Most of the focus today and tomorrow is and will be on the Yankees’ embarrassing loss to Detroit — and rightfully so. Safe to say, neither of our teams is pleased with the outcome of this season. Recriminations and prognstication can come later. First, this:
The Red Sox finished in third place for the first time since 1996, were swept in a five-game series for the first time in 50 years and otherwise could do little correctly after the All-Star break. Still, five moments in this 2006 season were worth the price of admission (that used to be a figurative expression) into Red Sox Nation:
- Opening Day: Six dominant innings from Curt Schilling, the first of a record-breaking number of home runs from David Ortiz, Jonathan Papelbon’s emergence as relief ace, and an incredible leaping catch by Coco Crisp. A perfect day for baseball, and about as perfect an outcome as you could hope for — particularly if it’s your only chance of the year to watch the Red Sox in person, as it was mine.
- Playing the National League: From June 16-July 2, the Sox took 14 of 15, including 12 in a row, from NL teams. Ortiz won consecutive games with walk-off hits, Pedro Martinez received a standing ovation — and a spanking, and Crisp delivered perhaps the best defensive play in Red Sox history (the TV-centric BBTN crew thinks so).
- Mike Lowell: The guy got beaned, then hit a home run and caught a foul ball while tumbling completely into the stands. Add to that the sensational all-out diving catch he made of a foul bunt earlier in the season, mix in the class and professional demeanor he brought to the game every day — and consider the question marks surrounding him entering the season. His emergence as a steady contributor and Gold Glove defender was a pleasure to watch.
- Young pitchers: Jonathan Papelbon’s microscopic ERA and emphatic fist-pumps (especially memorable: Pointing at Mike Lowell and yelling, "That’s what I’m talking about!" after a great play). Josh Beckett’s flashes of brilliance and equally emphatic fist-pumps. Manny Delcarmen’s eye-popping curve. Jon Lester’s uncanny poise. There’s promise there. We saw quite a bit of it.
- Old Reliables: Curt Schilling talked to YFSF. He reached landmarks in wins and strikeouts. He put to rest questions about his post-Sock ability by pitching well enough to win 20 games, had he and his offensive support stayed healthy. David Ortiz … Well, he was the Sox’ Big Papi. My two favorite of his many incredible home runs: The three-run shot off Mike Myers in the eighth at Fenway against the Yankees early in the season, and the final of his three walk-off homers — you knew it was coming, the ESPN announcers knew it was coming, poor Fausto Carmona knew it was coming, and no one could stop it. The fact that he wrote himself into the record boks at the end was mere icing for what would have been an incredible season with or without 51.
This year was a disappointment on many levels. But the Sox still came through with an exciting season, if not a pennant-winning one. These five moments, memories, what-have-you have little to do with stats and records. They have everything to do with being a fan.
This fan is glad he stayed for the ride.