Why we run to Home Base

Will Snow will be at Fenway Park Saturday morning with his daughters Teegan and Adair, watching his wife Amber in the Run for Home Base by New Balance. It is her third race. It will be his first. It took a great effort by both of them to be here.

 

Will Snow is one of ours. He is from Foxborough. Amber is one of ours, too. She is from Attleboro. They met when he was a medic in the elite Army Rangers. Three months later, they got married. Soon, they will be celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary. They have been dealing with the consequences of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) for the last six years. There is unfinished business.

 

Will Snow is the type of person, Amber said, “who was put on this planet to watch out for other people.’’ He never felt more helpless than when his little sister, Courtney, was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 16 and he could do nothing while watching the life ebb out of her until she was gone at age 21.

 

Unable to afford medical school, he said, he turned to the Army. His grandfather was military, and he was inspired to join the Rangers, he said, after watching one of those old D-Day flicks in which Rangers scaled cliffs with grappling hooks.

 

“I thought, ‘If I ever go into the Army, I want to join people crazy enough to do that,’’’ he said.

 

Amber was eight months pregnant with Teegan in Fort Lewis, Washington, and Will was on his third deployment to Iraq when the Stryker armored vehicle he was riding en route to engage the enemy drove into a 21-foot deep canal and overturned. He sustained head, neck and back injuries. “I tried to walk if off,’’ he said. “I was the only medic in our platoon, and I didn’t want to leave.’’

 

The plan was to return home for the birth of the baby. The first Amber heard about what had happened in Iraq was when Will called and complained about a headache. “Something happened,’’ he said, using the cryptic language so typical of Rangers. “I’ll tell you about it when I get home.’’

 

It did not take long for Amber and Will to discover they were dealing with more than a headache. Will had gone to pick up some food at a takeout restaurant they frequented, and called Amber from a roundabout that was on the way back. I don’t know how to get home, he said.

 

“That was terrifying,’’ Amber said, recounting the story.

 

The personality changes were even more so. Nowhere to be found was the man who was the life of the party when they met, quick to make friends. In his place was a virtual recluse, one who says he does not remember the birth of his child or the first year or two of her life.

 

“I thought he’d come home, I’d have the baby, and we’d get back to life,’’ Amber Snow said.

 

“But I sent one guy to war, and I got another one back. Which I’m very thankful for, but it’s not who I sent.

 

“I had friends who didn’t get anybody home, so who was I to complain? I had a body next to me in my bed. But you still mourn the person you lost. I lost somebody.’’

 

Will Snow’s battles did not end in Iraq. He faced a formidable foe back here at home, coping with anxiety attacks, mood swings, depression, sleeplessness—an array of symptoms we have come to recognize as the consequence of TBI and PTSD. There was also the frustration that came from dealing with those who were skeptical of how badly he was hurt, or incapable of offering him the assistance he truly needed.

 

“He became,’’ Amber Snow said, “the most introverted introvert you could find.’’

 

Amber Snow recalled a particularly frightening incident after Will had been transferred out of his battalion to another Special Operations facility in Yuma, Arizona, and suffered an allergic reaction to a medication he was given.

 

“His entire body turned purple, his tongue swelled up, and he was talking nonsense. He was holdings his socks in his hand, asking ‘Where are my socks?’ It got to the point where his skin was falling off.

 

“When his fever went down, they let him out of the hospital, but when he walked around he felt pins and needles in his feet. That’s when people started taking us seriously and said something was absolutely wrong with him.’’

 

The Care Coalition, which assists special operations veterans, offered some relief. So did time spent at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. They were still in Yuma when Amber saw an ad for the Run to Home Base. She vowed that when the young family returned to Massachusetts, she would participate.

 

“I started running that summer (2013),’’ she said. “Running was my therapy to get out and take care of myself. One of us in this marriage has to be healthy. He doesn’t have a choice; it’s got to be me.’’

 

She ran her first race for Home Base in 2014. Her sister ran, too. They raised a lot of money. More importantly, Amber heard the stories of some of those who had been helped by Home Base. She told Will about the program.

 

Last August, another round of anxiety attacks struck, accompanied by nightmares. There was also an unexplained weight loss; Will dropped nearly 50 pounds. He picked up the phone and called Home Base. He had decided, Amber said, that he didn’t want to be miserable anymore.

 

“I didn’t know where else to go,’’ he said, “but once I got there, the place just reeks of competence. You sit down with people, they know what they’re doing. They give you hope that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.’’

 

The care at Home Base was deeply personal, and dependable. He could text his caregiver, and know that he would get a quick response.

 

“You walk in, and the second you get in there it makes you feel good,’’ Will said. “I had been in such bad place, but they don’t talk to you in military lingo, they talk to you just normal. They know what they’re doing. We feel lucky to live in Massachusetts and have this place.’’

 

The progress has been incremental. Will has gotten to the point where he can take the train in alone for his appointments, take to the kids to the grocery store, take them on Saturday to see their mama race.

 

“The therapy is one of the toughest things I’ve ever attempted,’’ he said. “You basically have to relive the experiences that are impeding your life. They recorded me talking about those experiences over and over until you can put them away in your brain. If you don’t put in the work, you’re not going to get better.’’

 

Will Snow, the man whose wife says he was placed on this planet to help others, now hopes to speak with other veterans about Home Base, and how they might find hope, too. On Saturday, Red Sox chairman Tom Werner, a driving force in the creation of Home Base, intends to introduce Will and Amber Snow, two very courageous souls.

 

“We bought a house, we’re moving on as best we can,’’ Amber said. “It’s part of our life. I forget my life is different from anybody else’s, but it is. It’s weird, but it’s all I’ve known for six years.’’

 

Between the support from their families here back home, and Home Base, Will and Amber Snow know that someone has their backs.

 

“Give us a minute,’’ Amber said. “Wait for us. We’re going to catch up. We’re going to get there.’’

 

If you would like to support Amber in her run, the link to her fundraising page is here:  http://www.runtohomebase.org/2016RuntoHomeBase/ambersnow. If enough of you are moved to do so, maybe we’ll just blow them away.

 

 

 

Save vs. Non-Save, Craig Kimbrel edition

Houston Astros v Boston Red Sox

BOSTON, MA – MAY 15: Craig Kimbrel #46 of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the Houston Astros in the ninth inning on May 15, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Craig Kimbrel

I wish there was a ready explanation. Really, I do. More importantly, so do Dave Dombrowski and John Farrell.

Craig Kimbrel has been spectacular in save situations, with a 1.45 ERA, 17 saves, a 0.643 WHIP, and an average of 13 K’s per 9 innings. That’s why he’s going to the All-Star Game in San Diego next Tuesday.

In non-saves situations, however, it has been a strikingly different story: Kimbrel, who gave up four runs in the ninth inning Tuesday and failed to record an out in a 7-2 loss, has made 14 appearances in non-save situations, and has a 6.75 ERA. In 13 1/3 innings, he has allowed 12 hits and 10 walks, leading to 10 runs.

