Nomar’s greatest Red Sox hits
|03.10.10 at 11:33 am ET|
He was the Boston Red Sox.
Pedro Martinez had his run in the late ’90s. Jason Varitek had his time at the top in the early 2000s. Heck, even big Mo Vaughn enjoyed his time at the pinnacle of Red Sox Nation a while back. But nobody since the great “Gold Dust Twins” meant what Nomar Garciaparra did to the city of Boston when he was here.
Because from 1996 straight up until 2004, No. 5 was all that was Boston, all that was Red Sox and everything in between.
People remember he was big time in this city. But what some people might not remember is that “Nomah” inspired a culture. He was deified in a Red Sox uniform. He was anointed the next great thing by Ted Williams. He even inspired an entire string of “Saturday Night Live” skits.
His place was one of singular greatness in the early years of his career: the Rookie of the Year Award, the MVP runner-up season in 1998, the two batting titles, the times when it seemed impossible to get him out. In 2001, however, the lingering effects of a pitch that split a tendon when it hit him in the right wrist at the end of 1999 forced him to undergo surgery. Though he had tremendous runs over the remainder of his Red Sox career, the sustained brilliance that characterized his first four years as a Red Sox was never quite the same. Finally, in 2004, Garciaparra’s magical time in Boston had met its end. He was traded away as part of a series of maneuverings that landed Orlando Cabrera, the shortstop who helped deliver the Red Sox’ ultimate goal — a World Series title.
But it didn’t matter; Nomar Garciaparra had forever etched his name — as (wicked) long as it is — in Boston history books.
And as he finally hangs up the cleats for good, we take some time to remember the top 12 Nomar moments since he graced Major League Baseball with his presence back in 1996.
1. June 2, 1994. Nomar drafted by Boston: Nobody had this kind of hype since Roger Clemens. But you could argue that this 20-year-old from Georgia Tech started building his legacy before he even set foot in a Fenway Park dugout.
That’s because Boston knew all about him and what he was supposed to be. Ever since he got drafted on that fateful June afternoon, you couldn’t walk the streets of Boston without hearing someone yell, “Johnny, wait until you see this kid play. He’s gonna be wicked awesome.”
And he was.
But what you might not remember is that Nomar was originally selected in the 1991 draft, by the Milwaukee Brewers. Fortunately for Boston, he refused to sign, went on to play for Georgia Tech, and eventually became a Red Sox.
2. Sept. 1, 1996. Nomar homers in debut: You know that feeling when you order a really expensive meal? And after a way-too-long wait, the server finally brings it over to you, and you take that first bite — and it’s everything you ever dreamed of?
Well, that was the unanimous feeling in the city of Boston when Nomar Garciaparra stepped into the batters box on Aug. 31 and crushed his first major league home run — in his first-ever major league game.
It took him two at-bats to capture the hearts of Bostonians everywhere. And it would take him thousands more before he would ever give it back.
Because on that night, Sept. 1, 1996, Nomar Garciaparra proved that he would be exactly the filet mignon this city had ordered.
3. Nov. 3, 1997. Nomar Wins Rookie of Year: And he did it unanimously, too.
Following a rookie campaign in which he led the league with 209 hits, smacked 30 home runs and drove in 98 runs, Nomar Garciaparra was selected as Major League Baseball’s Rookie of the Year. On top of that, his 30-game hit streak set an AL rookie record, he competed in the All-Star Home Run Derby and he finished eighth in MVP voting.
Needless to say, Nomar had arrived.
4. May 10, 1999. Nomar takes live batting practice. At least, that’s what it seemed like.
In a game against the Seattle Mariners, Mr. Garciaparra would put on a free batting clinic for anyone who happened to be watching at the time, finishing the day 3-for-4 with three home runs, including two grand slams, and 10 RBI.
It was one of the greatest single game performances of any Red Sox player in franchise history, as Boston went on to defeat Seattle 12-4.
And it was only the beginning of what would be a memorable year for the kid who was named after his father, only backward.
5. Oct. 6, 1999. Nomar homers in ALDS Game 5: The Red Sox had made the playoffs twice since 1990. And both times, they had been eliminated in the first round rather handily (3-0, 3-1.)
But in 1999, things were different. And that’s because Nomar Garciaparra wanted them to be.
In 1999, the Red Sox were the same team they were in 1998, 1997 and most years before that. They were composed of nothing but smoke and mirrors. Smoke, mirrors, Nomar and Pedro.
And that’s why 1999 was such a special year — because Boston finally made a splash in the playoffs. And let’s face it, the Red Sox hadn’t exactly been having their way in baseball postseason for quite a while.
Down two games to none against the Cleveland Indians, Boston made a furious comeback and tied the series at two, and then, in the decisive Game 5, Garciaparra slammed a first-inning home run off All-Star pitcher Charles Nagy, putting Boston up 2-0. The Red Sox went on to win that game 12-8, advancing to the ALCS.
