Red Sox look through gloom
As dismal season at Fenway finishes, some see glimmers of hope
BOSTON -- One hundred years old, and for all the misery that accompanied this anniversary season, no one, it seemed, wanted to turn off the lights.
At 10:43 p.m. ET Wednesday, as the final gasp of summer turned out to be a boisterous chant of "Let's Go, Red Sox" that sounded for all the world like the home team was the one competing for a playoff spot, Daniel Nava swung and missed at the last pitch that will be thrown in Fenway Park in 2012.
Nava banged his bat into the earth in frustration, but moments later the Red Sox dugout had emptied of players, tossing T-shirts into the stands. Upstairs, Josh Kantor, the Fenway organist, played the '70s pop tune, "Oooh, Child (Things Are Gonna Get Easier)," followed by "It's My Party (And I'll Cry If I Want To)."
The last home game was a loss, of course, the Red Sox falling to the Tampa Bay Rays, 4-2, with the Rays celebrating their seventh straight win by parading their rookies -- clad in shimmering leotards -- out to the Green Monster, where they performed a choreographed dance routine to "Call Me Maybe."
This was while hundreds of fans, young and old, lined up to run the Fenway bases. It was nearly midnight before the field was cleared, the grounds crew left to rake the infield, cover the mound and home plate with tarps, and collect the bases.
At 11:53 p.m., the light stanchions went dark. Only the lights of the press box still burned brightly. Shortly afterward, the center-field flag was lowered on what would have been Johnny Pesky's 94th birthday. The final song played on the stadium sound system was "Night Shift," a tribute song to Carl Beane, the voice of the Red Sox who, like Pesky, had left us this season.
The Red Sox lost 13 more games than they won at Fenway this summer. They lost nine of their last 11 games at home, finishing with a record (34-47) that was its worst on Yawkey Way since 1965 (also 34-47), when the road still was known as Jersey Street. Not once in seven tries did they win an extra-inning game at home; they walked off with wins just three times.
They blew a 9-0 lead to the Yankees in April, were beaten in 17 innings by the Orioles in May in a game in which the winning pitcher was Baltimore's first baseman, were swept by the last-place Blue Jays in July, and won just twice in September, giving them just one more win in the month than the Patriots. And there were no replacement refs to blame.
"Disappointing" was the benediction pronounced by manager Bobby Valentine, who before the game saw the infield lined by the players judged to be the greatest in the park's history -- Yaz and Rice and Fisk and Papi and Pedey and Pedro and the Rocket and Nomar and Malzie -- then sent out a lineup that included just two players, Dustin Pedroia and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, whose names had appeared on his lineup card on Opening Day.
Two of those all-timers, Carl Yastrzemski and Dwight Evans, appeared in the interview room after the ceremony. Yaz had played on a team that lost 100 games in 1965, then 90 in '66, and won a pennant a year later. Evans had played on a losing team in '87 and had been part of Morgan Magic a year later.
Their words offered a glimmer of hope that this, too, would pass.
"We've got some good young players here who can do things," said the 73-year-old Yaz. "Pedroia, the catcher we just called up [Ryan Lavarnway]. I like the way he works the middle of the field. He's got great power. I loved his at-bat that he had in Tampa Bay, took a fastball to right-center field that drove in two runs. That's him. He's got good power to right-center and left-center. He's a good young player."
Evans praised the mid-August trade in which the Red Sox shed $262 million in salary.
"Obviously, we're going to rebuild," Evans said. "I know these owners. These guys want to win. I know they love to win, love to be in that winner's circle. I don't know when it's going to be. Two years, three years. But we will be back."
Yastrzemski wasn't finished. "The Red Sox will be back," he said. "Ben Cherington did a great job in the farm system." (Evans agreed.) "He's a good baseball man," Yaz continued. "One thing I like about him, he'lll ask for your opinion and listen. No one in this game knows it all."
In the Red Sox clubhouse, boxes were piled high, many players having decided they will not return home after the season ends in New York next week. Jack McCormick, the traveling secretary, passed out meal money for the trip. Clubhouse manager Tom McLaughlin and his crew carried out equipment bags to the bus waiting to take the team to the airport.
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Lavarnway smiled when told of Yastrzemski's comments. "I met him in spring training a couple of years ago," he said. "He used to come out and find me on whatever field I was hitting and we'd talk. I was thrilled he even knew my name."
Lavarnway turned 25 last month. He has struggled at the plate in his first extended taste of big-league action, but when he says he knows he will hit next season, you tend to believe him. He hit 34 home runs between Portland, Pawtucket and Boston in 2011, and that swing hasn't gone away. He will make the necessary adjustments.
"I'm going to start hitting the ball next year," he said. "I look around here, and I see David [Ortiz] will be back and Will [Middlebrooks] will be back, two middle-of-the-order guys. Getting Jacoby right -- he got hurt and wasn't himself this year. Salty has been having some really good at-bats lately, working deep into counts."
Pedroia. Cody Ross. Jon Lester. Clay Buchholz. Andrew Bailey. Andrew Miller. The kid shortstop, Jose Iglesias, who made an incredible play Wednesday, ranging deep in the hole and making an off-balance throw that was breathtaking in its accuracy and strength. There is talent in this room. There is character, much more than people have given them credit for. There is hope.
Turn off the lights then, gladly, in the end, on this misbegotten season. The hope cannot be extinguished.
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