Garciaparra gone but not forgotten
It was the first Fenway game of the No Nomar Era, and it was a bad night for the Boston Red Sox.
Hang down your heads, John Henry, Larry Lucchino, and Theo Epstein. You too, Terry Francona. And all you guys in uniform -- you just keep telling yourselves that any day now you'll take off on a hot streak. You are 45-44 since May 1 and you have a chance to be remembered as the biggest pack of frauds ever to don the Sox uniform.
All the good feeling of two straight wins over the mighty Detroit Tigers went up in smoke last night when usually reliable Curt Schilling coughed up three homers and six runs in the fifth and sixth innings of an 8-3 loss to the Devil Rays. That's 11 homers yielded by the Boston staff in two games. It made for a tough how-do-you-do for Messrs. Cabrera and Mientkiewicz (both 1 for 4).
Not a good way to kick off the No Nomar Era at Fenway.
Late last night, standing in the losers' locker room, GM Epstein nodded when reminded that the remainder of the season would define the success or failure of the whopper Nomar trade. The brass is going to hear it from the fandom. Daily.
"Yeah, but if our goal was just not to hear it, we wouldn't have made the trade," Epstein said. "Our diagnosis was that we had to do something. And let's face it. We played .500 ball for three months before the deal and thus far we haven't gotten rolling yet since the trade. But every game is not going to be a referendum on the trade."
Garciaparra's absence was felt throughout the night. For the first time in eight years, fans knew there was no chance of seeing him running his sprints in shallow right field. He wouldn't be signing autographs by the first base tarp. There was no chance to see him go up and down the dugout steps -- two feet on each step each time. No glove-tugging and toe-tapping at home plate. In a show of solidarity, a lot of fans showed up wearing Nomar jerseys.
Dave Roberts has been assigned Nomar's locker, between Bill Mueller and Mark Bellhorn. Orlando Cabrera has been assigned Nomar's spot at shortstop. Mr. Cowboy Shutup, Kevin Millar, has taken over (at least for one day) the fifth spot in the batting order.
The Nomar Memorial Red Line was still on the carpet in front of players' lockers, though Paul Doyle of the Hartford Courant made a Reaganesque plea to the tune of "Mr. Henry, tear up this carpet!"
Thankfully, no one has been assigned Nomar's No. 5. The folks in charge may be cold-blooded when it comes to Nomar, but they are not stupid.
"We know there are going to be some people disappointed about the fact that Nomar is not here," said Gabe Kapler (three hits, a home run), who played as if he actually cared on No Nomar Night. "We understand that. But we also know that this is a crucial time for us. As players, we need to downplay the Nomar thing and play up the time of year this is. But we know there are people here who miss Nomar, and we respect that."
While the Sox prepared for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, fans across the street depleted the stock of all things Nomar at the Twins souvenir store.
"We may have to reorder," said store general manager Scott Saklad. "He's part of the Red Sox elite now."
Mary Hawkins of Jacksonville, Fla., was shelling out $125 for an authentic Nomar jersey while Saklad contemplated ordering more product.
"I had these tickets before the trade and I'm ticked off at the thought of not seeing him," said Hawkins. "I could cry. I'm really upset."
At another counter, two young men were preparing to order Cub caps. Both wore Nomar No. 5 jerseys.
"I'm very disappointed that they would trade Nomar," said Joe Flynn of Webster. "But it's not the players who are here now, it's management I have issues with."
Fans were polite toward Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz during introductions (Cabrera's 44 jersey and Mientkiewicz's 13 are already in the souvenir store). Cabrera made some new friends in the top of the first with a quick move on a nifty 4-6-3 double play that got Schilling out of a bases-loaded jam. The Fenway DJ was quick to put the Eagles' "New Kid in Town" on the PA system. There was more applause for Cabrera in the fifth when he went into the hole and backhanded a would-be single to left by Toby Hall. The new shortstop's throw was in plenty of time and fans began to think that this might not be such a bad deal after all.
Then Schilling morphed into John Wasdin. And it was ugly. Cabrera (popup) and Mientkiewicz (double play grounder) made all the outs in the Boston eighth and heard a few boos.
"I loved our matchup going into the game tonight," said Francona. "I think everybody did."
Right. That's the problem. We keep thinking that the Sox are finally going to turn the corner. And they never do.
"It's as frustrating for us as it is for the players," said Epstein. "So far, it's been one of those years. It's hard to build momentum, but in baseball, things have a way of turning around when you least expect it. Last year we didn't hit our stride until the end of August. Hopefully, tonight we bottomed out. But we've said that a few times this year."
If the Red Sox don't go on a roll, the Nomar deal is going to be in Boston's face for the rest of this year and far into the future. Remember, image is everything, and the wrath of the Nation will rain on the heads of Theo and the Trio if the Sox don't make the playoffs.
"I understand Nomar's popularity and I agree with it," added Francona. "We're just trying to make our team better. Sometimes you make difficult decisions. It doesn't mean they are bad decisions. I feel very good about our ball club. Right now, we have some ways to beat people that we didn't have before."
Time to start beating people instead of talking about it. Last night would have been a good night to make a statement and win a third straight game. Instead, the Sox were thrashed on the first Fenway night of the No Nomar Era.
The Cubs were off yesterday. Bet the guy who rarely smiled while he was here was smiling last night.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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