Patriots’ Day

The real “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” occurred not on October 3, 1951, but on April 19, 1775.  At sunrise on that fateful day, 77 farmers and militiamen assembled on the village green in Lexington, Massachusetts to await the arrival of over 700 British soldiers, who had been dispatched from Boston to seize the citizens’ weapons and to capture rebel leaders John Hancock and Sam Adams.  We’ll never know who fired the first shot, but eight Americans were killed before the Redcoats continued on to nearby Concord.  More colonists gathered there and ambushed the Brits as they marched across Old North Bridge.  The American Revolution had begun.

In my opinion, April 19 is more meaningful than July 4.  Yet somehow Patriots’ Day is commemorated only in Massachusetts and Maine, with parades and stirring reenactments of the battles.  And since 1969, Fenway Park has opened its gates for a morning ballgame, with the intention being that the final out would come just in time for patrons to witness the last stretch of the Boston Marathon pass through Kenmore Square.  (The Sox and/or Boston Braves had occasionally played morning games on Patriots’ Day in prior years, but it did not become an annual part of the holiday until ’69.)  Personally I despise Red Sox Nation for its highbrow pretensions, for its over-dramatic self-pity turned to over-inflated arrogance, and for “Sweet Caroline.”  But I love how they play that early game every year on Patriots’ Day.  The only thing better than waking up on a Monday and remembering that you don’t have to go to school or work, would be to cook some brunch in your bathrobe and flip on the Sawx.  Thankfully, Lord Bud has kept his hands off this tradition.

In 1969 a sellout crowd (a rare sight at Fenway in those days) turned out to see Mel Stottlemyre and the hapless Yankees win 6-4, just as Yoshiaki Unetani crossed the finish line in a then-record 2:13:49 (or approximately one inning of Jonathan Papelbon facing the Bombers today).  The Bostons dropped six of the first seven Patriots’ Morning affairs (including a 12-1 beatdown of Spaceman Bill Lee by the Yankees on the 200th anniversary of the midnight ride) before Ferguson Jenkins shut out the Twins in ’76 and beat Detroit in ’77.  Bostonian Bill Rodgers won his third straight Marathon in 1980, just as Tony Perez, Pudge Fisk, and Dewey Evans were putting together a late rally to come from behind and beat the White Sox.

Eight years later the first Kenyan victor was crowned.  And a few blocks away, Wade Boggs worked Mitch Williams for a nine-pitch walk leading off the ninth; Jim Rice followed with a booming double off the Monstah and Mike Greenwell provided the sac fly to win it.  Greenwell was the hero again in ’89, when his eighth inning homer proved to be the game-winner over Baltimore.  Consecutive 13-inning losses crushed the hearts of the Nation; in ’91 the immortal Brook Jacoby homered for a 1-0 Indians victory, and in ’92 the big, bad Blue Jays took it 6-4.  John Dopson threw a 3-hit shutout at the White Sox in ’93, but they came back the following year to win 12-1 in the only 3-homer game of Tim Raines’s career.  Fenway was quiet on Patriots’ Day in ’95, as was every other big league ballpark, due to the strike.  Of course, the Sox faithful returned.  They cheered Mo Vaughn’s 11th-inning single that scored Jim “Cowboy” Leyritz in 1998, then watched with dismay as the great Gil Heredia held the Sox to just three hits in a 1-0 A’s win in 2000.  Boston’s October 2004 miracle was presaged by the Patriots’ Day game, when Papi and ‘Tek turned a 4-1 Yankee lead into a 5-4 Sox triumph.  In ’06 it was Mark Loretta who muscled up the walk-off homer.  In 2007, the Boston Marathon start time was moved up from noon to 10 AM, making it impossible to see both the Red Sox and the race finish.  A conventional afternoon start time would have solved this problem, but the morning hardball has continued.  The Sox have won the last six Patriots’ Day games to run their record to 20-21 overall since the ritual started back in the Conigliaro/Petrocelli era.  So they have a chance to even it up at 11:05 today (conveniently right around my son’s naptime).  Go Rays!

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