“I can’t say it’s a lack of adrenaline. Even in tonight’s situation, we’re in a one-run ballgame,” Farrell told reporters Tuesday night. “You can say the same is still on the line. The numbers bear it out, it’s been a difficult spot for him.”

It hasn’t always been this way for Kimbrel. Look at these numbers since he first became a closer in 2011:

Save situation   Non-save

2011                                                     2.22                 1.85

2012                                                     1.01                 1.00

2013                                                      1.35                 0.66

2014                                                      0.89                 4.76

2015                                                      2.06                   4.02

2016                                                       1.45                    6.75

 

We wanted to see if other closers are afflicted in a similar fashion, so we looked at all the closers who have exceeded Kimbrel’s career saves total of 242 since 2001.

Here are the numbers:

Mariano Rivera                                    1.95                        2.29

Francisco Rodriguez                           2.71                         2.70

Joe Nathan                                             2.40                       2.68

Trevor Hoffman                                    2.71                         3.15

Jonathan Papelbon                            2.37                         2.39

Francisco Cordero                                3.61                         3.10

Huston Street                                        2.97                          2.79

Jason Isringhausen                               3.49                         2.76

Jose Valverde                                          2.52                          4.22

Fernando Rodney                                  3.45                            3.76

Craig Kimbrel                                         1.49                            2.51

Clearly, it’s not a universal affliction. And chances are it’s correctible. Kimbrel certainly believes it is. There’s lots of season left to do so.

 

All-Star facts, Red Sox style

BOSTON RED SOX vs. HOUSTON ASTROS

Brock Holt was Boston’s only All-Star in 2015 (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox)

The Red Sox will be well represented in next Tuesday’s All-Star Game in San Diego. Here’s a primer on past Sox doings in the previous 86 All-Star Games.

–Future Hall of Fame catcher Rick Ferrell was Boston’s first All-Star, in 1933. His brother Wes, who played for Cleveland but would join Rick on the Sox the following season, also made the team.  Twenty of the 36 All-Stars that season would eventually be inducted in the Hall of Fame. Babe Ruth hit the first home run in All-Star history.

–All-purpose fielder Brock Holt was the last Sox All-Star, their only representative in 2015. There have been seven other All-Star Games in which the Sox were represented by just one player: David Ortiz in 2012, Manny Ramirez in 2001, Nomar Garciaparra in 1997, Mo Vaughn in 1996, Scott Cooper in both 1993 and ’94, and Dwight Evans in 1981.

–The most All-Stars the Sox have had in a single season was eight, in 1946: Ted Williams, Dom DiMaggio, Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky, Boo Ferriss, Mickey Harris, Hal Wagner, and Rudy York. The Sox have had seven All-Stars four times, the last in 2008: Jason Varitek, Jonathan Papelbon, David Ortiz, J.D. Drew, Manny Ramirez, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis.

–The Sox have had four All-Star MVPs: J.D. Drew in 2008, Pedro Martinez in 1999, Roger Clemens in 1986 and Carl Yastrzemski in 1970. No MVP award was given before 1962.

–Derek Lowe, in 2002, is the last Red Sox pitcher to start an All-Star game. Six other Sox pitchers have started: Pedro Martinez (1999), Roger Clemens (1986), Dennis Eckersley (1982), Bill Monbouquette (1960), Mel Parnell (1949), Lefty Grove (1936).

–Eleven Sox pitchers have been credited with a decision in an All-Star game. The first seven decisions were losses: Lefty Grove (’36), Tex Hughson (1943), Frank Sullivan (1955), Bill Monbouquette (1960), Dick Radatz (1964), Luis Tiant (1974) and Dennis Eckersley (1982). The last four have been wins: Roger Clemens (1986), Pedro Martinez (1999), Josh Beckett (2007) and Jonathan Papelbon (2009).

–Two Sox pitchers have been on the mound for walkoff losses. Dick Radatz gave up four runs, the last three on a two-out home run by Johnny Callison, in a 7-4 loss in New York’s Shea Stadium in 1964. Frank Sullivan, who had already pitched three scoreless innings, gave up a walkoff home run to Stan Musial leading off the 12th inning in Milwaukee’s County Stadium, giving the NL ‘Stars a 6-5 win.

–The Sox have hit 18 home runs in All-Star Games. Ted Williams has 4. Fred Lynn has 3. No other Sox player has more than 1. The last Sox player to homer in an All-Star Game was Adrian Gonzalez in 2011.

–The 2004 All-Star Game is the only one in which multiple Sox players homered. David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez both went deep in the 2004 game in Houston’s Minute Maid Park.

Papi and Bobby Orr

David Ortiz, here with Bruins legend Bobby Orr, homered in the 2004 All-Star Game (Photo courtesy of Boston Red Sox)

–Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski were both named to 18 All-Star teams, a club record. Williams was left off the team in his rookie season, 1939, even though he was batting .306 with 12 home runs and a league-leading 70 RBIs at the break. In 1941, the season he batted .406, Ted was one of four future Sox Hall of Famers on the team. The others were Joe Cronin, Bobby Doerr and Jimmie Foxx. Dom DiMaggio, who some contend should be in the Hall of Fame, was the fifth Sox All-Star that season. Lefty Grove and Roger Clemens were both five-time All-Stars for the Red Sox, most appearances by a pitcher.

–Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski share the record for most hits in an All-Star Game (4) with Joe Medwick of the Cardinals. Williams hit two home runs and two singles in the ’46 All-Star Game at Fenway. Yaz had four singles in 12 innings in the 1970 Game. Sox players have had multiple-hit All-Star games 16 times. Ted and Yaz are the only players to do so multiple times, three apiece.

–Tony Conigliaro went 0 for 6 in the 1967 All-Star Game, which went 15 innings in Anaheim before the National League won, 2-1. Tony C. faced four Hall of Famers in that game: He flied out against HOF Juan Marichal, struck out against HOF Fergie Jenkins and HOF Bob Gibson, flied out against Chris Short, fouled out against Mike Cuellar, and flied out against HOF Tom Seaver. The day wasn’t a total bust; Conigliaro made an outstanding catch in right field to take a hit away from Orlando Cepeda.

 

All-Star tales, Red Sox style

Pedro Martinez reaches the 300th strike outs in Fenway Park.

Pedro Martinez, here about to strike out his 300th batter in the ’99 season, gave an All-Star performance for the ages (Photo by Jack Maley / Boston Red Sox)

 

J.D. coming off the bench. Papelbon’s torment. The lovefest for Ted. Pedro’s whiffs. Roger’s perfection. Yaz’s MVP. The Monster’s nightmare. The fractured elbow. The eephus pitch. The walkoff in ’41.

