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Monday, May 27, 2019

Bill Buckner, gritty warrior who spurred 1986 Red Sox to A.L. pennant, dead at 69

Another clutch hit for Bill Buckner.
Thirty-five years and two days ago, the Red Sox traded Dennis Eckersley and Mike Brumley to the Chicago Cubs for Bill Buckner. The trade was a key to Boston winning the 1986 American League pennant.

Eckersley, battling back and shoulder injuries as well as personal demons, was struggling along with a 5.01 ERA at the time of the May 25, 1984 deal. He would show sparks of brilliance in Chicago, but really wouldn't return to All-Star status until a move to the bullpen. Brumley, then a minor leaguer, was a lifetime .206 hitter in the majors. Neither he or Eck would likely have helped the '86 Red Sox.

Buckner, however, played a major role in Boston's AL championship that year. He had 102 RBIs in 1986 -- 50 before the All-Star Game and 52 after it. The Red Sox entered September in those pre-Wild Card days in first place, but just 3.5 games ahead of second-place Toronto. It was Billy Buck who helped Boston pull away as the team's best hitter in the final weeks. He batted .315 with 8 homers, 22 RBI, and a .938 OPS in September and October.

So please don't add a comment below saying that Buckner cost the Red Sox the '86 World Series. If it was not for him, a guy who played hard and well despite being in immense pain, that club most likely would never have gotten as far as it did. 

THAT should be how Boston fans remember him, with headlines like the one above. Not for that other thing. But there is always going to be that other thing, and that will be in most of the headlines.

When my son told me a few minutes ago that Buckner had died at age 69, a robust man felled by the rare disease of Lewy Body Dementia, my thoughts like everyone else's returned to 1986 and the moment that unfairly condemned this All-Star and borderline Hall of Fame-caliber player to years of abuse. 

This was before Boston was Titletown, when the Red Sox were closing in on 70 years of heartbreak instead of going for their fifth world championship in 15 years. Buckner took the jokes and the boos and the taunting that came his way after his error in Game Six of the 1986 World Series as best as I can imagine anybody doing, and when it got too tough for his wife or kids to handle he moved west to Idaho. It was there he found peace, before dying in his native Vallejo, California this morning with his family by his side.

I wish he had enjoyed that peace for far longer.

Buckner at peace, coaching for Class A Boise.

First some more facts: Buckner was already a former batting champion and All-Star with a .295 lifetime batting average and just shy of 2,000 hits when the Red Sox picked him up in 1984. He continued to perform like an All-Star in Boston, batting 299 with 110 RBIs and 201 hits for the 1985 Red Sox despite hitting just 16 home runs. He usually batted third or fourth because he was so adept at moving runners along. At first base, he was a solid defender who was especially strong at scooping up low throws. 

He did this at less than his peak physically. Once one of the fastest runners in the National League, who roamed the outfield like a deer, Buckner severely injured his left ankle playing for the Dodgers in early 1975 and it hampered him the rest of his career. He managed to play more than 1800 games after the injury, often at an elite level, but his days as an outfielder were over.

The logical spot for Buckner was at third or first base, but the Dodgers had Ron Cey and Steve Garvey entrenched at those spots. So Buckner was traded to the lowly Cubs, where he took over at first, became a fan favorite, and won the 1980 batting title. 

Jeff English started his fine biography on Buckner for the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) with a definition:

GAMER 1. A player who approaches the game with a tenacious, spirited attack and continues to play even when hurt; a competitor; a player who doesn't make excuses. The term is a compliment, most especially when it comes from another player.

That was Buckner. He played nearly every day, with no whining, despite the pain. Entering 1986, he was only 34 and already had close to 2,200 hits; 3,000 and Cooperstown still seemed a very real possibility. Bone spurs in his left ankle were bothering him so much by this point that he announced he would be having surgery after the '86 season. In the meantime, there was a pennant to win, so Buckner spent hours wrapping, unwrapping, and icing his left leg before and after games. He played in 153 of Boston's 162 contests that regular season -- and three of his days off came after the Sox wrapped up the title.

