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FENWAY PARK INSIDER

A happy ending, but Act Two to come ...

Taking the pulse of Red Sox Nation after the final home game

And so the curtain closes on Act One, Scene One, and it’s a happy ending. The Red Sox closed out the home season with: A) a huge lead for the wild card (six games), B) a 55-26 home record, C) An 11-4 thumping of the Yankees, and two out of three over the serfs of Steinbrenner for the weekend. (Season series, Boston 11-NY 8.)

Could the 2004 regular season at Fenway have been any better? Well, it depends on who you ask. Not for lifelong fan Chris Bernier. As five Red Sox base hits, three of them doubles, put the Sox up 3-0 in the first, chasing Kevin “At Least I Didn’t Punch The Wall with My PITCHING Hand” Brown, Bernier beamed “It’s been more exciting than any season I’ve ever seen. Better than last year, for sure.”

Bob “Jake” Jankowski, of Syracuse, NY, has taken the heat from his Empire State friends and rooted for Boston for decades. “Last year and this year have been the best. It just never stopped in the offseason. Just kept rolling and rolling. And they definitely met expectations.” And Kerri Beaudreault, bouncing her 8-month-old baby Morgan (who has already been to three games) in her arms, said “This year has been great. They’re more together as a team, the personalities. They all seem to be thoroughly excited to be together, so it makes you more excited to root for them.”

Fenway usher Bob Sances says “After ’99, with the All-Star Game and Ted Williams on the field, this year has been the best. Every single game was a sellout (a first for Fenway). That makes it more exciting. The mood was fantastic this year.”

Ah, but doff those rose-colored glasses, ye realists, and listen to the likes of Jonathan Froio. “I’m hard core. A die-hard fan. But all season I felt this team didn’t live up to expectations. Sure if you look at the numbers they’re better than last year. But they should have blown this division away. They didn’t have the spark this year that they had last year.”

Or Tony Venuti: “I can’t say it was a great season. We went in expecting the best with all the offseason acquisitions, and we don’t beat Baltimore, or other games we should win. They do it every year.”

Or John Sandersky Sr: “This team is talent-wise better than last year. But they’re streakier. A few guys go good, everybody does. A few guys go bad, everybody does. It’s been more of a roller coaster this year.”

Outside the park there is no debate. The 2004 Sox home season was a winner. At the Cask and Flagon across the street from Fenway Park, the beer flows in direct proportion to the amount of hope beating in the hearts of Red Sox Nation. “This season was definitely better than usual,” says manager Dan Quintino. “It was the expectations that got it going right from the beginning. Schilling coming in, unfinished business (yeah, since 1918!) ... there was more excitement in the air from the start and it just kept going. And then all the fair weather fans jumped back on the bandwagon in September.”

“It’s been lights out all year,” says Scott Saklad of the Boston Red Sox Team Store, the merchandise and souvenir vendor on Yawkey Way. “The moves they made. A legitimate chance of winning it all. That kept the excitement going through the offseason and it’s just never stopped.”

Even the scalpers say 2004 has been good for business. “Advance sales have been better. More excitement. More expectations. Street sales day of the game have been about the same.” This particular entrepreneur laments “We’re not making as much though. Used to be we’d get a $10 ticket and sell it for $50. Now the ticket prices are so high, we get a $70 ticket, maybe we sell it for a hundred. We can’t mark ‘em up as high, even with all this excitement.” But with his best Gordon Gecko “Greed is Good” grin, he adds “Profits’ll be better for the playoffs though.”

It is likely more baseball will be played at Fenway this year, though 3½ back of the Yankees with seven to play makes the division unlikely. Alas, once again the Sox are more likely to make the playoffs as the wild card. (Magic number -- 2.)

And the outlook? Opinions vary. Hope is strong. But it is mixed with equal parts of caution, nervousness, and downright Sox-ian pessimism.

Judy Jankowski, Jake’s daughter, figures “They’ll do well in the playoffs but not win the World Series. They still have problems under pressure.” OUCH!

Bryan Provenzano says “They’ll lose to the Yankees in the ALCS. New York knows how to win. They’re in our heads.” OUCH!

Marge Hersey, celebrating her 67th birthday, says “I think they make it to the ALCS, and meet Minnesota. I don’t like the place, and I don’t like our chances against that team. But we can do it.”

Kerri Beaudreault puts it best. “I hope they go all the way. But like any good Red Sox fan, I hold doubt in the back of my mind.”

Pretty early in the Boston first there was no longer much doubt about the outcome of the game on this closing day of the home season. Mark Bellhorn singled and Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, and Trot Nixon followed with rockets off the Monster. It was 3-0 and the Yankees got Esteban Loaiza (5.17 ERA) up in the bullpen. Later, Derek Jeter makes two errors on one play. The chant rings out from the faithful “JEEET-er, JEEET-er.” Let’s not forget that this wonderful finale was a win over the HATED Yankees (their official team name in these parts).

A woman in the stands wears a t-shirt that reads “Real Women Don’t Date Yankees Fans.” Kenny Lofton throws a cheap shot elbow at Doug Mientkiewicz running out a ground ball in the third. Sox Reliever Pedro Astacio throws his first pitch in the eighth behind Lofton’s head. Astacio is ejected. Yankees reliever Brad Halsey throws heat at Dave Roberts’ chin in the bottom of the inning. Benches empty. Halsey and Joe Torre are tossed.

But there is no fighting on this picture-perfect, cloudless blue-sky day in Fenway. Just an extended and heartwarming standing ovation for Ellis Burks, recently activated, when the center field screen informs the crowd that this will be Burks’ last regular season home game for Boston. Burks comes out of the dugout to tip his hat and bow to the crowd. The fans chant for Burks to pinch hit, but, no luck. They’ll have to go home with the satisfaction of a win over New York, a terrific home record for the year, and with cautious optimism that, yes, this still may be The Year.


The new Fenway field is protected from the winter elements.
The new Fenway field is protected from the winter elements. (Boston.com Photo / David Roepik)
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