As Clay Buchholz climbed the bump to begin Wednesday's game, the Angels had to be feeling right at home -- even some 3,000 miles from Los Angeles. Besides their batting first, and wearing red, it wasn't a whole lot different than the typical beautiful night for baseball at The Big A, with the game-time temperature at 74 degrees, with the sun still lingering in the summer sky.
And with much of the late-arriving crowd still sauntering toward their seats at the time of the first pitch.
West Coast sports fans have long been stuck with the stereotype that they show up late and leave early -- but Boston has no right to be righteous in that regard this season, when the beginnings and ends of games at Fenway Park have consistently substantiated any opinions that the place has been overrun by the pink hats. Or at least the apathetic.
Certainly what's happening on the field is a factor in this, considering the Red Sox are at this stage six games under .500 for the first time since 1997, and their next Fenway loss will give them more of those than they had in any season under the stewardship of Terry Francona. At 29-36, they're the third-worst home team in the American League. That level of play surely doesn't deserve to be adulated; in fact, based on that, nobody could begrudge the fans for not showing up at all.
But they do. The sellout streak rages on, now up to 777 over nine years, and honestly the full-house numbers have been more legitimate lately than when the team was showing at least some reason for hope over stretches of April and May. These days there are points in pretty much every home game when a glance around the stadium will show hardly any pockets of empty seats that can't be explained away by a run to the bathroom or a visit to the concessions.
The problem is that most nights it doesn't get that way until the third inning, and it's no longer true by the start of the eighth -- which may be the most disappointing aspect of this off-field trend, considering what it suggests about Boston fans' blatant disregard for the game. Clearly the fans aren't disgusted enough by the team to stay away entirely because they still come. Their decision can't be solely about not wanting to waste money, because many of them are still missing half the game anyway. And yet neither Wednesday, nor for the most part, can they blame it on long games, late nights, or bad weather. That suggests they don't care enough about what they're watching to deem it worth their while.
We like to think Boston is better than that. We like to think of ourselves as a sophisticated, educated sports town, with an appreciation that starts with wins and losses, but ultimately runs deeper. We like to think this place has the type of fans who get excited about the prospect of watching a good pitching matchup, watching Albert Pujols and Mike Trout, watching baseball.
Wednesday it wasn't. See for yourself (and click each for full-screen access):
This is what it looked like as Buchholz -- at that point one of the hottest pitchers in the AL -- wound up to face Trout -- the 20-year-old MVP favorite who is one of the game's most exciting young players in recent memory. Maybe they're exploring the living museum underneath. Maybe they're visiting their bricks. Maybe they're all buying beer. Or maybe they just don't care.
Seventeen minutes later, even with Cy Young candidate Jered Weaver opposing Buchholz in the bottom of each frame, there were still plenty of empty red seats still unoccupied.
The sellout streak lives on. By the top of the fourth, there were still some empties upstairs, but the lower part of the stadium is basically packed. That lasts until about the seventh, although some don't even bother waiting for "Sweet Caroline" as ...
... the exodus is well underway by the eighth. "I have noticed a little bit of that (mood turning to anger) with some people sort of leaving the park early the last night or two," Sox President Larry Lucchino told WEEI's Dennis and Callahan Thursday morning.
This is what it looked like as Adrian Gonzalez stepped into the batter's box for what became the game's final out. Mind you, the Sox entered the bottom of the ninth trailing only 7-3, with pinch-hitter Daniel Nava leading off, followed by Scott Podsednik in the midst of a three-hit night, Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Gonzalez and Cody Ross. Four runs was hardly an insurmountable deficit, and the game was still in such question that once Ellsbury reached, LA Manager Mike Scioscia was concerned enough to summon his closer even with two outs in a non-save situation. The Fenway Faithful apparently weren't as convinced about the chances of a Red Sox comeback.
Nothin' like home sweet home.
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