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Fenway 100th anniversary nicely planned, but too bad game isn't fitting

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Former Red Sox players Kevin Millar and Pedro Martinez lead a toast. (Getty Images)  
Former Red Sox players Kevin Millar and Pedro Martinez lead a toast. (Getty Images)  

BOSTON -- It's hard to cheer for a ballpark, even when it turns 100.

We cheer for people, not buildings, which is why the fans here Friday were chanting, "Ti-to! Ti-to!" and not "Fen-way! Fen-way!"

And why a day that began with a brilliantly planned ceremony ended with a whole bunch of people around here asking the same questions they've been asking all week.

Sure, it was great to see all the old faces. But when are the new faces going to win a few games?

As David Ortiz put it, "You're not going to spend a full season talking about the talent we've got. In everybody's mind, it's the beginning of the season. But what's it going to take -- until July? -- for us to start winning?"

Ortiz said he couldn't remember the last time the Red Sox lost four games in a row, all at home. Well, it was almost exactly two years ago, April of 2010, back when the manager was "Ti-to! Ti-to!"

Terry Francona was also the manager last September, when the Red Sox went 7-20 and taught the baseball world about beer and fried chicken, which is why Bobby Valentine is in the uncomfortable position of managing the Red Sox right now.

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As well-done as Friday's Fenway 100th anniversary celebration was, the timing was terrible for Valentine. His team is a mess, the fans are booing him, and now he had to hear them cheering loudly for his fired predecessor.

By the ninth inning of Friday's 6-2 loss to the Yankees, chants of "We want Tito!" echoed around a rapidly entering Fenway.

Francona got the loudest cheers before the game, too -- "Like a Lear jet," as Kevin Millar put it.

"Well-deserved," Ortiz said. "He earned it. Tito was here, what, eight years, won two World Series, got to the playoffs a bunch of times.

"What else can you ask of a manager?"

The Francona era included most of a sellout streak that reached 719 games on Friday -- a streak that some think could end on the next Red Sox homestand, in the second month of the Valentine era.

This isn't all Valentine's fault. It's not even mostly his fault. A team that was flawed to begin with has only gotten more flawed, with its closer (Andrew Bailey), its MVP runner-up (Jacoby Ellsbury) and its $142 million left fielder (Carl Crawford) all on the disabled list for extended stays.

The starting rotation has a 6.09 ERA that ranks 29th in baseball (the Twins are the only one worse), and on Friday Clay Buchholz became the second Red Sox starter this season to allow five home runs in a game.

It hasn't helped that the Red Sox began the season with five straight series against some of the best teams in the American League. Perhaps it will help that the next seven series' are against lesser teams.

The fear around here right now has to be that the Red Sox will end up being seen as one of those lesser teams.

For all the talk about how "beloved" Fenway is, you can never separate the park from the team that plays there. Fenway made it to 100 years old because the Red Sox had enough good teams mixed in through the years, and a few great ones.

If every week was like this one, there wouldn't have been a need for a 100th birthday party, because just like Tiger Stadium (which opened the same day as Fenway in 1912), Fenway wouldn't be here anymore.

It is here, and it's true that people around here -- and a lot of people who aren't from around here -- love it. Friday's ceremony was fitting, even if the game that followed it wasn't.

"Pretty cool, and pretty special," Kevin Youkilis said.

"Spectacular," said Valentine. "A well-orchestrated major-league presentation of pride and glory."

Charles Steinberg, who planned it, followed the basic format he designed for the 1991 final game at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium, with ex-players emerging onto the field and taking their positions. They began with Jim Rice in left field, and finished with Carl Yastrzemski going to left field.

They had the Yankees and Red Sox in 1912-style uniforms, without numbers on their backs, a very nice touch. They had the Boston Pops, and they had Caroline Kennedy, whose grandfather Honey Fitz was the Boston mayor who threw out the first pitch 100 years ago.

Everything that was planned was perfect. It was the part that couldn't be planned -- the actual performance of the team -- where it all fell apart.

As the ceremony ended, the Red Sox had Millar and Pedro Martinez standing atop the first-base dugout, leading a toast to the ballpark's first 100 years.

"And to the next 100 years," Martinez added.

Can they get there?

Not if every week is like this one.

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