By the playoffs, unfortunately, he could no longer produce despite the pain -- which only got worse when he hurt his other leg in the League Championship Series against the Angels. He hit just .214 in the ALCS, and .188 in the World Series. But Bill Buckner DID NOT lose the '86 World Series for the Red Sox any more than Bob Stanley or Rich Gedman or John McNamara or anyone else did. What Buckner did do was his best despite injuries that would have put a lesser man on the bench. 

Peter Gammons described Buckner's gritty effort that postseason for the Nov. 10, 1986 issue of Sports illustrated: 

"He crawled like an alligator into one base. He went after a pop-up, fell down and did a backstroke trying to make a catch in Game 4. He scurried on hands and knees to take the first base bag with his glove. He limped out for the national anthem, bat in hand, just in case he needed a cane. He wore a high-topped right shoe for the Achilles tendon he pulled in the seventh game of the playoffs, but it was the pain in two parts of his left ankle that had created the original limp and had necessitated nine cortisone shots since April." 

This underscores why Buckner should have been on the bench when Mookie Wilson came up in the tenth inning of Game Six, but also why he was not. Buckner was not going to ask to sit down -- because even at less than his best, Billy Buck felt he could do the job. The manager did not put Dave Stapleton in at first base with a two-run lead in the bottom of the 10th inning in Game Six, even though he had done so in similar situations during the playoffs. Whether he did it so Buckner could be on the field for the title that never came is irrelevant. It was a mistake, but it wasn't Buckner's mistake. 

Buckner never ducked responsibility. 

The ground ball that went through his legs and allowed the winning run to score that night was his mistake, and he never did anything less than stand up and take blame for the error -- the final miscue in a chain of bad events that cost Boston that game.  He then went out and had two hits in Game Seven, including a single to start a two-run Red Sox rally in the eighth that nearly tied the contest. But they didn't tie it, and the Mets won the game and the series -- leading to all those awful Bill Buckner jokes that made their way across the country in those pre-internet days. 

I was a stupid 19-year-old college kid ranked into oblivion at Syracuse by Mets fans, and I admit I told some myself. Just thinking about my behavior then makes me sick, even if everybody else in my dorm was doing it.

Buckner never deserved the abuse, but it never let up, until Buckner was traded to the Angels the next summer. Boston fans did give him a standing ovation when he made the team in 1990, and another one when he threw out the first ball before a World Series game decades later, but as far as I'm concerned both these gestures were far too little too late. The damage was done.

"I'll be seeing clips of this thing until the day I die," Buckner told the Wall Street Journal in 1998 of his infamous error. "I accept that. On the other hand, I'll never understand why."

Neither do I. And if there was anybody who deserved to live to a ripe old age bouncing grandchildren and great-grandchildren on his knee -- or tossing them pitches in the backyard -- it was Billy Buck.

In his November 1986 piece on Buckner for Sports Illustrated, Peter Gammons related an incident that occurred after Buckner's post-World Series ankle surgery:

"I just want to tell you that you'll always be my inspiration," said a small boy who ducked into Buckner's hospital room Wednesday night. "Thanks for a great season." Then the boy disappeared."

I wish I knew who that kid was; if I did, I'd call him up now and give him my appreciation for doing at a very young age what the rest of us lunkheads did far too late. 

Thank Bill Buckner for representing Boston so well.

Hearing the cheers on Opening Day, 2008

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Spiritual twin of 13-pitch Mookie Betts home run dates from a magical season

Thirteen-and-OUT! Maddy Meyer (Getty Images)

There has been much talk of lengthy at-bats concluding in home runs since Mookie Betts ended an epic 13-pitch duel with Blue Jays starter J.A. Happ by crushing a grand slam on Thursday night. Fans and media pundits seeking a comparable regular-season moment have come up with a few, including Dustin Pedroia's 12th-pitch blast for the 2007 Red Sox.

That season ended with a World Series championship -- just the sort of karma connection one is looking for in imagining Mookie's Green Monster-clearing shot as the catapult to a 2018 title. But 12 is not quite 13, and in fact no 13th-pitch homer by any Red Sox player can yet be found dating back to at least 1988 (when pitch-count data was first tracked).

