How are you holding up?
It’s been tough, I know. It’s now a little more than 100 days since last we rolled out the duck boats are we’re all getting a little antsy. The Celtics expired in a conflagration, and so we turn our lonely eyes to our lads sporting the Spoked-B. Let us hope these past few weeks have not been some sort of colossal tease. The Bruins have led us down this road before (see 2010 and 2013).
But we do have this other team in town, and my wife and I happened to be at Fenway last Tuesday night for what turned out to be a rather fascinating evening of major league baseball. It was 42 degrees at game time and on the way in I promised her I was willing to violate my normal firm principle of never leaving a game before the last out, regardless of atmospheric conditions. (I think I’ve done it once in the last 40-odd years.) But it promised to be a challenging night at the ballpark, and the Bruins were playing in Carolina. So I told her we wouldn’t do anything stupid. If the game circumstance was right, I would be willing to relocate to a local establishment to watch the Bruins.
The fact is, I was quite interested in seeing the great Nolan Arenado in person for the first time. He’s the best player in the National League. He’s led the league in homers and RBIs twice, and in homers a third time. He’s led the league in total bases twice. He’s had four straight years of an OPS over .900. Oh, and he’s won six consecutive Gold Gloves at third base. It was about time I would see him play in person.
Chris Sale starts the first by striking out the side. Experienced hand that I am, I tell my wife I’m already uneasy. That’s not always a good thing. And then Sale strikes out batters 4, 5, and 6 in the second. Oh, boy. I’ve kept score at every game, at every level, that I’ve attended since Opening Day in 1977, and I’m fairly certain I’ve never seen anyone K the first six men. He also K’s 8 and 9. Oh, my goodness. He has fanned eight of the first nine men. He gets through four innings with 12 up and 12 down, and have I mentioned I’m still waiting to see my first no-hit, no-run game in person? (I have covered a sloppy no-hit, seven-walk, one-run job by Joe Cowley.)
By this time, the Red Sox are up, 3-0, courtesy of solo homers by Michael Chavis, J.D. Martinez, and Rafael Devers. The Chavis homer is a 451-foot bomb that might have landed on the Mass. Pike. It was way over the left field foul pole (Hello, Carlton) and it has had to survive a fair-foul challenge.
The weather? Let’s call it uncomfortable but not intolerable. I had wisely brought a scarf (on May 14!). Anyway, Sale was en route to something special, no?
Mr. S is relentless. He follows up fanning the first six men by getting batters No. 15, 16, 17, 18, and 19 in succession. Who does that? Well, someone on his way to breaking the nine-inning record of 20 K’s, that’s who. By the end of the sixth he’s got 14 strikeouts, nicely balanced (seven swinging, seven gazing). I’m thinking plate umpire Dan Bellino is getting a little tired waving that right arm.
This is 2019 and this is a notoriously fragile flower on the mound, so of course I’m watching the pitch count. It’s 63 after four, 77 after five, and 90 after six, and he’s working on a one-hitter. There is no way he’s finishing this game. Well, at least he’ll get the W. But Trevor Story singles to center and that man Arenado hits one over The Wall and suddenly it’s 3-2. Sale’s response? He K’s the next three men, What else? Now he’s got a career-high 17 and I’m contacting our man Peter Abraham to ask what the record is for most K’s in a no-decision or a loss. The completely unsurprising answer is 19 by Nolan Ryan in an 11-inning performance in 1974. Chris Sale will not be given that opportunity. He is pulled after seven innings and 108 pitches.
We are talking about baseball here, friends, and I believe with all my heart that there is more conversational fodder in this sport than all the others put together. The eighth inning comes and here is Brandon Workman, enjoying a preposterous run in which he has not given up a hit to the last 41 men, and none at all to a lefthander. With one out Chris Iannetta doubles high off The Wall, and with two away the estimable Charlie Blackmon, yes, a lefthanded hitter, hits one to the center field bleachers and Chris Sale is now officially a no-decision 17-K man.
Let’s take a timeout. Almost forgot to mention that in the fifth inning Colorado right fielder Blackmon ties a record held by many, as we jokingly say in the press box, by making all three put outs. But wait. The Sox’ sixth goes as follows: fly to center, fly to center, walk, fly to center. David Dahl ties that record again. Hold the phone. Here is the Sox’ seventh: fly to center, fly to center, fly to center. Yup, six consecutive out via “8s” in my scorebook. This is why I keep score. You never know.
Mitch Moreland hits a pinch single to tie it in the eighth, and on comes Matt Barnes. He adds five more K’s to the total, and now the Rockies have fanned 24 times.
The Red Sox are unable to score despite getting the leadoff man on in the ninth and 10th. Ryan Brasier enters in the 11th, and he likewise walks the leadoff man, always a fate-tempter.
I’m feeling good when Xander Bogaerts makes a sensational play on a Story smash into the hole and Chavis makes a nice pickup on a low throw for a force at second. Brasier is an out away from extrication. But he falls behind Arenado, 3 and 0. I’m saying, hey, put him on and pitch to the infamous K machine Mark Reynolds. Brasier does lose him. He goes 0 and 2 to Reynolds and the guy pokes a single to left-center. The Sox get a two-out single by Christian Vazquez, but Andrew Benintendi caps a gruesome 0-for-6 evening featuring a golden sombrero with a routine fly to left.
One final note: The great Nolan Arenado, he of the six Gold Gloves, has two errors, one on a throw and one when he boots a routine grounder. Not many scorebooks will ever testify to that.
The Rockies win despite fanning 24 times, a total that includes K runs of 6, 5, and 5. Figure the 24 has got to be a record but, no, it only ties one set by the Red Sox way back when.
It goes 3:42 and we make it through. As Jimmy Cannon once pronounced in a press box, “Baseball, gentlemen, baseball.”
We never did get to see those Bruins, but they did just fine without us.
Bob Ryan’s column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.