They would end up losing the ALCS, 4-1, to the Yankees. But Red Sox fans finally got a taste of something they hadn’t had in years — postseason victory.
6. July 20, 2000. Nomar’s average hits .403: It was late July. In the city of Boston. And someone was batting over .400.
Needless to say, it was a kid of a big deal.
Ever since Teddy Ballgame finished with the big .406 in 1941, nobody had been able to break .400. But in the year 2000, fittingly, Boston’s own Nomar Garciaparra made a serious run.
It was the closest he’d get all season, and though his average would hang around the high .390s for the first few weeks of August, he wouldn’t end the .400 drought.
Still, he would finish 2000 with an average of .372, which currently ranks seventh highest since 1941.
7. Oct. 14, 2000. Nomar appears on “Saturday Night Live”: His arrival in Boston was not only a hit in the Boston area, but nationally as well. In fact, he became such a household name, he inspired the “SNL” skit “Boston Teens,” starring Jimmy Fallon as a crazed Boston native who had an unmatched love for “Nomah Gaciaparra.”
And on Oct. 14, Nomar made it his own.
After a full year of airing Boston Teen skits, “SNL” finally recruited the man — the legend — to appear on set. Finally, Nomar appeared on the October episode as the boyfriend of Fallon’s sister, played by Kate Hudson, sparking a memorable reaction from Fallon’s character. Thus began the phrase, “Nomah! We wicked love you!”
It cemented Nomar’s national popularity. Only his appearance on the cover of the February 2001 Sports Illustrated rivaled his “SNL” cameo. He had become not only a baseball star, but a superstar. A true celebrity.
8. July 21, 2001. Nomar returns with a bang: He had been out with a wrist injury all season long. In fact, he reported to spring training with the problem and hadn’t played a single game all year because of it.
But on July 21 Nomar returned in a way that only Nomar could, going 2-for-4 with a home run and three RBI, including a seventh-inning two-run single that put the Sox ahead for good.
Boston didn’t make the postseason that year. In fact, the Sox finished only one game above .500. But on July 21, Boston’s hero had returned. And for that, Boston was grateful.
9. July 23, 2002. Nomar smacks three on his birthday. Some people throw parties for their birthday. Some people go out to dinner. Nomar, however, preferred to hit three home runs.
On his 29th birthday, Nomar took it upon himself to do the gift giving, crushing three home runs in just the first two innings of play, as Boston went on to drub Tampa Bay at Fenway, 22-4.
Garciaparra became the first player ever to hit as many home runs over two consecutive innings.
One day earlier, Nomar homered twice against the Yankees. With five home runs in two days, Garciaparra tied a major league record.
10. July 1, 2004. Nomar sulks in dugout, Jeter dives in stands. It was a day that will forever live in infamy.
At the tail end of a three-game Yankees-Red Sox series at Yankee Stadium, New York was aiming for a sweep. With the game knotted at 3 thanks to two Manny Ramirez home runs, the teams headed into extra innings.
In the top of the 12th, Derek Jeter hurled himself into the stands tracking down a Trot Nixon pop-up, a leap that sent him to the hospital, bloodied and bruised.
All the while, the Red Sox’ superstar shortstop sat still in the dugout.
Nomar was on the bench due to the need to rest, and did not start the game. He didn’t enter in the late innings as a pinch-hitter either, even while the Yankees’ star was flinging himself into the stands.
It was the beginning of the end for Nomar in Boston.
11. July 31, 2004. Nomar traded to Cubs at deadline. One month after the Yankee Stadium debacle, it was the end of the end for Nomar.
As part of multi-team deals completed just before the 2004 trade deadline, the once irreplaceable Boston superstar had been shipped to the Cubs, with the Sox receiving defensive upgrades in the form of Orlando Cabrera and backup first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz.
While it can certainly be argued that Boston did not receive equal name value in exchange for the six-time All-Star, the Red Sox certainly addressed two pressing issues: a sub-par defense and a disgruntled superstar whose contract issues and questionable clubhouse attitude had created an irreparable rift within Red Sox organization.
Equipped with their two new puzzle pieces, the Red Sox went on to win their first World Series since 1918.
Nomar would receive his World Series ring behind closed doors in the 2005 season.
12. July 6, 2009. Nomar returns home. It had been five years since Nomar had made an appearance at Fenway Park. In those five years the Red Sox had won two championships and cemented themselves as one of baseball’s elite.
But on July 6, he returned to Fenway Park — and it was as if he didn’t miss a day.
In front of a unanimously standing crowd, Nomar Garciaparra stepped into the batter’s box in the top of the second inning and was showered with applause for over a minute. The once (and still) beloved Boston superstar tipped his helmet and held his hand to his chest.
Nomar felt it.
Fenway felt it.
And no one who saw the moment will ever forget it.
Though his departure was untimely and his fantastic seasons didn’t bear any rings, for 8-1/2 years, Nomar Garciaparra was the Boston Red Sox.
For 8-1/2 years, he owned the city of Boston.
And for that, he will always be remembered as more than an athlete.
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