There is, however, just such an at-bat that did result in a home run for a player whose team went on to a memorable postseason. It wasn't struck for Boston, which is probably why nobody in Red Sox Nation has come up with it yet.

When you're seeking good vibes, one can overlook such details. Credit for finding the spiritual twin to Mookie's shot goes to a friend with a zip code in Massachusetts but rooting interests that lay outside Boston.

Rob came of age as a baseball fan in 1968, when the Tigers rode Denny McLain's 31-win arm to a World Series title. He's been a Detroit diehard ever since, through many lean years and the occasional high points.

In 1984, as the first Yaz-less Red Sox club since the Eisenhower administration was slogging along at a sub-.500 clip, Sparky Anderson's Tigers gave their fans a thrill ride with a 35-5 start. Led by Hall of Famers Jack Morris and Alan Trammell, Detroit's deep roster featured a power-loaded lineup, excellent starting pitching and defense, and a reliever in Willie Hernandez who would capture both the Cy Young and MVP awards that year.

The '84 Tigers were a formidable crew.

It was a role player, however, who was responsible for what Rob and others claim as the most memorable hit of the regular season.

On June 4, in a nationally-televised AL East match-up at old Tiger Stadium, first-place Detroit and Toronto were tied 3-3 into extra innings. The Blue Jays were off to a great start at 34-16, nearly a .700 clip, but were still 4 1/2 games behind the white-hot Tigers. Toronto desperately wanted a victory to stay close. 

After the Jays failed to score in the top of the 10th, Detroit put two on with two out in the bottom of the inning. Up stepped Dave Bergman, who including that night had not homered in 99 plate appearances on the season.

Dave Bergman -- where it all happened.

All he needed to give his team the win, of course, was a single -- or even a walk -- but from the start he was swinging for the fences against Toronto pitcher Roy Lee Jackson.

"He was coming at me with fastballs and sliders, and I was taking my best rips," Bergman said later. "I was locked in; he was locked in. I really felt like I was going to hit the ball hard somewhere, and I'm sure he felt he was going to get me out."

Jackson reared back and threw, and Bergman swung. Again and again and again.

Jackson readies to pitch... and pitch... and pitch

The first five pitches were all hit foul, including one smash down the right-field line that briefly looked like a game-winner.

The sixth delivery was high, and Bergman laid off it for a ball. He didn't swing at the seventh either, which was just a bit outside -- prompting a groan of relief from the crowd.

After another foul, Bergman took Jackson's eighth pitch low, making the count 3-and-2.

Then came another foul ball. And another. And another.

Finally, on the 13th pitch, Bergman swung like a golfer in the rough at a low Jackson pitch and launched it into the second-deck porch in right field. It was Bergman's first home run in 100 plate appearances in 1984, and gave the Tigers a 6-3 win.

Bergman going all-out vs. Jackson.

Toronto never got so close to first place again, and Detroit ended the year with a 104-58 record and the AL East title. The Tigers then swept Kansas City in the ALCS and easily dispatched San Diego in a five-game World Series.

Bergman contributed just seven at-bats (and one hit) in the postseason, but all these years later his big moment of '84 is still credited as a launching point in Detroit's last world championship. He died in 2015, but is not forgotten.

Will Mookie's homer on Thursday work similar magic for this Red Sox team? Or will it be just a fond memory in a season that ends short of a title?

Time will tell, but for the next several months Boston fans can hope for the former.

Will Boston end the year like Detroit did in 1984? 

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Mookie Betts hit three homers -- in case you didn't notice

Mookie goes yard -- did you hear?

Tune into either of Boston's sports radio stations day or night, and chances are you'll hear someone discussing the concurrent playoff runs of the Bruins and Celtics. Unless, of course, they are analyzing the relative merits of the Patriots draft picks.

The Red Sox have the best record in the major leagues at 22-8, and leadoff man Mookie Betts had his second three-homer game of the young season yesterday. Betts now leads all of baseball in batting (.365), slugging (.823), OPS (a Williamesque 1.274),.and runs (32), and with his usual stellar defense in right field has his sights set on an MVP award.

