three decades later. "I thought it was a gimmick. Baseball needed a jolt of offense for attendance, so they decided on the DH. I never thought it would last this long."
Blomberg, a left-handed power hitter, walked with the bases loaded against Tiant to give his team a 1–0 lead. The Yankees stretched that margin to 3 – 0 before the inning was over, and, with Mel Stottlemyre on the mound, had to like their chances early in this one. It didn't work out that way.
Carl Yastrzemski homered into the center-field bleachers to get a run back in the home half of the first, and Carlton Fisk highlighted a four-run second inning for the Sox with a two-run shot over the Green Monster. For the crowd of 32,882, the fun was just beginning. Tiant allowed a homer to Graig Nettles in the third, but the Sox answered with three of their own, ending Stottlemyre's abbreviated afternoon and taking an 8–4 lead into the fourth. While Tiant settled down, New York pitchers never did. Fisk lit up Lindy McDaniel for a grand slam to center in the fourth, extending the hosts' lead to 12–4. Nothing wrong with opening a season with 12 runs in four innings, especially at the expense of the Yankees.
Tiant, though clearly not at his best, went the distance for the victory. The Sox finished with 20 hits, including four by Doug Griffin and three apiece by Tommy Harper, Rico Petrocelli and Fisk. Reggie Smith, Dwight Evans, and Yastrzemski each had a pair of hits in the carnage, and Luis Aparicio added one. In something of a strange twist, the Sox's DH that day was the only member of the starting lineup not to get a hit. Orlando Cepeda was 0-for-6 with two strikeouts, though he would answer the bell with a pair of sacrifice flies and a walk in the Sox's 10 – 5 victory the following game and by hitting a ninth-inning homer against Sparky Lyle for a dramatic 4–3 win two days later, completing the series sweep.
Indeed, Blomberg's historic plate appearance was the only real highlight for the Yankees in their lost visit to Boston, which set the tone for a rare season in which the Sox dominated the rivalry, winning 14 of 18. That couldn't have sat very well with a Cleveland shipbuilder named George Steinbrenner, who was in his first season as part owner of the Yankees. Steinbrenner's newest investment finished 1973 with a fourth-place record of 80–82. The Sox, who had four future Hall of Famers in their Opening Day lineup (Yastrzemski, Cepeda, Fisk, Aparicio), finished with an 89–73 record, good for second place in the AL East behind Baltimore.
At a Glance
WP: Tiant (1–0)
HR: Fisk 2 (2), Yastrzemski (1)
Key Stat: Fisk 3-for-4, 2 HR, 4 runs, 6 RBIs
Did You Know?
Carl Yastrzemski was in the Red Sox's Opening Day lineup a franchise-record 22 times, including 15 starts in left field, four at first base, two as the designated hitter and one in right field. Among pitchers, Roger Clemens is the Sox's all-time leader in Opening Day starts with eight.
April 8, 1975
Red Sox 5, Brewers 2
Courageous Conigliaro Returns after Hiatus
Emotions always run high on Opening Day at Fenway Park. But the 34,055 in attendance for the Red Sox's 1975 season debut witnessed and participated in one of the more heartwarming moments in Boston sports history. Native son Tony Conigliaro, whose career began as something of a fairy tale but ended sadly, was attempting another comeback. For Sox fans, Conigliaro's name had already become synonymous with courageous comebacks, but this one was being staged after a 3 ½-year big-league hiatus.
Eight years earlier, during the 1967 Impossible Dream season, the 22-year-old Conigliaro had become the second-youngest player in major league history to reach 100 career home runs. Living the dream of starring for his hometown team, the Revere native was beaned by a Jack Hamilton fastball on August 18 in Fenway Park, leaving him unconscious and with severe structural damage to his cheekbone, nose and left retina. Conigliaro missed the remainder of the 1967 season and all of 1968 before returning in 1969 and 1970 to hit 20 and 36 homers, respectively. But he was still experiencing severe headaches and vision problems, forcing him into early retirement midway through 1971.
Now, at long last, Conigliaro was back in a Sox uniform and in their starting lineup as the designated hitter. He received a standing ovation when he stepped to the plate in the first inning and promptly singled to right field off Jim Slaton. His former teammate, George Scott, was playing first base for the Brewers, and greeted Conigliaro by saying, "I knew you could do it, TC. I told all the guys you'd make it back. It's just too bad we're not all together on the Red Sox again."
Conigliario's single advanced Carl Yastrzemski to third base to more thunderous applause. Conigliaro and Yastrzemski, teammates on that magical 1967 squad, then engineered an electrifying double-steal of second and home, eliciting another standing ovation. Conigliaro went hitless in his final three at-bats, each accompanied first by standing ovations.
The Sox won the contest, 5–2, behind Luis Tiant, who went the distance, allowing eight hits and two walks while striking out four.
Three days later, Conigliaro hit his first home run of the season in Baltimore, one of two he managed that spring. But by mid-June, unable to regain consistent form, he was sent down to the minors. Two months later, Conigliaro retired — this time for good. Once again, as had been the case in 1967, he was unable to make it to October during a Red Sox World Series year.
At a Glance
WP: Tiant (1–0)
Key stats: Tiant complete game; Montgomery 2-for-4, 2 RBIs April 10, 1998
Red Sox 9, Mariners 7
The Greatest Comeback of all the Home Openers
It's a great day at the ballpark when you're facing a Hall of Fame-bound pitcher — turning in one of the best performances of his major league career — and you manage to win the game. It's an even better day when you've accomplished this after being down five runs in the ninth inning — and cap it off with a walkoff grand slam, no less.
Excerpted from 162-0 by Mark Cofman. Copyright © 2010 Mark Cofman. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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