Here’s a little diversion for the rest of my co-bloggers and our readership. Forget our rivalry for the moment. Forget the Red Sox’ incompetence in the clutch and the Yankees’, uh, incompetence. What’s the most memorable game you’ve ever been to? Not the most memorable game you’ve ever seen. Simply, the most vivid contest for which you’ve been fortunate enough to be, as they say, in the house. Mine is below the jump.
I have two games which contend for the honor, but one takes the cake. The first contender was a game against the Twins in 1990. In this game, the Sox grounded into two triple plays. Both TPs, the first by Tom Brunansky in the fourth inning, the second by Jody Reed in the eighth, came on 5-4-3 shots to Gary Gaetti, forwarded on to Al Newman and then to Kent Hrbek. The Sox ended up winning the game 1-0. This was the first occurrence and still the only game in baseball history in which there have been two triple plays, and I attended it with my Dad. At the moment Reed hit into his triple play in the eighth we glanced at each other and then speculated that such an occurrence had never happened before in the history of baseball. It turns out we were right. A few months later my Dad got me a framed copy of the Globe’s sportspage and the attendant boxscore, memorializing this historic event we had seen. It was one of those "you never know what you’ll see when your in the park" moments which makes baseball such a wonderful game. However, it’s hard to lean on a contest where your own team does something ignominious as the most memorable. So my game has to be from 1988, during the "Morgan Magic" stretch.
In July of 1988, the Sox were playing pitiful baseball. John McNamara, a skipper of such incompetence that even the word "incompetence" didn’t adequately define his abilities, was fired in July of the ’88 season. Joe Morgan, the third base coach at the time, took over for McNamara and the team went on an instant tear, winning 12 straight and 19 of 20. They vaulted from fourth to first, and took the division. Eventually swept by the Oakland A’s, the team assumed a spot in the annals of legendary Sox’ squads. The game that I attended fell smack in the middle of that amazing run on July 20th, a contest against the Minnesota Twins (them again!), won in extra innings by the bat of Todd Benzinger.
There are two elements of this game that stick out. The first and most obvious thing is the come-from-behind drama of a game-winning homer; that typically trumps almost anything, memory-wise. But this night was a little different. The Sox, who had already won six straight after the All-Star break, were in danger of a momentum-buster – Roger Clemens had blown a 5-0 lead and the Twins scored single runs in both the eighth and ninth, Lee Smith coughing up the game-tying tally in the last frame of regulation. In the tenth, the Twins scored another pair, after Morgan inexplicably left the Human Sweat Machineâ¢ in to face five more batters despite having faced six guys in the ninth. In the bottom of the inning, walks to Mike Greenwell and Spike Owen sandwiched a popout by Ellis Burks. Jody Reed doubled in Gator, and Benzinger then rocketed a drive to right, winning the game for the Sox and maintaining Morgan’s Magic Momentum.
But there’s a supplemental reason this night was so memorable – game winning homers are great, but not necessarily life-altering. During this game, Jim Rice and Joe Morgan famously got in a heated argument and eventually a shoving match, in the runway behind the dugout. But that wasn’t the moment, despite the Martin/Jackson redux ten years later: the shoving match only came to light (particularly to those of us sitting behind the Sox’ dugout) after the game. It was something else: in the bottom of the tenth inning, a cheer arose on the third base side of Fenway. My family’s season tickets are directly opposite, just underneath the overhang on the first base side. Looking over to that part of the park, I scanned for fisticuffs. Having grown up going to Bruins games at the old Boston Garden, mid-action cheers from the stands meant one of two things: boorish drunks hooting at any woman under the age of 40, or a fight. I assumed the latter. But it wasn’t a fight. And it wasn’t Morganna or Margo Adams. It was a fan shimmying down the guidewire that held up the netting behind home plate. Hanging like a tree sloth, about twenty feet above the crowd out past the visitor’s dugout, this man appeared, even from great distances, to be extremely inebriated (as I was a college junior and 19 at the time, I recognized this condition quite readily). Slowly he made his way down towards the netting behind home plate. All the while, the bottom of the tenth rally was in progress, and it wasn’t until the fan got quite close to the netting at home plate (he took breaks about every thirty feet or so to both rest and throw his arms in a windmill motion in a gratuitous effort to pump up the crowd) that the umpires stopped the game. That he had made it all the way to home plate was something of a miracle: clearly drunk, I assumed the stunt could only culminate in a two story drop into the lap of some poor season ticket holder, an injury awaiting. But somehow, after a few minutes, the guy actually made it to the end of the line, literally. Before the 600 Club was constructed, this netting led directly up to the press box. So while security guards waited anxiously in the stands (they followed this guy on the straight line of the guidewire, skipping over rails, seats, and aisles, ignoring the fans that occupied seats in their path), the fan clumsily rolled onto the protective net, where he began to jump up and down and run around. Perhaps twenty seconds later, he began to scurry up the mesh towards the press box, where he finally climbed into the television booth. I imagine at that point he was confronted with at least three or four beefy security guards and police officers, who "cajoled" him into custody. Needless to say I don’t think he joined the postgame celebration at the Cask and Flagon. Mere moments after the umpires restarted the game Benzinger hit his homer and Morgan Magic continued. Larry Whiteside wrote in the Boston Globe the next day that "[M]ost of the 35,313 in the Fenway Park stands will only remember Todd Benzinger’s three-run homer with one out in the 10th inning that lifted Boston to a stirring 9-7 triumph over the Minnesota Twins". Of course, I beg to differ.