But despite an uptick in the TV ratings aided by the team's white-hot start, Betts and the Red Sox are flying low under the radar as Boston's other three major pro sports teams demand our attention.

Even the Red Sox are watching the Bruins.

Owners John Henry would certainly enjoy more hype around Fenway in the early going, but first-year manager Alex Cora likely has no complaints. The lack of focus on his club is affording him the opportunity to grow into his job without the media and fan scrutiny that normally comes with the job.

Take Tuesday. The Sox made four errors and left nine men on base in a 7-6 loss to Kansas City that also featured a blown save by closer Craig Kimbrel, but all fans were talking and tweeting about were wins by the Celtics and Bruins in their respective semifinal series the day before. It was the same thing Wednesday after Betts' big day.

This won't last forever, of course. Eventually, the local hockey and basketball teams will end their postseason runs, and the Sox will be back to front-burner status. There will be plenty of platitudes for Betts if he keeps up his heroics and much hyper-analysis of Cora's decisions. But for now, Mookie and Alex will no doubt enjoy their relative obscurity on the Boston sports landscape.

Don't get too relaxed, Alex. 

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Yawkey Way decision shows lack of creativity on part of Red Sox and John Henry

Jersey Street -- how is that better?

Judging from the on-air and online commentary, feelings are most definitely mixed on the Boston Public Improvement Commission's decision to rename Yawkey Way -- with far more negative sentiment than John Henry might have anticipated. I'm not going to pass judgment on Henry's reasoning for this move, because it's moot; Thursday's vote means the war is over, and Henry has won.

What baffles me is the lack of creative thinking on Henry's part. Faced with fans he had to know would view a name change as political correctness gone amok, the Red Sox owner missed the opportunity to push for the type of change that might win some skeptics over -- and generate additional positive buzz around the move.

The good old days ...?

By bringing back Jersey Street, Henry has effectively returned Fenway's home address to a time when stale cigar smoke wafted through the stands, the bullpen cart rolled across Joe Mooney's lawn, and drunken bleacherites yelled "Hey Uncle Ben!" at rookie outfielder Jim Rice.

Mail to Fenway arrived on Jersey Street when Jackie Robinson was told "don't call us, we'll call you" after his sham tryout in 1945, and it was where Boston manager (and sometimes GM) Mike "Pinky" Higgins reported for work when he vowed "They'll be no niggers on this club as long as I have anything to say about it." Under Yawkey's employ, he had his way longer than any other MLB boss.

Robinson did not leave Jersey Street smiling.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying everything about Jersey Street is bad. I'm sure lots of nice people have worked and lived on it. But if you're trying to bring about change, why not go all the way?

Here are five alternate street names that would have made for an upbeat ending to this saga -- and still could, if it's not too late for John Henry to get on the horn to the commission.

Bobby Doerr Boulevard: It's hard to think of a more universally respected or beloved Red Sox figure than Doerr, a Hall of Fame second baseman and coach with the club who died last November at age 99. Naming a street for him this year would be a wonderful way of honoring the memory of No. 1.

As an elder statesman, Doerr remained regal.

Ted Williams Way:  Yup, I know this was tried before back in 1991. In fact, I was standing a few feet away on the Fenway grass, working as a young freelancer shortly after college, when Teddy Ballgame was handed the street sign that bore his name and would soon be affixed to what was previously known as Lansdowne Street. Things didn't go as planned; folks kept stealing the Ted Williams Way signs, and the name never took. There is probably a whole generation of kids under 25 who never knew this attempted change ever happened.

But this August marks the 100th anniversary of Williams' birth. What better time to try again to name a street for the greatest hitter in Red Sox history -- and a two-time war hero and champion of the Jimmy Fund to boot. In a 21st century, twitter-fed world, I bet it would stick this time.

It didn't take the first time, but maybe now....?

