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Dave D'Onofrio's Sox beat: Little to celebrate at Fenway
BOSTON -- When they planned their season-long party to celebrate 100 years of baseball at Fenway Park, the typically brilliant marketing braintrust surely didn’t intend for everything to begin — then end — the way it did.
Of all the pomp and circumstance, all the players and memories, the plotters didn’t intend for the ceremonies to bookend by moments with Kevin Millar in the spotlight. They essentially began with his apple cider toast atop the first-base dugout, and all but ended with the reappearance of “Rally Karaoke Guy” on the big screen after his 2004 championship was recognized before Tuesday’s penultimate tilt.
They wouldn’t have intended it to be that way because as much as anyone, Millar reminds everybody of just how much fun things used to be on Yawkey Way — and puts in contrasting perspective just how miserable they’ve become.
The Sox are a storied franchise, lacking neither Hall of Famers nor legends who wore their laundry for decades. Millar, meanwhile, was a self-described everyman who was here for all of three seasons. But he’ll never be forgotten because of the corks that popped after the middle of those campaigns, and the culture that permeated the park from the clubhouse on out over those years.
The sight of him, and the smiles brought on by his stories, only crystallize the reality that that culture is gone. And, it’s been gone for a while. And that as much as the 2012 season was supposed to be about remembering the past, it’s final takeaway will be just how sour the whole situation is in the present.
Boston wrapped its home slate on Wednesday night, in a game the Red Sox entered with the sole purpose of not equaling the organization’s worst Fenway record since the woeful, 100-loss team of 1965. They went into the finale a pitiful 34-46 at what has suddenly become America’s Most Beloved Ballpark by Opponents, and on the verge of being swept in a series on home turf for the eighth time this year.
During Millar’s time in Boston, the Red Sox went 162-81 at home. That’s two of every three, or a .667 winning percentage over a three-year period; in the past three years, meanwhile, the Sox were 125-117 (.517) before Wednesday.
Even more damning, though, is the road record. From that same range of 2003-05, Boston went 126-117 (.519) away from Fenway. With a six-game trip awaiting to close out this year, the Red Sox of 2010-2012 are at this point actually a fraction of a percentage point better than Millar’s teams — 123-114, .519 — and can finish with the same mark if they split their sojourn through Baltimore and New York.
Yet the previous sequence produced a trip to the American League Championship Series, a World Series title, as well as a return to the postseason.
The last three teams haven’t even played a playoff game.
Flatly, the Sox have failed recently because of their performance in a place that Wednesday night was about a third full when Don Orsillo and Joe Castiglione began announcing the All-Fenway team, and still had plenty of empty seats by first pitch.
The atmosphere wasn’t quite like a morgue, but it wasn’t the awaited destination at the end of memory lane, either, almost as if the fans had arrived at peace and were just waiting for it all to end — while simultaneously wondering what it might be like here next April.
At least publicly, Bobby Valentine still thinks he’ll be here then, saying before Wednesday’s game that ownership hasn’t approached him with another possibility. But privately the manager must know his position is tenuous (at best), and that the same is true for most of his players. After three straight failed seasons, and a season that could end with 90 losses, there’s no sense in clinging to the past.
Leave that to Millar and the like. Let those memories remain precious.
And move on from the misery that marked Fenway’s 101st season.
“No matter where any of us are, we all want to win,” said outfielder Cody Ross. “If we’re all back here next year, we’ll all put this one aside, learn from it, build off of it, and hope we’re better because of it.”
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As voted by more than 120,000 fans, the All-Fenway first team was: C Carlton Fisk, 1B Jimmie Foxx, 2B Dustin Pedroia, 3B Wade Boggs, SS Nomar Garciaparra, LF Ted Williams, CF Fred Lynn, RF Dwight Evans, DH David Ortiz, RHP Pedro Martinez, LHP Lefty Grove, closer Jonathan Papelbon, manager Terry Francona.
Of the Sox’ seven retired numbers, only Williams and Fisk made the starting team. Carl Yastrzemski, Johnny Pesky, Bobby Doerr and Joe Cronin were on the second team. Jim Rice was on the third.
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Dave D’Onofrio covers Boston sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @davedonofrio