CHICAGO -- Even a down year has its moments. Here are 10 from 2010 for the Boston Red Sox.
April 4 -- Pedro Martinez throws out ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day
He came out from behind the huge flag draped on the Monster wearing his old Sox uniform, No. 45 on the back, and took longer to walk to the mound than it takes a Kenyan to win the Marathon. No one begrudged him a single second. Pedro Martinez, his face aglow, basking in the love of a crowd happy to acknowledge one more time that they'll never see anyone quite like him again.
April 4 -- Ryan Westmoreland at Fenway Park, watches from Theo Epstein's box
He was a local kid, a Rhode Islander, who in two short seasons in the minor leagues had marked himself as a real comer, rated the top prospect in the Sox system by Baseball America even before his 20th birthday.
It all changed, however, for Ryan Westmoreland, when doctors discovered in March he had a rare condition called angioma and needed surgery to remove a mass of blood vessels that had bled twice in his brain. The Red Sox lined him up with a world-renowned specialist. He told Ryan that he might be paralyzed. Or he could die.
Westmoreland is not paralyzed, and he did not die. Doctors say it will be two years before they know how much of his motor functions he will recover, but Westmoreland is on the road to recovery. He sat in Theo Epstein's box in Fenway Park on Opening Day, and made at least two more visits.
He believes he will play again.
"I can't say when, but the sooner the better, and that's the ultimate goal, to get back on the field," he told Dan Barbarisi of the Providence Journal. "Step one, I woke up alive. Now we're moving forward, and the goal?"
He pointed at the field. "It's right down there."
April 20 -- Darnell McDonald homers in first Sox AB, then adds walk-off hit
Darnell McDonald was a football legend in Colorado, rushing for more than 6,000 yards to lead Cherry Creek High to three state titles. In one championship game, he ran for 333 yards and scored five touchdowns. He had a scholarship offer to play at Texas, but when the Baltimore Orioles drafted him No. 1 and offered $1.9 million, he chose baseball.
It didn't work out quite the way he imagined. Thirteen seasons in the game, and he had played 68 games in the big leagues, 1,338 in the minors for seven organizations. But then Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron both got hurt, and the Sox summoned him from Pawtucket. At 31 years old, he hit a pinch-hit home run to tie the game in the eighth inning in his first Sox at-bat, then singled off the Monster in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Texas Rangers.
"I couldn't write a script any better than this,'' said McDonald, who later would return to Denver and hit a home run in front of the home folks who used to cheer his touchdowns. "A lot happened real quick tonight. A dream come true.''
May 18 -- Sox, Jonathan Papelbon come back against the Yankees
The night before had been a disaster. Josh Beckett slipped on a wet mound in Yankee Stadium and hurt his back. The Sox spotted the New York Yankees a 5-0 lead, roared back to go ahead on back-to-back home runs by Kevin Youkilis and Victor Martinez in the eighth, then lost in the ninth when Jonathan Papelbon gave up home runs to Alex Rodriguez and Marcus Thames.
The next night, the Sox went five runs down again, 5-0 after five, tied it with four in the eighth, and went ahead in the ninth. Papelbon came out of the bullpen again, accompanied by the jeers of 47,738 in the Bronx. After an error by Marco Scutaro and a double by Robinson Cano, the Yanks were within a run. But with runners on first and third, Papelbon retired pinch hitter Juan Miranda on a comebacker and struck out Randy Winn to end it.
"Our role as a closer, there's no such thing as a knockdown, a knockout," Papelbon said after getting off the mat. "You might beat us one round, but it's a heavyweight fight. That's just the way I look at it."
June 12 -- Daniel Nava hits a grand slam on the first pitch he saw in the big leagues
That in itself is not enough? Let's embellish the story then. No bigger than a middle schooler in high school. Cut from his college team. Washed uniforms. Played for the independent Chico Outlaws. Signed as a minor-league free agent. Not even on 40-man roster. Game's on national TV. Mom and dad in the stands.