Jimmy Fund Drive: I admit being a bit bias on this one. I've worked for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute since 1999, focused largely on the great work of its Jimmy Fund charity. I have seen up close many, many times the important role the Red Sox play in making the lives of cancer patients happier -- and how their efforts each summer in the WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon generate millions in critical funds needed for research and clinical care. 

There is already a "Jimmy Fund Way" on Dana-Farber's main campus in the Longwood Medical Area, which Yaz and Mike Andrews dedicated in 1997 to honor the '67 Impossible Dream Red Sox. A Jimmy Fund Drive at Fenway would nobly honor the annual fundraising drives that the Sox make for New England's Favorite Charity.

A bridge for Papi - how about a street for Pedro?

Pedro Place: Other Red Sox greats have statues, why not give the best pitcher in team history his own street? The fact Pedro Martinez is also a man of color known for doing many great works on behalf of his Dominican countrymen and others makes him a worthy and fitting symbol of change in the post-Yawkey era. Besides, how cool would it be to say you were going to meet your buddies at El Tiante's on Pedro Place?

Red Sox Way:  This isn't very creative, but it is straight and to the point. It would help folks find Fenway when lost, and would symbolize what John Henry is trying to create here -- a new Red Sox way of going about business. 

If you're reading, Mr. Henry, my vote goes for Jimmy Fund Drive or Ted Williams Way -- just make sure those new street signs are bolted down tight.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Feeling down on the Red Sox? This should cheer you up...

Austin and Dustin (John Deputy photo)

My day job chronicling the goings-on at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Jimmy Fund allows me an inside look at the one-of-a-kind relationship between the Red Sox and New England's favorite charity. So on days  like yesterday when the Red Sox bullpen blows a four-run lead in the eighth inning, I try to remember all the good that the team does to lift the spirits of pediatric and adult cancer patients -- like this:

The timing couldn’t have been better for the Jimmy Fund Clinic’s 15th annual trip to Boston Red Sox spring training last month – delays and all.
While New Englanders were dealing with one of the snowiest, windiest Marches in recent memory, 42 clinic patients aged 13 and up hugged their families goodbye in the lobby of Dana-Farber's Yawkey Center for Cancer Care on a Friday afternoon and boarded a bus bound for Logan International Airport. Their final destination was Fort Myers, Florida, and JetBlue Park at Fenway South; accompanying them as clinicians and fellow adventurers were 12 doctors, four nurses, and six clinic staff.
In addition to meeting Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Chris Sale, and more than a dozen other Red Sox players during their excursion, the clinic group enjoyed watching an exhibition game against the Baltimore Orioles, cooling off on the water slide and lazy river at their hotel pool, and dining in a suite at JetBlue Park. When a Florida rarity – rain – forced the postponement of an all-clinic batting practice, the Dana-Farber crew improvised by heading to the local bowling alley for some indoor fun.
The yearly trip was conceived in 2002 by Todd Schwartz, who felt that he and fellow teenage patients would enjoy bonding away from the hospital and their parents. Schwartz did not live to see his dream come to fruition, but trip leader Lisa Scherber, director of Patient and Family Programs at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorder Center, says each sojourn south is a tribute to his wisdom.

Zack and Xander (John Deputy photo)

“After all these years, I still make it a point to step back and just watch when we’re on these trips,” says Scherber, “We know that even for those young patients who are nervous about being away from their parents, flying for the first time, or getting treatment away from the hospital, this is going to be a life-altering event – a chance to make wonderful memories and friendships with other kids who know what they are going through. We appreciate our sponsors including the WEEI Jimmy Fund Golf Tournament, JetBlue, and the Red Sox for making this incredible weekend happen.”
Even a delay in the clinic group’s return flight to Boston worked out. While waiting at the airport on Sunday night, the contingent spotted former Red Sox pitching legend Pedro Martinez – who came over and spent nearly a half-hour chatting with the group and signing autographs.

“We didn’t wind up getting back to Boston until after 1:00 am Monday, and eight of the kids on the trip had clinic visits at 9:00 am that same morning,” Scherber says with a laugh. “They were still on a high – we all were.”  
Brock and the Gang

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Another Hall of Fame honors Pedro Martinez for his deeds and recalls his classy words

Pedro earned his stripes in Montreal.

