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Red Sox notebook

For 500th time, no room for improvement

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By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / June 18, 2009
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The stands were filled again last night, from behind home plate to the center-field bleachers to the Monster seats. For the 500th consecutive home date - recognized with a giant “500’’ mowed into the outfield grass - Fenway Park was full.

Although some of the Red Sox suffered through fan droughts in Pittsburgh, Florida, and Kansas City, other members of the team have known nothing but sellouts. Terry Francona, who arrived after the streak started, has never seen unsold seats at his home park as manager of the Sox.

“We have a very special place,’’ Francona said. “There’s no getting around that. I know I’ve never seen any place like this. You get to the seventh inning and somebody throws ball one for the opposing team and the place starts shaking. It’s unique, in a good way.

“I don’t think that I can remember a day here in Boston since I’ve been here where you show up and you think, ‘Oh, let’s get this game over with.’ I think you understand my point, day game after a night game, whether it’s in September. The fans’ emotions, they don’t let that happen, and I think the players would recognize that. You show up here on a Sunday morning, you better be ready to play, and that’s good.’’

The Red Sox gave out postcards and baseballs commemorating the event, and sponsors did likewise with gift certificates and coupons. There were video messages played on the JumboTron between innings, thanking the fans for getting the team to 500.

“It’s remarkable,’’ owner John Henry wrote in an e-mail. “There is a love associated with this franchise that transcends sports. The great thing about following a baseball team very closely is that it’s an everyday pursuit. We follow all of our own personal stories day to day - our kids, our spouses, this baseball team - there is a continuity of hopes, surprises, joy - all the daily ups and downs of the Red Sox provide a backdrop that is often a respite or enhancement for everything in the foreground.

“That these fans have packed Fenway 500 straight times without exception is not just a record book entry, it is an affair of the heart that can be seen on the faces of fans every magical night - rain or shine. We’re all lucky to have been a part of it.’’

And the players recognize it, whether it’s all they’ve known, or whether they went through those other cities on their way to Boston.

“Pittsburgh gets these crowds, but it’s Opening Day, it’s a big series,’’ said Jason Bay, who came to the Sox last season from the Pirates. “A lot of places are like that. I think sometimes here you take it for granted a little bit. But especially when you come back from the road. We were in Philly.

“Obviously Philly, they’re drawing well, but you come back from the road and you get here again, you’re like, ‘Wow.’ It’s almost like you miss it. It’s like, ‘Oh, that’s what playing at home is like.’ I’ve come to expect it.’’

Behind door No. 4 . . .
Bay wasn’t surprised to see Bobby Orr in the Green Monster in the top of the seventh. Although Orr’s appearance from inside the Wall was supposed to be unannounced, J.D. Drew played spoiler.

“I actually knew he was in there,’’ Bay said. “J.D. had heard through the in-house feed that he was in the Monster. I was under the impression he was going to heckle me or something. He waved me over. I kind of had a little bit of a heads-up as to what was going on, so I wasn’t completely shellshocked by it. I had a little heads-up, but it was still a thrill nonetheless.’’

Orr was inside the Monster, and motioned the left fielder over to him as Bay jogged out to his position. The two spoke briefly before Orr climbed back inside the Wall.

“He’s definitely up there,’’ Bay said of how big the moment was for him. “He’s an icon, not just for hockey but for Canada. [Someone said] he was really big for hockey in Boston. I was like, ‘Well, maybe Boston for you guys; he’s a Canadian icon.’ He’s right up there with [Wayne ] Gretzky and [Mario ] Lemieux as far as what he did for hockey.’’

Ready for real thing
John Smoltz made his final rehab start yesterday for Triple A Pawtucket against the Charlotte Knights. Smoltz went four innings in a piggyback outing with Clay Buchholz. He allowed one run on three hits, including a homer, struck out two, and walked one. Smoltz will make his Red Sox debut next Thursday against the Nationals, which is an extended time between outings. “When I say [he can do] whatever he wants, there’s a lot of different options, whether it’s multiple sides, whether it’s rest,’’ Francona said. “I think at his age [42] and amount of innings, he understands his body better than anybody. He and John [Farrell, the pitching coach] have been really good about working together. They’ll take it and use it to his advantage.’’ . . . Drew was out of the lineup, replaced by Rocco Baldelli in right field. Francona made the decision because the Sox face four righties in a row after lefthander Andrew Miller last night. Miller, though, came in tougher on righties this season, with a .244 average for righthanded batters and .292 for lefties. But had Baldelli not played last night, he likely would have gotten a long stay on the bench. And he rewarded his manager with an RBI single in his first at-bat. Drew is hot right now, too, going 12 for 37 (.324) over his last 11 games. “I feel good,’’ he said, mentioning that there have been times when his back has been “a little bit tight, but for the most part the exercises, the stretching, all that stuff, has kept it nice and loose.’’ . . . The Red Sox’ rotation is 9-3 with a 3.13 ERA in the last 16 games . . . David Ortiz scored three runs, a season high, and the most since Aug. 12. Over his last 13 games with an at bat, Ortiz is 14 for 43 (.326) with four home runs and 10 RBIs.

All in a night’s work
Shortstop Nick Green didn’t get effusive about his play in the fifth. Although he robbed Hanley Ramirez of a hit, Green said, “I just try to catch and throw. I do what I can.’’ Francona had a bit more to say: “Looks like he’s starting to play with more confidence. That was one of the better plays you’re going to see. That was a play that a lot of shortstops in this league don’t make. You couple the arm strength, the athleticism, it was a good play.’’

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