The Red Sox have had their share of memorable moments in the 86 All-Star Games that precede next Tuesday’s gathering in San Diego. Here are a few  that stand out. We’ll offer them chronologically.

 

2008, Yankee Stadium

Drew, who entered the game in the sixth inning when he replaced Ichiro Suzuki in right field, hit a two-run home run off Edinson Volquez to tie the score at 2 in the seventh, then walked ahead of Michael Young’s game-winning sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 15th. Both managers fretted they were about to run out of pitchers in an encore to the 2002 fiasco, which Bud Selig declared a tie in the 11th inning.

Drew, who also singled and stole a base, joked he would have taken the hill for Terry Francona if called upon, even though he hadn’t pitched since high school.

“I’d have been ready,” he said. “I’ve had an opportunity to throw a lot in the outfield.

“I don’t know if I would have gotten anyone out, but I’d have thrown something up there.”

A great night for Drew. Not nearly as fun for Papelbon, who the day before the game had made himself a lightning rod for the scorn of Yankee fans when he made a case for closing instead of Yankee icon Mariano Rivera.

It got ugly. “Papelbum” was the headline on one New York tabloid, and a raucous crowd jeered his appearance on the pregame “red carpet” ride down Avenue of the Americas.

“Brutal,” he said of the coverage. “They missed the point I was trying to make. What kind of closer would I be if I didn’t want to close? But I said I was willing to step aside.

“The whole shebang was messed up. My wife was really upset. We got threats, everything. I wish I hadn’t taken her.”

All of the Sox were booed. “I learned two things,” Francona said of the parade. “They want Rivera to pitch, and I [stink].”

 

1999, Fenway Park

The consensus choice as the best All-Star Game of all. The Team of the Century was introduced, and when a golf cart, with Al Forrester at the wheel, brought out Ted Williams, All-Stars young and old gathered around him in heart-tugging tribute.

“You know, there were a lot of guys out there that were teared up,” Mark McGwire said. “The Hall of Famers out there, and the All-Stars, when you see Ted Williams and he has tears running down his eyes, it’s an emotional time.”

Then, in a pitching performance that rivaled one of the All-Star Game’s most legendary moments — Carl Hubbell of the Giants striking out Hall of Famers Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, and Joe Cronin in succession 65 years earlier — Pedro Martinez struck out the side in the first inning, then struck out two more batters in the second inning, and was a unanimous choice as the game’s Most Valuable Player.

Martinez’s victims were Barry Larkin, Larry Walker, and Sammy Sosa in the first inning, McGwire and Jeff Bagwell in the second. Larkin is in the Hall of Fame. The others ranked among the best hitters of their generation.

“When you have a guy like Pedro, whether he’s throwing the fastball or the changeup, with his arm speed it’s like trying to hit in a dark room,” American League manager Joe Torre said of Martinez.

The night will be remembered by many for one other moment, when four F-14’s flew very low over Fenway, seemingly skimming over the light stanchions, as Dorchester’s Donna Summer finished the anthem, rattling windows–and nerves—throughout the Fens.

“I almost fell to the ground,’’ Walker said. “They scared the daylights out of me.”

The losing pitcher by the way? Curt Schilling, five seasons before he came to the Sox.

 

RED SOX PITCHER THROWS PITCH AT FENWAY, 1986

Roger Clemens went nine up, nine down in outshining Doc Gooden in 1986 game played in front of his home crowd in Houston. (Photo by Peter Travers /Boston Red Sox)

1986, Houston Astrodome

The game’s best two young pitchers, 23-year-old Roger Clemens of the Red Sox and 21-year-old Dwight Gooden of the Mets, squared off in what became a preview of the World Series. This was a homecoming for Clemens, and he set down all nine batters he faced, emerging with a win and the MVP award, just as Martinez would 13 years later.

Clemens, who was pitching on two days’ rest, threw 25 pitches, 21 for strikes. At one point, he threw 14 straight strikes, and set down 4 NL MVP winners:

“It’s been like a fantasy camp this year,’’ he said. “The Red Sox are playing well and I’ve pitched pretty well this season. Coming home and pitching like this in the All-Star game, with my family [here], is like a dream come true.’’

 

1970, Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium

Carl Yastrzemski had three singles and a double while playing all 12 innings, none at his best position, left field. Yaz played six innings in center field, six at first base. The game, attended by President Nixon, is best remembered for Pete Rose crashing into catcher Ray Fosse to score the winning run in the 12th.

Dick Radatz at Spring Training in 1964

The Monster, Dick Radatz, gave up a walkoff home to Johnny Callison in the ’64 game **Note: Brearley Collection, donated by Boujoukos family (Photo by Dennis Brearley/Boston Red Sox)

1964, New York’s Shea Stadium

Johnny Callison of the Phillies hit a three-run walkoff home run off “The Monster,” Boston’s hulking reliever, Dick Radatz.

I wrote this while at the Globe in 1999:

Dick Radatz was so close to being named Most Valuable Player of the 1964 All-Star Game that he was already imagining what it would be like to slip behind the wheel of the Corvette that the game’s MVP received.

“But then that son of a gun backed it right out of my garage,” said the former Red Sox fireballer.

“That son of a gun” was Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Johnny Callison, who took Radatz deep for a three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth to give the National League a stunning 7-4 win over the American Leaguers, who did not take kindly to losing.

“My locker was in between {Mickey} Mantle and {Rocky} Colavito, and there must have been 30 reporters around me after the game,” Radatz said.

“One of the reporters asked, `What did he hit, Dick?’ Mantle turned around and said, `One of the damnedest home runs you’ve ever seen.’ And he wasn’t laughing, either.”

Radatz was an All-Star in both 1963 and ’64, when he reigned as the AL’s best closer.

“Yeah, I struck out 10 guys in 4 2/3 innings in those games, and all I have to show for it is an 0-1 record and a 7-plus ERA,” Radatz said.

 

1950, Chicago’s Comiskey Park

Ted Williams had often said that he had no intention of running into walls in pursuit of a catch. “What’s the sense of it?” Ted had told Time magazine that spring. “You hit the wall and maybe you don’t get hurt, but you’re out of position to play the ball and the guy takes the extra base.… If you get hurt bad, you’re out for a long time and how the hell does that help your ball club?”

Williams paid a steep price for not heeding his own advice in the first inning of the All-Star Game, when he made a fine running catch of a Ralph Kiner line drive, then crashed into the left-field wall, using his left elbow to brace for the collision. He remained in the game and played eight innings, but was in agony on the four-hour flight back to Boston.

“Ted was holding his hand in his shirt, and he said, ‘This [expletive] thing, I think it’s broken,’’’ Walt Dropo, another Sox All-Star recalled.

His instincts proved correct. Two days after the game, doctors removed seven bone chips from the elbow. Williams did not return to the starting lineup until Sept. 15, when he had four hits, including a home run, in a 12-9 win over the Browns that drew the Sox to 1 ½ games of first place. But over his next dozen games, Williams, the elbow still hurting, batted .159 (7 for 44). The Sox finished four games out of first, and that season would be the last in which Williams was in a pennant race.

