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Garciaparra more than ‘a little emotional’

07.06.09 at 7:34 pm ET
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Though former Red Sox All-Star Nomar Garciaparra anticipated before the game that he would be “a little emotional” in his return to Fenway Park, he clearly had no means of anticipating the actual experience of his return. As he stepped to the plate to lead off the top of the second inning, Garciaparra was greeted by a rousing standing ovation that was sustained. He acknowledged the fans, first by doffing his batting helmet, then by patting his heart in acknowledgement of the cheers. The ovation continued and Garciaparra found himself wiping tears from his eyes. The home-plate umpire, Greg Gibson, tried to afford Garciaparra a moment to compose himself by going to dust off home plate, but when the Oakland D.H. needed more than that, Gibson simply remained bent over home plate until Garciaparra was finally ready to enter the batter’s box.

When he stepped in, Sox starter John Smoltz fed Garciaparra four straight breaking balls: a slider (called strike), changeup (ball), slider (foul) and another change. The fourth pitch resulted in a groundout to third, On his way back to the Oakland dugout, Garciaparra pointed in appreciation into the Red Sox’ dugout. What was undoubtedly one of the most challenging at-bats of Garciaparra’s career is now in the books.

The notion that Garciaparra might face a hostile reception at Fenway turned out to be wrong to an extreme. Clearly, the fans were more interested in the former shortstop’s greatness while in Boston, a run from 1996-2004 that included:

–The fourth highest career batting average (.323) as a Red Sox

–The fifth highest career slugging mark (.553) in franchise history

–The sixth highest career OPS (.923)

–Two batting titles (1999, 2000)

–Rookie of the Year honors (1997)

–A season as the runner-up in the American League MVP race (1998)

–A season (2000) in which he hit .372, the fourth-highest single-season mark in franchise history

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