Orioles 7, Red Sox 2. Doesn’t sound like much of a game, does it?
Well it was a fascinating contest on a number of levels. For one thing it was opening day, 2004. Opening night, actually. This was the one year during the O’s “dark ages” when they really tried with a flourish of high profile off-season free agent signings. All Star shortstop Miguel Tejada, at the peak of his game, was signed as was catcher Javy Lopez, coming off his career year in Atlanta. No more Devi Cruz; no more Brook Fordyce. The Birds also tried to make up for their failure to keep Rafael Palmeiro after the 1998 season by signing the admittedly aging slugger. In addition pitcher Sidney Ponson, who had been the closest thing the O’S had to a staff ace during the early 2000’s, returned to the Birds’ fold after a brief rental in San Francisco.
As exciting as all these moves were, the most significant moves were that the Birds quietly awarded the second base job to Brian Roberts (who had been competing with Jerry Hairston for a number of years) and the third base job to Melvin Mora. Mora has been a jack of all trades, utility player for the past few years and becoming an everyday third baseman helped him to grow both offensively and defensively.
As much as these moves by the Birds excited me, I was on “the other side” as the Red Sox were the Birds opponent. It was also an incredibly cold night. I remember remarking to the lady who always sold us hot dogs outside the park that “We must be crazy to be here.”
This was the night when Orioles fans were about as nasty as I’ve ever witnessed. Birds’ fans are usually rather genteel; nothing like the scorched earth intensity found in the Boston-New York-Philly corridor. It may have been because Pedro Martinez was the starting pitcher for Boston. It was his first appearance since that playoff game the previous fall against the Yankees when many believed he had selfishly insisted he remain the in game. For whatever reasons, the Birds fans let Pedro have it, but good.
This was also Terry Francona’s first game managing the Red Sox. Little did anyone realize that this would be the year when Terry would lead the Bosox to a World Championship, erasing the curse of the Bambino.
I also remember David Ortiz, who was just emerging as “Big Papi,” being removed for a pinch hitter. Ellis Burks had come up with the Red Sox in the late 1980s, so full of promise. For a number of years he was a valuable member of the Sox outfield, although he never gave Boston that breakout season they expected. Eventually he left via free agency and went on to have a solid care with the White Sox, Rockies, Giants, and Indians. Now hobbled with injuries, he had signed on with the Sox as a pinch hitter. There was nothing left. By mid-season he was gone, but I enjoyed getting to see him one last time.
One other little tidbit. In the bottom of the 8th inning, the O’s inserted a rookie in as a pinch runner. It was his major league debut. No one was especially excited. The Birds played him in a few games that spring but it’s fair to say they weren’t impressed. He had three hits and zero homeruns. In early June, he was sold to Tampa Bay. In late June Tampa sold him to Kansas City. In late July, Kansas City traded him to the Mets who turned around and traded him to Pittsburgh. At the end of the season, he had amassed a total of ten hits and (still) zero homeruns. Not exactly an auspicious beginning. Who was to know that by the end of the decade Jose Bautista would become one of the premier mashers in baseball and is still going strong as we prepare to start the 2017 season?
Like I said. A fascinating game in so many ways.