 

1946, Fenway Park

There had been no All-Star Game in 1945, because of wartime restrictions on travel, so this gathering in Fenway Park took on the aspect of a grand reunion, with many of the stars having been away at war. Eight Sox players were on the team, which is still a club record.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more festive occasion,” remembered Phillies All-Star Frank McCormick, quoted in the book, The Victory Season, by Robert Weintraub. “Guys who hadn’t seen one another in years were crossing back and forth before the game to shake hands and visit. It was great.”

And here was a fan, Virginia Hanley, recalling the atmosphere in the Melrose (MA) Mirror in 1999: “Everyone was in a relaxed, happy mood. We had won the war and most of our favorite players had come home safely. The men in the stands had fought in the same battles as the athletes and shared memories that they never spoke of to us ‘civilians.’ There was a strong feeling of togetherness in the crowd, both on and off the field.’’

Rip Sewell was a journeyman pitcher who shot himself in the foot prior to going hunting, and in the aftermath of that accident developed a lobbed pitch that became known as an “eephus” pitch. The nickname came from a teammate. Maurice Van Robays, who said that “an eephus ain’t nuthin’ and neither is that pitch.”

The American League was leading, 9-0, when Ted Williams, who already had homered and singled twice, came to the plate to face Sewell, who made no secret he intended to throw his eephus, which supposedly was homer-proof. Williams fouled off the first one, then took a fastball for strike two. Sewell’s third pitch, an eephus, was off the plate.

His next delivery, Sewell would say later, was his “Sunday Super Duper Blooper.’’

“It was amazing how high Sewell threw it up in the air,” Bobby Doerr recalled much later. “It came straight down on you.”

Williams hit it into the bullpen.

“I guess if anyone would hit it out, it would be Ted,”  Doerr said.

1941, Detroit’s Briggs Stadium

The National League held a 5-4 lead with two on and two out in the ninth, with Ted Williams coming to the plate to face Cubs’ ace Claude Passeau. The pitcher describes the moment in “Red Sox Nation:”

“We had an out and a man on first base, and the ball was hit by Joe DiMaggio to the shortstop. He threw over to Billy Herman playing second base, and Herman has been quoted that he kind of showboated and threw to first base and missed it by a foot. DiMaggio was safe at first on the play, and he should have been out, and I would have been out of the inning.

“So Williams got a chance to hit with two on, and that was the second time I ever pitched to him—nobody ever talks about that I struck him out the first time. And I got the ball where I wanted to, inside; that’s where I had to pitch all left-handed hitters. He hit the ball inside the trademark, a fly ball, but it hit the façade in right.’’

That three-run walkoff home run by Williams produced one of the enduring displays of unbridled joy by Williams, who cavorted around the bases like the 22-year-old he was.

This is how Joe Cronin remembered the moment, as recounted by Leigh Montville in Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero.

“I was sitting in the dugout when he hit the home run, and I jumped up and ran as fast as I could to home plate to meet him. As soon as Ted hit the ball, he stood in the batter’s box, watching the flight of the ball. While he was watching it, his arms shot straight over his head like a football referee signaling a touchdown, and as soon as the ball hit the top of the façade, he started clapping his hands and jumping up and down. He did this all around the bases.’’

70 years later, red seat HR still awes

Kansas City Royals vs Boston Red Sox

This is the view, 502 feet from home plate.  (Photo by Steve Babineau/Boston Red Sox)

Seventy years to the month later, the reaction is the same: Awe. Skepticism. Disbelief.

“Ted Williams hit one that far? No way!’’

There is no disputing the prescience of Gene Mack, the cartoonist for the Boston Daily Globe, whose sketch on June 10, 1946, of a ball landing deep in the right-field bleachers of Fenway Park was accompanied by this caption:

“Ted hit one of those homers they’ll be pointing out the spot on for years to come.’’

It is now known as the “red seat” home run, the painted marker by which the Red Sox elected to commemorate what is regarded as the longest home run ever struck in Red Sox history. It stands out in a sea of green: Sec. 42, Row 37, Seat 21, designating the spot where Joseph A. Boucher, a construction engineer from Albany, N.Y, who had come to Boston to work during the war, was sitting when Ted Williams hit a ball that popped a hole in the crown of the straw hat Boucher was wearing.

Boucher’s picture appears on the front page of the Globe the next day, his finger poking through the hole in his hat. “How far away must one sit to be safe in this park?’’ Boucher is quoted as saying by the Globe’s Harold Kaese.

Boucher said he didn’t bother to retrieve the ball. “They say it bounced a dozen rows higher,’’ he said, “but after it hit my head I was no longer interested.’’

The Red Sox have recorded the home run’s distance as 502 feet.

“He hit one that way off Charlie Ruffing,’’ one reporter wrote that day, “but this one went well into the ozone, which got the wind behind it, and brethren, did it keep going!”

It may have even traveled farther, according to Greg Rybarczyk, the former Navy nuclear engineer who now works for the Sox as a baseball operations analyst and created the hittracker.com website that has tracked home run distances for the better part of a decade.

Rybarczyk was inspired to create a way to measure home runs in 2006, when he read that Manny Ramirez had hit a ball into a Fenway light tower that had players clamoring for a distance, only to be told that the Sox had quit offering estimates.

“I’m watching this thing on video from 2000 miles away in Oregon and saying to myself, ‘Wait a minute–how can we not figure this out?’’ Rybarczyk said. “So I decided to do it. I’ve got a background in physics and aerodynamics and stuff like that, so I was able to put this model together to figure out how far it went.

“Turns out that home run, even though it was very eye-catching and rather awe-inspiring because of how high it went, it really didn’t go as far as it could have. To hit it almost over the light tower, you have to hit it too high to go the max distance.

“If you play golf, you know you don’t want to hit your drive up into the sky like that. You want to keep it low. Manny actually lost a little bit of distance. I think it would have gone 450 feet, which is nothing to sneeze at but could have gone farther if it had been a little lower.’’

A passion was kindled. Rybarczyk designed diagrams of all 30 ballparks and decided he would spend the next season tracking every home run—“essentially, a census of home runs.’’ He spent nine months working three or four hours a day designing his models, which were completed by Opening Day. And he’s been measuring home runs ever since.

Still, Williams’s home run does not pass the smell test for David Ortiz, who even in batting practice has not come close to hitting a ball into the red seat’s neighborhood and has often remarked that no one could have hit a ball that far.

But it appears Williams did, according to the calculations of Rybarczyk, who cited a “perfect day to combine with a perfect pitch and perfect swing.’’

Reports the day after said Williams hit a “fast one” from Tigers right-handed pitcher Fred Hutchinson. Fifty years later, Williams told Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy a different story.

