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All summer, I’ve read about the declining TV and radio audiences for the Red Sox, but in order to gain a full grasp on the changing market for Red Sox baseball, I needed to go down to Fenway and wait in line for seats. In years past, I’d arrive outside the ticket window at Gate E a full five hours in advance of the first pitch and find thirty to fifty people camped out in the shadow of the Green Monster, spread out on blankets, sipping coffee, and listening to radio hosts dissect the Red Sox. As I arrived on Saturday morning at the ballpark two and a half hours before game time, I found just eight people in line ahead of me. In the thirty minutes between my arrival and the time tickets went on sale, the line in front of me dwindled to a mere four people as scalpers offered face value for “box seats” (be wary of scalpers: aside from the fact that the seats are grouped in rectangular sections, there was nothing “box” about those seats). The first-row, infield grandstand seats that I purchased offered an excellent view of what promised to be an intriguing pitchers’ duel in the first game of Saturday’s double-header.

Recap

While White Sox starter John Danks lived up to expectations, Red Sox ace Clay Buchholz appeared to labor through his five innings of work. While surrendering just two runs, he ran his pitch count to ninety-five pitches in rapid fashion. Resounding boos met the White Sox’s new designated hitter, Manny Ramirez, each time he stepped to the plate as the Fenway crowd, livid over Manny’s torturous vanishing act during the 2008 season, expressed its displeasure. However, the White Sox took the first game by a score of 3-1 behind the three hits and two runs of resurgent slugger Paul Konerko. In the second game of Saturday’s double-header, the Red Sox wasted a great effort by starting pitcher John Lackey, who relinquished just four hits, two walks, and one earned run over seven innings.

The Red Sox headed into Sunday with an eye on preventing a sweep at the hands of the White Sox. Josh Beckett appeared to build on his solid Tuesday night outing against the Orioles, striking out nine and working out of jams in the early innings; he was charged with just one earned run over six and a third innings. Daniel Bard’s throwing error in the seventh gave the White Sox a one-run lead, 3-2, over the Red Sox, but the Red Sox responded in the bottom half of the inning as Victor Martinez walloped a two-run shot over the Green Monster. After tacking on a run in the bottom of the eighth, the Red Sox led 5-3 with closer Jonathan Papelbon on the mound. After sandwiching two outs around a walk in the ninth, Papelbon was poised to send Red Sox fans home contented with a 5-3 victory. Instead, the White Sox scrapped two runs off of Papelbon with two consecutive hits. The Red Sox’s fate was sealed when rookie reliever Robert Manuel, recently called up to the big league team from Triple-A Pawtucket, entered the game in an unenviable situation: the score was knotted at five and the bases were full with White Sox. Manuel battled heralded White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham before surrendering what would become the winning run on a full-count walk. A visibly frustrated Manuel could not shake off his initial failure and proceeded to let in another run on a four-pitch walk to Juan Pierre. Dejected fans headed for the exits, not bothering to watch as the Red Sox offense proved futile against flame-throwing White Sox reliever Matt Thornton. With the win, the White Sox kept pace with Minnesota in the AL Central; they currently sit 3.5 games back of the Twins in that race.

In general, the 5-3 win is one of the most beautiful results in baseball (assuming your team is on the winning end); the score implies that the winning team produced a solid pitching performance, turned in a respectable offensive showing, and kept the fans engaged. In the end, the Red Sox should have come away with exactly that result on a picture-perfect afternoon at Fenway Park. Unfortunately, a fatigued Jonathan Papelbon, who was forced to throw nearly fifty pitches during his outing, was spent after getting four outs between the eighth and ninth innings. The previous day’s double-header had taken its toll on the Red Sox’s pitching depth, causing manager Terry Francona to use the untested Robert Manuel in a situation that begged for Scott Atchison.

Time to move on

For Red Sox fans, it’s just about time to hitch the wagon to a playoff-bound National League team. Hoping that Bobby Cox can go out as a World Series Champion in Atlanta? Wanting to see Roy Halladay and Co. earn a rematch against the Yankees or Rays in the World Series? Wondering if Aroldis Chapman can blow hitters away at a Zumaya-esque 103 mph with two outs in the bottom of the ninth of a World Series Game 7? Dumbfounded as to who invited the San Diego Padres into the playoff race (possible answers: former GM Kevin Towers, mediocrity of the National League)? Stay tuned to playoff baseball, even in the absence of the Red Sox.