"I wonder where my folks are sitting,"' he said to the manager before his first at-bat.
"I don't care," Terry Francona said. "Go get a hit."
June 24 -- Dustin Pedroia goes 5-for-5, hits three home runs
Forget for a moment that the next night he would foul a ball off his foot and break it, an injury that would sideline him for virtually the rest of the season. On this night in Denver, little Dustin Pedroia was every bit the slugger his hero, Barry Bonds, was. You know what? Even Bonds never had five hits and three home runs in the same game.
And to think, Pedroia had never hit three homers in a game anywhere. Not even Little League.
"I hit a ton of bombs," he said with his customary cockiness. "Don't kid yourself."
Aug. 3 -- Mike Lowell returns from DL after trade deadline, homers in first at-bat
The Red Sox couldn't trade him, and they refused to release him. They put him back on the DL for more than a month with a sore hip that he'll one day need to replace, and while on rehab he hit a bunch of home runs, including three in one game for Pawtucket. The trading deadline passed -- the Yankees showed interest, then passed -- and on the day after Kevin Youkilis tore a thumb muscle, Lowell was activated. That night, he came to the plate and the crowd came to its feet. The first pitch he saw, he hit a two-run homer.
"I think the fans here are very knowledgeable to the fact of the possibility of what was going on throughout the whole year and at the trade deadline," Lowell said. "I don't know if they were clapping because maybe they thought I was gone or they were happy I was still here, but it's a real nice feeling. It's one of the more special moments I've had in my career, that's for sure. Rounding the bases felt real good."
Aug. 9 -- Daniel Bard: Bases loaded, six pitches, two whiffs
Consider the setting: Yankee Stadium, the crowd smelling blood. The Yanks had beaten the Sox two straight, and now Jon Lester, who had shut out the Bombers for six innings, was weakening. Bases loaded, no outs. Lester struck out Curtis Granderson, a left-handed hitter, for one out. With Derek Jeter coming to the plate, Francona summoned Daniel Bard.
Bard whiffed the Yankee captain on three pitches. Then he did the same with Nick Swisher. Six pitches, all fastballs, none dipping below 98 miles per hour. Threat averted.
The adrenaline rush? Bard could think of only two moments that compared.
"Standing at the altar when I got married,'' he said, "and seeing a big deer in the scope. That's about it.''
Aug. 14 -- Jon Lester vanquishes Rangers, heat
A hot August night in Texas, 102 degrees at game time. The Sox had lost 10-9 in 11 innings the night before, and the bullpen was spent. As the night went on, Lester got sick, he got dehydrated, but he pitched. For eight innings, he went to the mound.
Nelson Cruz tripled with one out in the seventh, and Lester stranded him there. He did not allow a run and did not walk a batter.
"I had no idea he was sick,'' catcher Victor Martinez said. "That tells you what kind of game he pitched. He never gave in to them all night."
Aug. 28 -- Ryan Kalish's catch and somersault against Tampa Bay
The kid, a three-sport star in high school in Red Bank, N.J., was recruited to play quarterback by the University of Virginia. Instead, Ryan Kalish chose to sign with the Red Sox, and within four years was in the big leagues.
He fulfilled one dream by hitting his first big league home run in front of family and friends at Yankee Stadium, but on a Saturday night in Tropicana Field, the nation was clued in to who he was when he sprinted into left-center field, made a diving catch of B.J. Upton's liner, then executed a perfect somersault upon landing. "SportsCenter" made it its No. 1 play of the day.
"I'm just excited for the kid," right fielder J.D. Drew said. "He's fired up to be part of the game. He hustles, he plays every pitch hard, and when he makes a catch like that you can see how excited he was. I got a big smile. He flips over, comes up, he's excited, he almost falls down.
"I said, 'Kid, that is ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous.'"
Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He has covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.