“Hell, I can tell you everything about that one,’’ Williams said. “He threw me a changeup, and I saw it coming. I picked it up fast and I just whaled into it.’’

Boucher did not literally occupy the “red seat” that Sunday afternoon. The Sox still had bleachers then. Chairback seats were not introduced until 1977. Seven years later, Sox owner Haywood Sullivan installed the red seat in the spot where Boucher was sitting, and the distance was officially set at 502 feet.

“He hit one that way off Charlie Ruffing,’’ wrote one eyewitness, alluding to a home run Williams had once hit off future Yankees Hall of Famer Red Ruffing, “but this one went well into the ozone, which got the wind behind it, and brethren, did it keep going.’’

POLARTEC BIG AIR AT FENWAY PARK

A splash of red in a sea of green–and some snow on the steps (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox)

Deadly storms had swept through eastern New England the day before, claiming at least two victims and toppling church steeples, knocking down trees on automobiles, and pulling boats away from the docks where they had been moored. The proprietor of the Wakefield boathouse, John Ward, was blown out of the second-floor window he was trying to close.

“At least four separate storms roared across the section at 15-minute intervals for more than four hours, according to the weather bureau, and winds up to 75 miles an hour were reported in many areas,’’ the Globe reported.

In its wake, the storm left the most damage seen by the region since the 1944 hurricane.

Sunday dawned sunny, warm and humid for that day’s doubleheader between the Sox and Detroit Tigers, but there was still a considerable breeze.

“A rare and brisk northwest breeze made Yawkey Yard a home run heaven for southpaw clouters and a couple of right-handers yesterday,’’ one game account read.

Rybarczyk said researchers determined that it was a 76-degree day, with a 21-mile-an-hour gusting breeze. With Williams hitting the ball at an unusually steep angle, estimated at around 30 degrees, and with an exit velocity approaching 115 miles an hour, the drive took advantage of the strong wind currents and carried it aloft far beyond where it would have landed without the wind.

“This Ted Williams home run is actually pretty nice because we feel like we have a pretty precise spot of where that thing landed,” Rybarczyk said. “We know the row, we know the seat, and the bleachers haven’t really changed a whole lot since then.”

With such winds now impeded by a reconfigured press box and EMC Club behind home plate, Ortiz does not enjoy the advantage Williams had that day.

As for Boucher?

“He went to the first-aid room trailed by a doctor and two pretty nurses,’’ the Globe account said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A word about Bogie

 

 

Seattle Mariners v Boston Red Sox

Xander Bogaerts, 23-year-old hitting machine (Photo by Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) 

 

In a season dominated by Big Papi’s farewell tour and All-Star caliber performances by a number of other Red Sox players, Xander Bogaerts is nearly midway through a season that could ultimately rank among the best in Sox history. Wanted to share a few nuggets that illuminate how special he has been.

 

–In his last 162 games, dating back to June 17, 2015, these are Bogie’s numbers: .340 batting average. .381 on-base pct. .465 slugging pct. He has 232 hits, 101 RBIs, 113 runs scored, 46 doubles, 13 home runs and 16 stolen bases. He has the highest batting average and most hits in the majors in that span.

 

–Bogie, as Red Sox crack publicist Justin Long has noted, had 100 hits in the team’s first 68 games. Ichiro Suzuki (103 hits) in 2007 and Matt Holliday (100 in 2007) also cracked the 100-hit mark in 68 games. The only player to do so in fewer games was Hall of Famer Tris Speaker, the Red Sox center-fielder who had 100 hits in the team’s first 64 games in 1912.

tris_speaker

Tris Speaker (Illustration courtesy of Gary Cieradkowski, author of “The League of Outside Baseball”)

 

–Bogie is on pace for 234 hits. Only one player by age 23 had more: Hall of Famer Al Simmons had 253 for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1925. Lloyd (Little Poison) Waner is second with 234.

 

–Seven players have had 220 or more hits through their age 23 season. Five of them are Hall of Famers. The others are Shoeless Joe Jackson, a Hall of Fame caliber player, and former NL batting champion Tommy Davis.

 

–Only 13 Sox players have had 200 or more hits in a season, 3 since 2000. Adrian Gonzalez led the AL with 213 hits in 2011, one more than Jacoby Ellsbury (212). Dustin Pedroia led the league with 213 hits in 2008, his MVP season. Wade Boggs did it seven times, his high-water mark coming in 1985, when he had 240 hits. Speaker is second on the all-time list with 222, in 1912.

 

–The last Sox player to lead the league in hits before Pedroia was Nomar Garciaparra, who had 209 hits in 1997. Nomar, like Bogie, was 23. Unlike Bogie, Nomar was a rookie.

Nomar hitting

Nomar Garciaparra led AL in hits in 1997, when he was 23 (Courtesy Boston Red Sox)

 

–Michael Young set the record for hits by a shortstop with 221 for Texas in 2005. That was two more than the 219 hits than Derek Jeter had with the Yankees in 1999.  Jeter was 25 in 1999, one of eight seasons in which he had 200 hits or more.

 

–Only two Sox shortstops had 200 or more hits in a season: Garciaparra, and Johnny Pesky, who did it three times: 1942, ’46, and ’47.

 

–As I noted, we’re not yet at the halfway point in 2016. But if Bogie stays healthy, and can avoid a prolonged slump, he could etch his name all over the record books.

A ballplayer’s response to Orlando

St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Mitch Harris, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who delayed his professional baseball career five years while serving his commitment to the Navy, on Monday tweeted this response to the mass shootings in Orlando on Sunday. 

Here’s the link to Mitch’s tweet. If you share his sentiments, I would ask you share this as far and wide as you can.  https://t.co/zRu9IKNVAe

 

It’s hard for me to be silent during this time in our lives. I believe the tensions we are seeing between religions, races, sexualities and other groups are at some of the highest in history. It hurts me to know that there’s so much hate and discord amongst so many people. Even during the recent shootings, I’m seeing discussions of “attack on U.S. vs. LGBT,” “Islam vs. Christianity,” “gun control” and many others. Pls understand the root of these issues is the hate of others simply because of ones belief in something. I fought for my country bc I love all [that] we have, the right to be who we are, stand for what we believe, and do so amongst each other! This is not the case around the world! We need to start here in the U.S. by showing understanding, compassion, and love to others no matter their stance.

I don’t care what race you are, what religion you believe, what sexuality you associate with…even though I may disagree with an idea or belief of yours, I still care for you and love you as I would any other human. The God I believe in showed us this example and I just want to hopefully show this more. 1Cor 13

 

Don’t let the recent events scare you or discourage you, this is playing right in to what is wanted. Stand tall…have a voice for victims…continue to have your stance in your belief…but above all else, LOVE one another!

 

“It takes courage to face the mountain and strength to climb but when you reach the summit and see the valley you realize who’ve you become.’’