For Red Sox fans it was a single sound byte in a month-long stretch of magical, must-see video. Most probably didn't even hear it above all the screaming in living rooms, dorm rooms, and bars across New England. Fewer would recall it later.

Over the border, however, folks took notice -- and never forgot.

Pedro Martinez had just helped the 2004 Red Sox win their first World Series in 86 years. The triumph climaxed a seven-year run of domination by Pedro unseen before or since: a 2.45 ERA and 0.978 WHIP in regular-season play during an era when steroid-fueled sluggers ripped other pitchers to bits.

In his and Boston's crowning moment of glory, a champagne-socked Pedro took a moment in the raucous Boston clubhouse to thank the Montreal Expos fans that had embraced him as he grew to stardom with their team in 1994-97. The cash-strapped Montreal front office had sent Pedro to the Red Sox in a one-sided deal after his Cy Young season in '97, knowing it couldn't resign him. Now they were losing far more than a pitching ace.

Always an afterthought in hockey-crazed Canada, and saddled with a dismal stadium that citizens voted down replacing with a publicly-funded ballpark, Les Expos were moving south to become the Washington Nationals.

"I would like to share this with the people in Montreal that are not going to have a team anymore," said Martinez. "My heart and my ring is with them, too."

A moment shared.

He was speaking to a single Montreal reporter, but the 12-second clip soon went worldwide. The classy comments were Pedro's way of thanking those who had believed in him. Tommy Lasorda and the Dodgers may have thought Martinez lacked the strength and size to be a starter (swapping him to Montreal even-up for Delino DeShields), but Expos manager Felipe Alou and his organization gave Pedro the chance to prove he could. Now the country he departed after four years and a .625 winning percentage is thanking him back with its ultimate honor.

On June 16, Martinez will be inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, along with former Blue Jays outfielder Lloyd Moseby and baseball historian William Humber.

In a conference call with reporters after receiving the news on Feb. 1, Pedro expanded on why the honor meant so much. After his 1994 trade from the Dodgers, where his big brother and teammate Ramon had always looked out for him amidst the craziness that is LA, Martinez established his independence in Canada.

"At the time, I didn't know what to do in the streets," said Pedro. "Montreal helped me to become a man, because not only was I on my own, but doing it in a place where I felt really, really safe and loved by the people and embraced by the people that did not care what color you were, what you were wearing, how much money you were making. They were there to make you feel comfortable. So Montreal means the world to me."

Alou gave Martinez a chance.

Martinez always felt, as did many of his teammates at the time, that the Expos could have won the 1994 World Series. They were in first place with the best record in the MLB on August 12 when the remainder of the regular season and entire postseason were canceled by the 1994 baseball strike. Pedro, in his first year with the club, was 11-5 and on a five-game winning streak when the strike hit.

That's why when he finally won his first championship a decade later, Pedro wanted Montreal fans to know he wished it had been with them. His Hall of Fame plaque in Cooperstown may include a Red Sox hat, but he will always be remembered warmly by Canadians as more than just a baseball star. His brilliance went beyond the numbers, on and off the field.

Boston fans understand completely.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Mookie Betts saves Red Sox with gold glove and foul ball

Mookie robs Reddick

First Mookie Betts single-handedly kept the Red Sox alive in Game Three of the ALDS yesterday at Fenway Park with his glove, and then he unknowingly -- except for a few of us in Section 15 -- sparked an offensive explosion that propelled Boston to a 10-3 victory over the Astros and a chance to square their best-of-five series today.

Fans were still streaming into Fenway for what could be Boston's season finale when Houston took a 3-0 lead in the first inning against Sox starter Doug Fister. After the Astros got two men on in the second, chasing Fister, Josh Reddick hit a sharp fly off Joe Kelly towards the right-field corner. Betts sprinted after it with his usual graceful strides, and just as the ball appeared headed for the first or second row, he reached out and grabbed it with a basket catch reminiscent of Dwight Evans' robbery of Joe Morgan at nearly the same spot in Game Six of the 1975 World Series.
Hanley did his part - 4-for-4 with 3 RBI

The play ended the inning; rather than being down 6-0, the Sox were still in striking range. They got one run back in the second, and then in the third Mookie was at it again -- sprinting with his back to the plate and snaring an Alex Bregman smash over his shoulder just in front of the warning track (ending the inning and another Houston scoring threat).

