Celebrating a century of Sox baseball
If recent (and distant) Boston history holds, 2014 could be another special season
BOSTON -- As anniversary years go for Boston baseball, this one was made in hardball heaven.
One hundred years ago, a 19-year-old left-handed pitcher named Ruth made his debut for the Red Sox. He brought with him the nickname he'd picked up just months before in Baltimore: Babe. Meanwhile, the Miracle Braves, Boston's National League team, went from last place on the Fourth of July to 1914 World Series champions.
Seventy-five years ago, a 20-year-old outfielder named Ted Williams made his Sox debut.
"If there was ever a man born to be a hitter," he once said, "it was me."
Fifty years ago, a 19-year-old hometown kid named Tony Conigliaro hit a home run over the Green Monster on the first pitch of his first at-bat at Fenway Park, his drive clearing the screen that no longer sits atop the wall. That day, the Sox donated all proceeds to the JFK Library, being built in memory of the young president who had been assassinated just months before.
The Kennedy brothers, Bobby and Teddy, were there, along with the governor and members of the Hall of Fame.
"It was the least I could do," Tony C. said, "after they all showed up for my home debut.'
Thirty years ago, a 21-year-old right-hander from Katy, Texas, made his Sox debut. On Aug. 21 that season, Roger Clemens struck out 15 batters in a complete-game win over the Kansas City Royals. It would be the first of the 10 times in his career that Clemens would strike out 15 or more batters in a game. He is the only man in baseball history to strike out 20 batters twice.
"If someone met me on a game day, he wouldn't like me," the man they called Rocket once said. "The days in between, I'm the goodest guy you can find."
And finally, 10 years ago, the Sox pulled off the greatest postseason miracle in baseball history, coming from three games down to beat the Yankees in the ALCS, then sweeping the Cardinals in four straight for the team's first World Series title in 86 years. The curse, such as it was, had been buried forever.
The Red Sox have won their first home game in 17 of the past 21 seasons, beginning in 1993, including a club-record nine straight home-opening wins since 2005, the longest active streak among MLB teams. According to Elias, only three other teams in MLB history won their first home game in at least nine straight seasons: the Yankees (11, 1998-2008), Pirates (10, 1945-1954) and Reds (9, 1983-1991). Before the current streak, Boston had never won more than six straight home openers (1907-12 and 1938-43).
RED SOX HOME OPENERS 2005-13:
|*Also first game of regular season|
That's a lot of history for any team to live up to as the Red Sox prepare to receive their World Series rings before Friday's home opener against the Milwaukee Brewers. And just think of all that has changed in the six years since the last ring ceremony. Johnny Pesky died. Curt Schilling is battling cancer. So is Mayor Menino. Theo Epstein is the president of the Cubs, Terry Francona the manager of the Indians, Jacoby Ellsbury the center fielder for the Yankees.
And two murderous souls planted bombs on Boylston Street at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
But if we have learned anything about this team, these Sox don't back away from a challenge. Worst-to-first a year ago, they will gather on the Fenway lawn Friday to honor that achievement and memorialize a city's collective losses.
"It will be electric," manager John Farrell said. "Probably a mix of emotions generated by what the message board shows. There will be tragedy. There will be triumph. I think in the end it will be a great day to look back at a very, very special year."
In a little more than two weeks, there will be another ceremony, this one marking the anniversary of the Marathon bombing less than an hour after the Sox had completed their Patriots Day win against the Tampa Bay Rays.
"Without a doubt, we'll never forget what's taken place," Farrell said. "Never forget those who were the fallen. I'm sure the right thing will be done. The Red Sox seem always to do the right thing."
And then, truly, it will be time to look forward, and the Red Sox in the first three games of this young season have offered tantalizing promise of what might lie ahead.
There is Grady Sizemore and a Comeback Kid story that could top them all if he can stay whole long enough.
There is the 21-year-old rookie, Xander Bogaerts, who turned the World Series into a preview of coming attractions and has already reached base eight times in the season's first three games, suggesting that the Sox, often accused of overhyping their prospects, might have understated the case with this kid.
"I'm not surprised," said Jackie Bradley Jr., another rookie of considerable promise who broke out of a spring-long slump with two hits Wednesday along with some verve on the basepaths -- he scored from first on David Ortiz's pop fly single -- and his usual seamless defense in center field.
"Xander is a natural hitter," Bradley said. "It's very special to see him work at such a young age. He's only going to get better, and that's scary for other teams."
There is the birthday boy, Koji Uehara, who tweeted out to his followers that he had turned 29 on Thursday but admitted nobody was fooled, they all know he is 39. Even if he doesn't pitch like it.
On June 9 last year, in a game in which the Sox were winning by seven runs, 10-3, Uehara loaded the bases on a hit batsman and two walks and gave up a single to J.B. Shuck.
Since that day, Uehara has pitched in 62 games, including the postseason and his ninth-inning appearance here Thursday, when he earned his first save of 2014 by setting down the side on seven pitches. He has allowed three earned runs in 64 2/3 innings, an 0.42 ERA. He has given up just 23 hits. He has struck out 85 batters and walked three. Koji Time requires a suspension of disbelief.
"I don't think I can accomplish the same thing I did last year," Uehara said through interpreter Shigenari Matsumoto. "Even I don't believe that. Last year was just so special."
But as we have seen, 2014 is a year for which special only begins to describe what happened 100, 75, 50, 30 and 10 years ago. Maybe it ends here. Just as likely, the thread could be picked up by Sizemore. Or Bogaerts. Or Koji. Or by a team with Big Papi and Jon Lester, the bearded Mike Napoli and the dogged John Lackey, the unsung Daniel Nava and the brittle but brilliant Clay Buchholz. And the rest of the players who will be wearing special gold-trimmed jerseys with gold stitching around the World Series patch on the left sleeve.
The lords of the rings.
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