 

Love,

Mitch

Mitch Harris

Streakers

Oakland Athletics v Boston Red Sox

Jackie Bradley Jr. is one of 12 Red Sox players to have hit in 24 or more consecutive games (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

When the Red Sox resume play here Friday night against the Cleveland Indians, Jackie Bradley Jr. will be taking a 24-game hitting streak into the game, the longest such streak in the majors in 2016 and the longest by a Sox player since Dustin Pedroia hit in 25 straight in 2011. (David Ortiz had a 27-game hitting streak, but that carried over from the 2012 season to 2013).

There have been 16 single-season hitting streaks of 24 games or more by Sox players. Dom DiMaggio holds the club record with 34 games, and Nomar Garciaparra and Tris Speaker are the only other Sox players to have hit in 30 or more, Garciaparra as a rookie in 1997, Speaker as a future Hall of Famer in 1912.

DiMaggio, Garciaparra and Boggs all had multiple streaks of 24 or more games, with Garciaparra having three (24 in 1998, 26 in 2003), so Bradley becomes the 12th player to accomplish the feat.

DiMaggio’s club-record streak attracted relatively little fanfare in 1949, perhaps because only eight years earlier, his brother Joe set the major-league record by hitting in an astonishing 56 straight, shattering Wee Willie Keeler’s record of 44 set in 1897. Keeler, by the way, stood only 5’4, but that didn’t keep him from using a bat that was only 30 inches long but weighed as much as 46 ounces, according to the Hall of Fame.

During the course of the Little Professor’s streak, however, the Boston Globe noted the impact his diet was having on his performance in an interview with his wife, Emily, described by the Globe reporter (a woman) as “beautiful, but intelligent.’’ As if those attributes are mutually exclusive.

“He really likes what’s good for him,’’ Emily DiMaggio was quoted as saying. “Custard, bread pudding, rice pudding—even liver and onions.’’
Also on the menu for Dom was a bigger breakfast than he’d previously had, one that included cereal, fruit, juice, scrambled eggs, and “sometimes chicken liver.” For dinner, chicken or lamb were featured, “never beefsteak.’’

On the eve of an August series between the Red Sox and Yankees, Joe DiMaggio talked to Cliff Keane of the Boston Globe about Dom’s streak.

“It’ll get tough for him to keep that streak going,’’ Joe D. said. “I hope he breaks the record, really I do. But I don’t think that I’m going to let any balls fall in front of me for him.

“You know, I talked to him on the phone before I came here tonight, and we never even mentioned it. Guess it just passed my mind.’’

Before a packed house of 35,091, the Sox won the first game of that series, 6-3, but Dominic went 0 for 5 against Yankees right-hander Vic Raschi, ending his streak. In his final at-bat, in the bottom of the eighth, DiMaggio lined out to center field—where brother Joe was waiting.

Years later, in an interview with author Alan Schwarz, DiMaggio talked about his streak. A portion of that interview:

“A lot of people make a big deal about my 34-game hitting streak in the summer of 1949, and how it was snapped on a great play in center field by my brother, Joe. I’d like to set the record straight.

“First of all, when I hit in 34 games in a row, I was only doing my job. I played every game pretty much as I played any other game. I got my fair share of walks during the streak — I don’t think I chased bad pitches. I was a line-drive hitter. My job was to get on base and let the sluggers like Ted Williams drive me home. I wasn’t even aware of my streak until it was at 22 or 23 games, and I didn’t make a big deal of it.

“On the day it ended, Aug. 9, we were playing the Yankees at Fenway Park. Our rivalry with the Yankees was great — every bit as emotional as it is now. The atmosphere was very thick whether we played at Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium. That afternoon we were in third place, six games behind the first-place Yankees, but playing great. We were just entering the pennant race. These were big games.

Dom DiMaggio batting

Dom DiMaggio in 1949 hit in 34 straight games, a Red Sox record  (Photo purchased from Brearley Collection, 2013)

“But when you feel pressure, you do not perform. The first thing you’ve got to do is be completely relaxed. And that’s the way I was. On that day against the Yankees, I felt good. I hit one solid shot to the third baseman (actually, shortstop) that was turned into an out. I got out another couple of times. I was 0-for-4 when I got to the plate in the eighth inning against Vic Raschi, who was a darn good pitcher.

“I smacked a line drive right up the middle so hard that it passed Raschi’s ear! He ducked to get out of the way of it! As soon as I hit it, I said, “O.K., that’s 35.” But that ball wouldn’t drop. The ball refused to drop. Joe is standing out there in center field, and he didn’t have to move. He said it himself later — if he hadn’t caught the ball, it would have hit him right between the eyes. So there was no effort on his part. It wasn’t a great play by him, like they’re still saying today. I just hit the ball too damn hard!’’

Garciaparra’s streak in 1997 received considerably more attention, especially as he drew closer to the rookie record of 34 straight set by Padres catcher Benito Santiago in 1987. The Sox were a mediocre club in 1997, but Nomar was a sensation. He broke Fred Lynn’s record for a rookie (20 games in 1975) and the AL rookie record (26), set by Guy Curtright of the White Sox in 1943.

There was no bigger Nomar fan than Sox great Johnny Pesky.

“The best-looking shortstop we’ve ever had around here,” Pesky said. “{Joe} Cronin couldn’t field or throw with this guy. The closest is probably {Luis} Aparicio, but this kid’s a better hitter. He can run. He has good baseball instincts. I’m telling you, if he’d come along in my era, I’d be sitting on the pine.

“You could almost classify him as the perfect player.”

But on Aug. 30 in Fenway Park, against the Atlanta Braves in what was the first season of interleague play, Garciaparra’s came to an end. He flied out, popped out and hit a sacrifice fly off Braves’ rookie Kevin Millwood in his first three plate appearances, then came to bat for a final time in the eighth inning against another Atlanta rookie, Mike Cather, as a Fenway crowd of 32,085 implored him to keep the streak going.

“I knew there was no way I could walk him,’’ Cather said afterward, “and get out of this town alive.’’

The first pitch was a ball outside. At the next offering, which ran inside, Garciaparra swung.

“It was like the whole park kind of stopped,” said Red Sox first base coach Dave Jauss. “Nobody from the dugout wanted to leave. The crowd really makes it happen here. The crowd did it from his first at-bat.

“He had a good swing, and when he swings like that, it’s usually a hit. Off the bat, it looked like a hit.”

Instead, as with Dominic DiMaggio’s last at-bat in the Yankees game, it was a line drive right at an outfielder, in this case Braves left-fielder Danny Bautista.

“I had some good swings,” Garciaparra said, “but some days they just don’t fall.”

So far, they’ve kept falling for Bradley, who has 37 hits in 91 at-bats during his streak, including 7 doubles, 3 triples, and 7 home runs.

