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The man who made the difference in 1997 was the unanimous Rookie of the Year, #5, shortstop Nomar Garciaparra. One could see how much he loved playing the game, his smile lighting up the park the way Ted Williams had in his first year in the game. Nomar whacked out 207 hits from the leadoff spot, for a .306 average, and 30 of them were home runs. His 30-game hitting streak in August set a rookie record. He just missed 100 RBIs, but scored 122 runs. He led the team in both homers and RBIs. His 365 total bases set the Red Sox rookie record. Steve Avery had enjoyed a couple of very good seasons for the Braves – four years earlier. Signed as a free agent, he was 6-7 with a team-worst 6.42 ERA and then 10-7 in 1998 (he brought the ERA down to 5.02, still nothing to write home about. It might not have been such a surprise; he’d averaged just over seven wins a season for Atlanta from 1994-97. But Jimy Williams liked him. His best game was probably his first at Fenway, pitching five innings in the home opener while only giving up one run. John Valentin hit two homers in the game, but Randy Johnson and Seattle won it, 5-4. The second home game of 1997 was “Kids Opening Day” on April 13 and the Red Sox took the occasion to introduce Wally the Green Monster to an unsuspecting Red Sox Nation - and to loud boos from the crowd. Tim Naehring hit a grand slam, and left fielder Wil Cordero was the first to hit a ball off the huge newly-installed replica Coke bottles that had been strapped to one of the light towers over the left-field wall. Two months later, Cordero was arrested in the early morning hours of June 11 and charged with assaulting his wife. He played out the season, but his days in Boston were really numbered. Two days later, the Red Sox played their first interleague game ever - against the New York Mets, winning 8-4. The Red Sox won five of the six interleague games in 1997. Roger Clemens came back to town in a Toronto uniform and most fans greeted him warmly. It was only after he then went on to the Yankees that he became a hated figure in Boston. He didn’t do the Red Sox any favors, though, striking out 16 Sox in the July 12 game, and beating Boston, 3-1. The best trade in Red Sox history? The Sox sent struggling 0-5 reliever Heathcliff Slocumb (5.79 ERA) to Seattle for two minor leaguers: Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe. One could say that Slocumb did better for the Mariners; he only lost four games (0-4). Tek and Lowe both became fixtures in Boston, Varitek even becoming team captain. The Red Sox were tied for first place after their first game, but they never saw first place again and were never in the race. The year saw a steady progression in distance from first place, from one game out to two to three, on and on until they bottomed out at 20 games behind the Baltimore Orioles, finishing in fourth place at 78-84 Garciaparra did win the ROY, the first rookie in history to bat over .300, hit 30 homers, more than 90 RBIs, and more than 20 stolen bases. Nomar led the American League in hits (209) and his 98 RBIs eclipsed the old record for runs driven in by a leadoff batter. He was the first Red Sox player to win the honor since Fred Lynn won, also by unanimous vote, in 1975. Duquette may have topped even the trade that brought in Varitek and Lowe by swapping Carl Pavano to the Duke’s old team, the Expos, for Cy Young Award winner Pedro Martinez. Of course, the six-year, $75 million contract the Red Sox could offer was something Montreal could not, so the Expos were really just trying to get the most they could for a player they were certain to lose.

By Bill Nowlin
 

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Tagged:
Carl Pavano, Derek Lowe, Fred Lynn, Heathcliff Slocumb, Jason Varitek, Jimy Williams, John Valentin, Nomar Garciaparra, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Steve Avery, Ted Williams, Wil Cordero

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