 As Betts jogged in after this latest catch, Boston fans offered the reigning Gold Glover a huge ovation. Rachel and I, who had scored terrific seats in the first few rows of the lower grandstand behind the Red Sox dugout, high-fived our neighbor (and new Fenway friend) Nancy (not to be confused with our longtime friends Nancy and Nancy, aka "The Women of Section 30"). 

Betts nabs another

I was about to get much better acquainted with this new Nancy. In the bottom of the fourth, Betts hit a high foul ball toward our section. It looked at first to be off to our left, but then at the last moment it curved and slammed down directly into the empty seat between me and Nancy (who had nicely moved one over from her "real" seat earlier to give me extra legroom). The ball rolled under the seat, and as I reached down to grab it, Nancy's hand sneaked in at the last moment to nab the prize fair and square.

Rachel was momentarily disappointed, until I explained that the only way I could have grabbed the ball on the fly would be to have flung my beloved scorebook one way and shove Nancy the other. Plus, I said as I pointed to the band around Nancy's left hand, she appeared to have a wrist injury that I didn't want to harm further in our beneath-the-seat scramble.

Rachel forgives Dad

"I understand, Dad," Rachel said, in that 13-year-old way that you know is masking disappointment with a budding maturity so as to not wound her father's bruised ego. "We'll get another one."

Betts struck out on the next pitch, after which came a moment both comical and magical. I learned that Nancy wasn't injured at all -- what I thought was a brace of some sort was actually, she explained with a laugh, a wrist purse in which she was keeping her keys. She also told me she was especially excited about the ball because of a near miss years before. While at a game with her son in these same seats, she had a foul ball land directly in her beer, knock it from her hand, and then roll four rows away and out of her life. This was her payback.

It was also the spark to a Sox rally. The next four batters after Betts hit safely, highlighted by a two-run homer from rookie Rafael Devers that gave Boston a 4-3 lead. Nancy showed off her ball to folks around us, and then tucked in between her legs for safekeeping. Perhaps, I wondered, my near-treasure was meant to be hers -- and meant to be a talisman.

The Price was right for four shutout innings.

The redemptive David Price kept the Astros at bay over the next four innings, but Boston could not add to its one-run lead. A tenseness hung over Fenway, which in our row nearly became a panic after Nancy left to make a concessions run. Her husband Glenn suddenly jumped up, wild-eyed, and began running up and down the aisle peering into each of the five rows ahead of us.

"What's wrong, did you lose your keys?" I asked.

"No!" he yelled. "I lost the ball!"

Thankfully the beer-soaked sphere was retrieved, dried, and placed snugly into a cup holder by the time Nancy got back.

Safe and sound

When she heard about the near calamity she gave Curly a stern but loving look, happy that The Baseball Gods had saved her keepsake. Soon thereafter, the Red Sox batted around in a six-run seventh that put the game out of reach. Betts singled and scored during the outburst, and then added a few more web gems for good measure -- giving him seven putouts overall and the home team a newfound momentum going into Game Four.

Nancy, Glenn, the ball, and the wrist purse.

Rachel and I exited Fenway on high adrenaline, our perfect day at the ballpark completed, when suddenly a shock came over me not unlike that which had befallen Nancy's husband a few hours before. My keys -- including the pricey remote entry fobs for BOTH our family cars -- were gone. My TILE app (thanks for the Father's Day gift, Michelle) alerted me that they were "in Fenway Park," but we couldn't find them despite a law-breaking sprint back into the park and to our seats.

I would have to wait until Monday morning to call Fenway's Lost and Found, but at least -- thanks to Mookie -- Jason and I would be doing so on a game day.