Here is how JBJ’s slash line compares:

Tris Speaker, 1912: (unavailable)

Dominic DiMaggio, 34 games, 1949: .352/.430/.503/.934

Nomar Garciaparra, 30 games, 1997: .383/.407/.652/1.059

Dustin Pedroia, 25 games, 2011: .404/.459/.752/1.211

JACKIE BRADLEY JR., 2016: .407/.460/.780/1.240

The chase of history resumes Friday night.

When ‘Pride’ steps to the plate

TOWN HALL

Former outfielder Billy Bean, now baseball’s ambassador for diversity, speaks to Red Sox front office employees at Fenway Park “town hall.” (Photo by Billie Weiss, Boston Red Sox)

 

“You haven’t lived,’’ the man said, “until you’ve walked into a room full of people you haven’t met and seen your worst mistakes and choices put on a video screen.’’

His name is William Daro Bean. In Baseball-reference.com, he is listed as Bill Bean, perhaps to distinguish him from Billy Beane, who also played big-league baseball and is now the executive vice president of baseball operations for the Oakland Athletics. But when he played for the Tigers, Padres and Dodgers, in a six-year career of modest accomplishment, his teammates knew him as Billy.

What they didn’t know—teammates, managers, friends, even his own mother and stepfather—was the secret Billy Bean harbored, one that he had persuaded himself would shatter his world if it was ever revealed.

“I chose to keep my life secret,’’ he said. “I chose not to reach out to people that probably would have been supportive of me. I only looked at myself through the one thing I hated about myself. It was my inability to understand my sexual orientation.’’

But it was in the act of suppressing the truth, that he was gay, Bean lost almost everything that mattered to him, including the game he loved.

“I never thought I’d be a part of baseball again,’’ he said.

But now, in a Red Sox town hall meeting of Red Sox employees, an audience that included owner Tom Werner, club presidents Sam Kennedy and Dave Dombrowski, and Sox bench manager Torey Lovullo, a childhood friend, Bean was staking his place back in the game, in a role he could not have imagined when he was living in the shadows.

Billy Bean, who ultimately became only the second major league player ever to acknowledge publicly that he was gay, is MLB’s ambassador for diversity. Silent no more, Bean is an advocate for taking baseball to a place where others of differing sexual orientation will not fear, like he did, that they cannot be true to themselves.

“We all want to create an environment that’s inclusive,’’ Kennedy had said by means of introduction, “that embraces diversity, the differences among us. You cannot have a successful, productive championship organization if you don’t do that. I’ve been here 15 years and really proud to be part of an ownership group that embraces this concept and is commited to it.’’

Sox employees sat riveted as they watched Bean’s life unspool before them in a video. The highlight plays. The storybook wedding to a beautiful woman. The divorce that followed when Bean could not live that particular lie. The attachment to a new partner, his face blurred because his family to this day may not know of their relationship. The partner dying of AIDs, Bean unable to fully share his grief. A doctor telling him he might be next.

“He died of HIV in 1994,’’ Bean said. “In those days, people were dying still. I saw a doctor who told me that because we were a couple that I’d probably become HIV positive within a year and a half, with no understanding or factual nature.

“I tested negative every single month my last year. I didn’t tell the Padres. I literally would have rather died than tell my parents that fact, or a friend of mine.’’

Even after his baseball career ended, Bean preferred to remain in isolation. He moved to Miami, as far away from San Diego as he could. He finally brought himself to tell his mother and his tough-cop stepfather that he was gay, news they accepted with equanimity and love, but still he allowed few others within his inner circle.  It wasn’t until Tim Layana, his college roommate at Loyola Marymount, died in a car crash and Bean didn’t learn of his passing until days after the funeral because no one knew how to contact him, that he decided he could remain silent no more. He came out first to a reporter in the Miami Herald, and then in a story in the New York Times.

“It wasn’t until I stopped hiding and lying about myself that I was able to meet people in the LGBT community that helped me get a bigger picture of what life is all about and how I can make a contribution,’’ he said. “I was certain I didn’t want to do that, because I just felt the shame and all the stereotypes that were a part of my generation, in and around sports especially.’’

But then came a luncheon in Washington, D.C., in which he found himself seated beside Judy Shephard. Her son, Matthew, had been a student at the University of Wyoming brutally slain by two young men driven to do so, police said, because Mathew was gay. Mathew Shepard’s name is now attached to federal hate-crime legislation. Billy Bean recounted his conversation with Judy Shepard.

“Judy looked at me, this mother, a Republican from Wyoming who had never thought about LGBT rights, and said to me: ‘Billy, there are no other people to move this conversation forward. No male role models in sports. A couple of women who were brave enough in individual sports.’ She said, ‘Matthew would have thought you were a hero because you played in the major leagues.’

“The message here is not about me or one person. It is about baseball. People were interested in my life because I was lucky enough to play for a blink of an eye in the history of our great sport. I looked at her and just felt so full of shame, and trying to figure out, ‘What is the meaning of my life. Why am I afraid to pick up the phone and call my best friend? Why is that impossible?’ Why did I decide for them that I wasn’t good enough.’’

Billy Bean imagines a world in which no one in baseball—be it a front-office executive, a ticket seller, a ballplayer, a groundskeeper—will ever believe they are not good enough because of their sexual orientation. It is why he now speaks out, addressing baseball’s GMs in a meeting in Phoenix, addressing groups of minor leaguers, speaking at a Red Sox town hall. Two years ago, when they named him ambassador for diversity, MLB gave him a platform from which his voice can be heard.

It was almost with a sense of wonder that Bean noted the Sox have scheduled a Pride Night for June 3 at Fenway Park, which he called a “historic moment.’’

“For the Red Sox to initiate an evening, a Pride Night, that allows people who have been coming to this stadium for years and years and years,’’ Bean said. “Boston has this amazing, incredible LGBT community that does wonderful, philanthropic things for many people.

“Even if it’s just the message that everyone’s invited, that’s valuable.’’

Billy Bean embraced Torey Lovullo, his old friend who he had avoided for years until Lovullo’s grandfather, a man Bean also loved dearly, died, Billy and Torey reuniting at the funeral. He thanked Dombrowski for being the one who approached him after his speech to the GMs, the others taking their cue from Dombrowski. He thanked Kennedy for the chance to talk to the Sox employees.

“I’m very proud of baseball,’’ he said. “There is a lot of work in front of us, but the important part is we’re trying. It’s not a Powerpoint presentation. It’s about people, and people believing they can be their best selves, and have a great career in the sport they love.’’

 

 

 

 

 

A 20-K night, 30 years later

Roger_Clemens_20_K_Game_GIF_b9rkdgtt

Thirty years later, can he imagine how young he was?

“That was a lot of hanging sliders ago,’’ said Roger Clemens, who was 23 years old on that 56-degree night in Fenway Park on April 29, 1986, when he became the first pitcher in major-league history to strike out 20 batters. “That’s called 24 years of stress.’’

