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It was the earliest regular-season game ever played at Fenway Park – January 1. In this case, it was the National Hockey League’s regular season. The Boston Bruins played the Philadelphia Flyers and beat them in overtime, 2-1, having tied the game with only 1:57 remaining in the third period. The game was, quite naturally, another sold-out Fenway affair.
On the eve of another sold-out baseball season at Fenway, the Red Sox also enjoyed their 100th consecutive sold-out spring training game on March 26, when some 7,348 crowded into City of Palms Park in Fort Myers. It’s a streak which dated back to March 16, 2003 and almost certainly a record of its own.
The Sox kicked off their 2010 season with an Opening Night game in Boston, the first on the MLB schedule (and the first time the Red Sox had ever opened at home with a night game), when they hosted the Yankees on Sunday night April 4. Josh Beckett was hit hard and left trailing in the top of the fifth, but closed the gap as Youk hit a two-run triple (one of three extra-base hits) and then Pedroia tied the score, 7-7, with a two-run home run in the seventh. Neil Diamond sang “Sweet Caroline” live in the eighth inning, and Boston was leading, 9-7, when Papelbon closed it out in the ninth.
Some felt that the team had planned 2010 as a rebuilding year, when GM Theo Epstein called it a “bridge year” – but the team hadn’t held back. They invested $120 million in commitments to four players, starting with $85 million to free agent John Lackey, the former Angel who had shut them out in Game One of 2009 Division Series. They added shortstop Marco Scutaro and outfielder Mike Cameron on two-year deals, and signed Adrian Beltre to play third, for one year and $10 million.
The team was almost never at full strength as Jacoby Ellsbury collided with Beltre and broke some ribs in the season’s sixth game, on April 11, and only played in 18 games all season. Cameron was injured as well, and he too only played in 37 games all year. After the opener, the Sox lost their next six games at home, the worst home start since 1932.
On April 20, in his first Red Sox at-bat, Darnell McDonald pinch-hit a game-tying two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning, then beat the Rangers with a bases-loaded ball off the wall in the bottom of the ninth.
On June 12, having been improbably signed out of independent league ball for one dollar, left-fielder Daniel Nava came up to bat with the bases loaded, swung at the very first pitch he ever saw as a big leaguer, and hit a grand slam into the Red Sox bullpen. On his second at-bat, he again found the bases loaded - but struck out. In the last week of June, the Red Sox suffered a nearly-unbelievable spate of injuries.
On June 25, Pedroia fouled a pitch off his foot and broke it. On the 27th, Victor Martinez broke his thumb. And on June 30, Jason Varitek did the same as Pedroia and broke his own foot, joining his two teammates on the DL along with Manny Delcarmen (forearm strain) that same day. Ellsbury and Cameron were already there. Clay Buchholz (strained left hamstring) was disabled on July 5. Both Pedroia and Ellsbury tried to come back, but it was too soon for Dustin and when Jacoby came back, he promptly suffered another rib-breaking injury. On August 2, Youkilis tore a muscle in his right thumb.
One could make the case that the Red Sox disabled list itself embraced one of the top 10 teams in baseball. And one could argue that Terry Francona deserved some consideration as Manager of the Year for all the work he did moving parts around and hanging within six or seven games of first place most of the season.
As late as July 3, when Jon Lester won his 10th game of the year, beating Baltimore 9-3 at Fenway, and Boston was in second only a half game behind NY. But from that moment on, the season started to slip and the injuries mounted.
A third sport was played on the Fenway Park field on July 21 – and sold out the house again - when head groundskeeper Dave Mellor and crew removed the pitchers mound and laid out the field for soccer. “Football at Fenway” pitted two soccer teams (Celtic FC of Scotland against Sporting Club de Portugal) against each other. As with the Bruins/Flyers game, the game was knotted 1-1 at the end of regulation play. Celtic won it on penalty kicks. Boston was 4 ½ games behind first-place Tampa Bay when they visited Tropicana at the end of August and began with a win on the 27th. Had they won the next two games, they would truly have brought themselves back in contention.
Leading 1-0 in the seventh behind a strong effort by Clay Buchholz, there was one out and a runner on third (Clay had thrown an errant pickoff pitch to first base). The Rays’ Matt Joyce hit a long foul fly to right. Letting it drop would have been harmless for, for reasons unknown to only himself, J.D. Drew went ranging over the bullpen mound and made a shoestring catch. The play turned into a sacrifice fly, and Tampa tied the score, and soon Boston lost, 3-2, in 10 innings.
The Red Sox finished the season in third place, seven games behind the Rays. With his September 8 win, Tim Wakefield – at age 44 and 37 days became the oldest pitcher in team history to win a ballgame. Five days later, Jon Lester became the first Red Sox left-hander to strike out 200 batters in back-to-back seasons. Lester finished the year, 19-9, and Buchholz was 17-7. John Lackey was a lackluster 14-11, as did Dice-K (9-6). Josh Beckett suffered through a poor 6-6 season and Tim Wakefield an even-worse 4-10.
Jonathan Papelbon, having a difficult season with seven losses and several blown saves, still recorded 37 saves and became the only closer in history to save 30 or more games in his first five seasons. Though David Ortiz once again got off to a terrible start, he finished with 102 RBIs, tied with Adrian Beltre for the team lead. He had 32 homers and Beltre had 28.
A fourth pro sports team played at Fenway in October. On the 8th, just for fun and to build team chemistry the preseason Boston Celtics played a softball game. Rajon Rondo was the MVP and star Kevin Garnett exclaimed, "It was a dream come true, man. I felt like I was 10 years old."By Bill Nowlin