During my freshman year of college there was a girl down the hall who happened to be dating one of our RAs. The RA’s birthday was coming up, and the girl — we’ll call her Caroline — had a brilliant idea for the perfect birthday gift. Since the RA — we’ll call him Neil — loved to sing, Caroline decided to make a donation to one of the campus a cappella groups, which would then allow Neil to sing a song with them. Ah, but here’s the beautiful part. Caroline chose a love song, knowing that Neil would end up serenading her in front of the entire dorm. Needless to say, it worked like a charm. So Caroline got a gift for Neil that was actually a gift for herself.
All of this came flooding back to me as I watched the Red Sox fumble their way through the pre-game ceremony meant to honor Mariano Rivera. Mo’s been getting gifts at every stop this season, so I knew there’d have to be something special at Fenway, but I had no idea the Sox could screw it up so badly. (I should’ve been paying attention; the Sox can’t do ceremony. Exhibit A: Pedro Martínez and Kevin Millar completely butcher Fenway’s 100th birthday celebration; exhibit B: Big Papi’s F-bomb during the Boston Strong ceremony.)
As the festivities began, Master of Ceremonies Dave O’Brien directed the crowd’s attention to the video board where they showed a clip of the sarcastic cheers Mariano received on opening day at Fenway Park in 2005 after blowing those two saves in the 2004 ALCS. I have to say that I’m curious to know how long it took them to come up with that angle.
“Okay, so we have to plan something for the Rivera ceremony. Any ideas?”
“Sure, why don’t we just give him something cool and talk about how great he is?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Okay, well why don’t we tie it into the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry?”
“That sounds better, what do you have in mind? Maybe Rivera’s greatest moment?”
“Yeah, I was thinking about that three-inning relief stint in the ’03 ALCS. That was wicked awesome.”
“No, that won’t do. Why don’t we tie it into one of our greatest moments? Like ’04?”
“You want to honor him by reminding him of one of his greatest failures?”
“No, I want to honor the Red Sox while we give him a cheap painting!”
I wish I could say that I’m making that up, but they really did choose that moment as the one that said the most about Rivera. To his credit, he simply smiled and played along.
But things got worse. As Dustin Pedroia presented Rivera with the #42 placard which was slid into the Fenway scoreboard each time he took the mound, O’Brien couldn’t just introduce little Pedroia, he had to sing his virtues. “Presenting that gift is another Red Sox player who, like Big Papi, might join you one day in Cooperstown, our brilliant second baseman, Dustin Pedroia.” Who was the ceremony for again?
The next gift was presented by Koji Uehara, whose brilliant 2013 season stands as a reminder of how great Rivera has been for so many years. He really said that.
The ceremony closed with a video montage. I’m not sure if it was produced by the Red Sox and shown in the park, or if it was something that ESPN put together for the viewers at home, but it was more of the same. The first clip — the very first clip of the video meant to honor Rivera — showed Dave Roberts stealing second base in that ’04 ALCS, and the next highlight was the line drive going back through the middle past Rivera, bringing home Roberts. The rest of the video focused on the Rivalry and included Pedro throwing Don Zimmer to the ground and Jason Varitek punching A-Rod in the face. You know, all the touching, emotional stuff you’d expect to see when an organization is honoring a retiring athlete.
Stay classy, Boston. Stay classy.
If you think I sound bitter about that, imagine how I felt once the game got started. When I wrote the recap for last Sunday’s game against the Red Sox, I referenced the Boston Massacre. What happened in Boston this weekend could hardly be called a massacre. It was nothing so dramatic as that. This was a slow death, a syringe in the arm, the victim left to bleed out over the course of several hours — or in this case, three days.
It wasn’t long ago that I believed the Yankees were actually better than the Red Sox. I can’t imagine how I ever thought that.
The Yankees picked up an early run in the first inning after Granderson walked, went to third on an errant pickoff attempt, and scored on Alex Rodríguez’s ground out. It was meek, but it was a run.
Fifteen minutes later, the game was over. It seems pretty clear that Ivan Nova isn’t healthy, but that’s not the way Orel Hershiser sees it. The Ol’ Bulldog believes that Nova simply isn’t trying hard enough, isn’t bearing down, isn’t emotional enough. I don’t want to stir things up, but comments like that sound an awful lot like the criticisms Latino players have been hearing for the past fifty years. But perhaps Hershiser knows better than I do. Maybe Nova simply stopped caring after being the best pitcher in the league in August.
Either way, Nova isn’t right. He was hit hard in the first inning, giving up a double to Daniel Nava, a single to Ortiz, and a homer to Mike Napoli. The score was only 3-1 and there were eight innings left to play, but the hole felt a lot deeper than it might’ve a few weeks ago.
The Yankees couldn’t do a thing against Clay Buccholz after that gifted run in the first. Buccholz was having serious trouble with his control, but the Yankees could never take advantage. The Red Sox, meanwhile, kept adding to their lead in quirky ways, one run at a time.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia was credited with a steal of home in the fourth when Brendan Ryan, the defensive specialist, dropped a throw to second on the double steal, then kicked it around long enough to allow Saltalamacchia to score. In the fifth, Nova plunked Mike Carp with the bases loaded, making it 5-1, then they scored two more in the 6th and two more in the 7th to stretch the lead to 9-1.
The Yankees scraped together a run in the ninth, but it hardly mattered. The game and the series were over. Red Sox 9, Yankees 2.
Of all the games I’ve watched this season, there is no question that this one was the most difficult. The backhanded ceremony, the irritating ESPN announcers, the dominance of the Red Sox, and the increasing possibility of a postseason without the Yankees was simply too much to take. Monday’s off-day couldn’t come at a better time, and not just for the Yankees. I could use a break, too.
Oh, and that song that Neil sang for my friend? Wouldn’t it have been fitting if he had sung “Sweet Caroline”? Thankfully, that wasn’t it. “Only You,” by Yaz. It was absolutely adorable.
[Photo Credit: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images]