Clemens was calling from Texas, his cellphone “blowing up” with messages from friends, former teammates, former Sox pitching coach Bill Fischer, and Dr. James Andrews, the orthopedic surgeon who had repaired Clemens’s shoulder the previous summer. Andrews had texted mid-call.

“Man, that was great,’’ he texted. “Glad I can call you a friend and my signature patient.’’

“People are texting me, saying, ‘Do you remember what you were doing 30 years ago tonight?’’ Clemens said.

“I say, ‘Yeah, I was in full panic mode on Storrow Drive, stuck in traffic.’’

Unlike some pitchers, who arrive hours before their scheduled start, Clemens preferred a different routine. He was one of the first pitchers to keep a notebook on opposing hitters, so he’d already done his advance study long before coming to the park. On days he pitched, Clemens liked to arrive a little later at the clubhouse, grab his clothes, and head back to the trainers’ room.

Only this night, trouble. Traffic was at a standstill on Storrow Drive. Clemens believes there was a concert in the vicinity. The Celts were also hosting Atlanta in a playoff game at the Garden. Cars were inching forward a length or two every 10 minutes. Clemens said he was still a mile, mile and a half away from the ballpark. “I could see the Citgo sign,’’ he said, “but we weren’t moving.’’

Clemens, dressed in jeans, T-shirt and cowboy boots, got out of his car. He popped the trunk to fetch his running shoes. “I was going to jog to the park,’’ he said.

Then, serendipity. A motorcycle cop came by, saw the trunk was open, assumed the car had broken down. Then he spotted the driver.

“He said, ‘Aren’t you…?’’’ Clemens said. “With his help, we got to the ballpark. I rolled into the clubhouse around 6:55 (a little more than half an hour before first pitch). “Fish said he was ready to scratch me from the start.

“I ran down to the bullpen, and I don’t think I threw a strike. I had a temple headache, too. I had about a minute and a half of peace and quiet during the anthem. Until then I was just flying around.’’

Originally, Clemens had been scheduled to pitch two nights earlier, in Kansas City, but the game was rained out. The day before was an off-day, and Clemens had driven out to Pittsfield to play golf with a group of friends that included Mike Capel, who had pitched with Clemens at the University of Texas and was currently playing for the Double-A Pittsfield Cubs. Capel mentioned to Clemens that when he faced the Seattle Mariners the next night, he’d be facing another ex-teammate, Spike Owen.

“They were talking real big, saying, ‘You’re facing Spike tomorrow,’’’ Clemens said. “They’re saying, ‘Brush him back, so we’ll all have something to laugh at.’’’

The next night, Seattle’s first batter of the night was Spike Owen.

“I heard [PA announcer] Sherm Feller announce his name and I said, ‘Oh my God, the boys will be watching, they want me to dust him.’’’

The first pitch was a called strike on the inside corner. The next pitch, a fastball high and tight, spun Owen around. “He lifted his arms up and stared at me,’’ Clemens said. The third pitch, a head-high fastball, knocked Owen off his feet. Owen was incredulous. History did not record the reaction of Capel and his friends; hilarity is a safe guess.

Owen went down swinging on his first at-bat, Clemens’s first strikeout victim of the night. On his second at-bat, in the fourth, he singled, Seattle’s first hit and one of only three they had all night.

“I threw him a curveball at his ankles that he put a pitching wedge on,’’ Clemens said. “After the inning he ran by me and said, ‘You’re throwing 96 miles an hour and you throw me a hook? That’s your fault.’’’
The previous summer, his second season in the big leagues, Clemen found himself breezing through the first few innings of a game painfree, only to experience searing pain midgame. It turns out he had a shoulder impingement, a piece of cartilage lodged in the shoulder joint. With the Sox medical staff uncertain of how to proceed, Clemens went to Columbus, Georgia, to see an orthopedist who was slowly becoming known for his expertise in pitching injuries: James Andrews.

“He wrenched my arm and said, ‘I can fix you tomorrow,’’’ Clemens said. “I said, ‘Let’s do it.’ I went in the next day. I was the first patient he did cuff work on.’’

That was in August. By November, Clemens began his throwing program. Andrews offered a note of caution, telling Clemens there would be days that he’d be playing catch he’d feel as if he could cut loose, but other days when the shoulder was sore and Clemens would wonder if he had been fixed at all.

But Clemens felt increasingly confident as spring training progressed, and by the time he made his fourth start of the season against the Mariners, he felt strong.

 

K cards

The K card kids showed up late, but were there when it counted. (Courtesy NESN)

And it showed. He went to a three-ball count on the first three Seattle batters of the game, then struck them all out. Six whiffs through three innings. Eight whiffs through four, one coming after Don Baylor, playing first because Bill Buckner had a sore elbow, dropped a foul pop by Gorman Thomas. “Donnie says now he did it on purpose,’’ Clemens said.

A dozen K’s through five. Fourteen through six, as Clemens reeled off eight strikeouts in a row, an American League record. Clemens said he could see his wife, Debbie, clad in a pink jacket, leaping out of her seat after every strikeouts.

He also took note of a late arrival: The K Kids, whose ringleader lived in Newton, had showed up in midgame and were now hanging their K’s on the center-field wall.

Still, even with all the K’s, Clemens found himself trailing, 1-0, when Thomas homered in the seventh over the head of the center fielder, Steve Lyons, now the NESN broadcaster. But Dwight Evans saved the night for Clemens with a three-run home run in the bottom of the seventh, Lyons’s two-out single touching off the winning rally.

With his 18th strikeout of the night, Dave Henderson, who with Owen would later that season become Clemens’s teammates in Boston, Clemens broke Bill Monbouquette’s club record. When he struck out Phil Bradley in the ninth for the fourth time, the major-league record belonged to the Rocket. Twelve Mariners had gone down swinging. No Mariner walked.

“It was unbelievable,’’ Clemens said. “That game was a stepping stone for my career. I think it was also big because I showed my teammates I was healthy.’’

Clemens signed 50 copies of a famous photo taken by an amateur photographer from New Hampshire, Joe Hickey, and gave a copy to the players on both teams. Dan Lyons, who was working in the Sox ticket office at the time, had printed up thousands of tickets that went unused that night; Clemens wound up signing many of those, too.

Catcher Rich Gedman gave Clemens his glove. Evans gave him his bat. They remain among Clemens’s most cherished keepsakes.

Clemens turns 54 on Aug. 4. He is doing some work for the Houston Astros as a special assistant to general manager Jeff Luhnow. He also spends a good deal of time watching his sons Kody and Kacy, both infielders on the University of Texas team. He takes the three-pound weights he uses to maintain his rotator cuff everywhere. In a couple of weeks, he is scheduled to be in Fenway Park to throw batting practice for a Jimmy Fund event.

Here’s some advice for those planning to pick up a bat against the Rocket. The other day in Austin, he threw on the side.

“Skip Johnson (UT’s associate head coach) said he had to put a gun on me,’’ Clemens said. “I was touching 90.’’

 

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