For all of its (injury-related) failings, the 2010 Red Sox were a pretty fun team to watch. Packed with a mix of talent and personality, they were good enough to be competitive, finishing the season at 89-73. And if that wasn't enough to make October, at the very least they let us down easy, simply running out of steam as the injuries mounted rather than collapsing dramatically like the 2011 bunch.
It feels on some level like these last two years of Red Sox baseball are tainted. We cannot look at a game from 2011, no matter how good or exciting it was, without remembering the disaster that ultimately befell the "Adrian Gonzalez era," if you will. The collapse, the "toxic clubhouse," the Bobby Valentine disaster year--there are just too many reasons to forget the awfulness that followed what appeared, at the time, to have been a tremendous offseason.
As a result, the most recent team we can look back on without feeling on some level depressed or disgusted is that 2010 team. And, with the Red Sox trying to get back to being that sort of team--albeit a marginally more successful one--I'd like to look back at those better times, to one inning which really did a good job of defining that 2010 squad.
The date: June 12, 2010. The opponent: Philadelphia. There were few reasons to be optimistic about the game entering the bottom of the second inning. The Sox had just won three straight, and were not too far back of the Rays and Yankees in the division, but Daisuke Matsuzaka (who had just thrown eight scoreless innings in his last start) was a late scratch, leaving Scott Atchison to take the mound. While his first frame had gone well, the recent call-up was tagged for two runs in the second, and it seemed entirely likely that we would be in for a long day.
The inning started auspiciously indeed, with J.D. Drew taking a get-it-over fastball and wrapping it around Pesky's Pole for a solo shot. 2010 ended up being the beginning of the end for the right fielder, but he still had some gas left that year, and he showed it here. Still, Drew's homer was really just an opening act. The fun stuff would come in the next four at bats.
There's no question about who the Sox' best player was in 2010. Between his typically excellent glove and resurgent bat, Adrian Beltre was the star of the team. More than just numbers on a box score, though, Beltre was just plain fun to watch, somehow making his free-swinging ways work in a league which, for years, has emphasized patience at the plate. So when Blanton delivered a curveball that ended up about a foot off the plate and calf-high, it wasn't all that surprising to see Beltre swing at it, or to see the ball pop back up the middle for a single. It wasn't one of those one-knee homers that we so grew to love, but it was Beltre at his unusual best all-the-same.
If Beltre's at bat was unsurprising, Jason Varitek's was the opposite. It's easy to forget thanks to how bad he got towards the end, but Varitek actually had a bit of a revival in 2010, finishing the year with a .766 OPS as Victor Martinez' platoon partner. Amazingly enough, Tek was actually riding a .592 slugging percentage entering this game against Philadelphia. Which, of course, likely made it all the more surprising when he dropped a quick bunt to the third base side of the mound on the first pitch. It got past Blanton, and when Greg Dobbs couldn't barehand the ball, Jason Varitek pulled in safe with the seventh and final bunt hit of his career.
Darnell McDonald was up next, another one of the guys who made 2010 so fun with his unexpected success. While we now have to live with the information that he would eventually be cut, head to the Yankees, and cut off the dreads, at the time he was still the 31-year-old unexpectedly seeing his first full season in the majors and actually hitting pretty well to boot. He, too, joined in on the fun, going to the opposite field on a hanging curveball to load the bases.
Which brings us to the climax of the inning, and one of the best moments of the whole season. Whether you love Daniel Nava or think he should be the first man gone off the 40-man roster, few are so stone-hearted that they do not appreciate his first major league at-bat. Most know his story by now--cut in high school, cut in college, undrafted, overcoming each obstacle to make his way into Boston's minor league system, and dominating in Portland and Pawtucket as he pushed his way up towards the major leagues. With his parents in the stands and the bases loaded, Nava saw his first major league pitch--an inside fastball--and launched it into the bullpen (where Manny Delcarmen made an impressive leaping grab) for a grand slam. The curtain call was entirely deserved.
The Sox would go on to win the game 10-2, pummeling Blanton for nine of those runs, but almost the entire story of that game was written in the second inning. It will probably be remembered most for Nava's homer--it was only the fourth time in the history of the MLB that a player hit a grand slam on the first pitch they saw in the majors--but there's a lot to like in the set-up, too. These guys were easy to like, easy to cheer for, and the good times flowed in Fenway even without a playoff run to cap it all off.
Hopefully we're headed back in that right direction, so two years from now we'll have more recent memories we can enjoy.