Red Sox keep rolling along
From Toyko to LA, Boston taking travels all in stride
LOS ANGELES -- From Tokyo to the historic Los Angeles Coliseum all in the span of a few days. Interesting week for the defending World Series champions?
"That's the understatement of the year," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona.
But the Red Sox just keep rolling with it. In the first baseball game at the Coliseum since a guy named Sandy Koufax spun a 13-inning gem (15 strikeouts) against the Cubs on Sept. 20, 1961, the Red Sox took on the Dodgers Saturday night in an exhibition game that benefited Think Cure, which is the Dodgers' equivalent to the Jimmy Fund in Boston.
The contest was played in front of 115,300 spectators, an attendance figure that is going to soon be certified in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest crowd to ever attend a baseball game.
In the end, it was the Red Sox prevailing, 7-4.
"It was really a pretty special night," said Francona. "I don't think any of us knew what to expect coming in. I think everybody involved, both teams, all the players, the Dodgers organization, they did a great job. I thought the players did a good job of trying to get something out of the game and not paying attention to the short porch and it ended up being a pretty special night all the way around."
Kevin Cash, not exactly known for his bat, gave the Sox an early jolt with a three-run homer to left. The fence was 201 feet down the line in left, 374 to center and an even 300 in right.
"That was pretty cool," said Cash. "I would have rather it been in a regular-season game but if it was going to be an exhibition game, I guess this was the right one for it to be in."
An inning later, Kevin Youkilis took aim at the short fence in left, popping a two-run homer.
"I think I'm not pitching," quipped Francona before the game when asked his thoughts on the facility that held the 1984 Summer Olympic Games.
For the Red Sox, the man entrusted with pitching was their knuckleball pitcher Tim Wakefield, who has always surrendered a lot of fly balls -- not exactly a recipe for success in the cozy baseball parameters of the Coliseum.
"I told Wake it's like the Kentucky Derby," Francona said. "Bring out the horse, put the blinders on. Don't let him see the surrounding area."
For what it's worth, Wakefield handled the surroundings just fine. When the knuckleball is dancing, it doesn't matter how close the fences are.
In his final tuneup before his regular-season debut next weekend in Toronto, Wakefield limited the Dodgers to just three hits and a run over five innings (plus two batters in the sixth). He walked one and struck out two. Of his 85 pitches, 55 were strikes.
The right-hander didn't hang around to discuss his outing with the press. According to clubhouse sources, there was no hot water in the showers of the visiting clubhouse so Wakefield and the regulars quickly exited back to Dodger Stadium.
Cold showers aside, baseball was secondary to the mere spectacle of Saturday's event.
For Sox center fielder Coco Crisp, an Inglewood, Calif., native, playing in the Coliseum was nothing short of a thrill.
"I came here one time when I was a kid to watch the Raiders play. Marcus Allen and Bo Jackson were playing," said Crisp. "This is cool. This is, for me, personally, like it was for Dice-K [Matsuzaka] going back to Japan. I'm not going to have the fan support he had, but just the feeling."
Crisp then described what it was like walking in from the Olympic portion of the stadium from beyond the wall in center field.
"It has a feel to it," Crisp said. "It has like a gladiator [feel] to it when you walk in. You feel like you should be holding a sword."
Francona joked about drawing up running plays for his offense in the stadium where USC plays its football games. Sox infielder Alex Cora was asked if he felt like bouncing off left tackle.
"It makes me feel like running a hundred meters," Cora said. "That's the cool thing, you run track in front of all these people and think of what it meant in the Olympics. You can't imagine that."
The whole night was a little surreal. Broadcasting legend Vin Scully gave an eloquent speech before the game. Lakers great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar threw one faulty first pitch, and then lofted a sky hook on the second try. By the way, Jabbar, all 7-foot-2 of him, posed for a photo with Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, one of the shortest players in baseball.
"My favorite part of the whole night was when there was a foul ball and, like 57 guys ran to protect Pamela Anderson," said Francona.
By the fourth inning, players sitting in front of both makeshift dugouts started doing the wave with the fans.
There were too many in-game ceremonies to keep track of.
"Everybody understood why," said Francona. "They did a good job. We knew what was going on."
Sunday marks the start of normalcy for the Sox. They'll finish their exhibition season with a game at Dodger Stadium, then venture to Oakland for their next Opening Day, which will take place Tuesday.
"I've never played in front of 115,000 and I've never been to Japan, but I have been to Oakland," said Francona. "I'll be excited to go out there and get things going."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.