That’s the game that we were all hoping we’d play. Fenway was a sight for sore eyes; something about the players being introduced at the home opener just makes you feel refreshed and ready, and after the start to the season we’ve had, we needed that. And the final score was a sight for sore eyes, too. 12-2. Now that’s what I call taking care of business on your first day home. Ladies and gentlemen, here’s hoping that yesterday was the first day of the rest of our baseball lives!
First things first. The opening ceremonies were as fitting and fantastically done as ever. Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek threw the first pitch, as they should have. It was so great to see them back there received with the standing ovation that they clearly deserved. Dwight Evans caught Wakefield’s pitch, and Jim Rice caught Varitek’s, which was especially fitting since Rice was our captain before Varitek played. Needless to say, the pitches were thrown quite well (I was hoping Wakefield would deliver a knuckleball, but apparently Evans warned him against that beforehand), and there were plenty of hugs to go around afterwards. All in all, it was a supremely feel-good event. In the bottom of the second, Wakefield and Varitek joined the NESN booth for the first time ever; apparently they’d never been to that part of the park before. Wakefield was right when he said that it was a special day that the two of them shared together; opening the hundredth season of baseball at Fenway was a task that was absolutely fitting for them to complete. And we’ll see them again this year; during the season each of them will be honored with their own day. We certainly haven’t seen the last of Varitek, who will probably re-join the organization in some sort of professional capacity. Their comments on the start to the season we’ve had were interesting to hear, and ultimately it was just a pleasure to have them back. It really was.
Beckett pitched like an ace. These are now back-to-back gems by our two best starters; it’s a good sign, and it’s some solid momentum that we can build from. Beckett pitched eight innings and gave up only one run on five hits, two of which were doubles, and that was it for extra bases. He walked one and struck out one, the eleventh time in his career that he posted only one strikeout but the first time in his career that he posted a win with only one strikeout. That one strikeout came against Carlos Pena with one out in the eighth; it took him six pitches, and the clincher was a curveball going seventy-four miles per hour that resulted in a missed swing. Beckett threw ninety-four pitches, sixty-one of which were strikes, so he was right on pace.
He brought his fastball up to ninety-two miles per hour, and they were good, but the real stars of his arsenal were the cutter and the changeup. Almost all of his cutters were thrown for strikes, and a little less than half of all of his pitches were changeups, which he threw for strikes almost two-thirds of the time. Other than that, he also introduced a curveball that was pretty good. So he pitched like an ace, but not necessarily like the ace we’ve seen him be in most of his gem starts. This was less about dominating and overpowering the hitters and more about getting around them with craftiness and finesse. It was a side of Beckett that we rarely get to see, but nevertheless it was obviously an effective side of Beckett and one that speaks to his overall skill and versatility as a pitcher.
Regarding efficiency, as I said, he was pretty much on the ball. He wasn’t remarkably efficient, but he wasn’t inefficient, either. Around a hundred pitches is where you should be by the time the ninth inning starts, and there are plenty of pitching staffs out there whose aces are lucky if they can make it to the sixth or seventh around a hundred pitches. He threw at most seventeen pitches in one inning, and he did that twice, once in the first and again in the fourth. He threw sixteen in the second and thirteen in the eighth. Other than that, he threw nine in the sixth, eight in the third, and seven in the fifth and seventh.
Beckett allowed his lone run in the second pretty quickly; the inning started with a single, and the next hit was one of the two doubles he gave up, which scored Ben Zobrist. But then he ended the inning with three straight groundouts, and under his watch, it was the end of the scoring for the Tampa Bay Rays. (Incidentally, Zobrist also scored Beckett’s only walk, in addition to his only run.) Three of his innings were one-two-three: the third, the fifth, and the eighth.
Meanwhile, the game did not begin auspiciously for our offense, as we went down in order in the first. We put two on base in the second, but three straight outs erased that threat. We first got on board in the third: Shoppach got hit, Ellsbury doubled, and Pedroia walked on five pitches to load the bases. Then we put up three straight scoring plays: Gonzalez singled, Youk hit a sac fly, and Papi singled. It was small ball, but it was effective small ball. McDonald re-loaded the bases by also walking on five pitches, but Ross ended the inning by grounding into a double play. Still, that was three runs right there.
We added one in the fourth; Aviles began the inning by grounding out, but then Shoppach doubled and scored on a single by Ellsbury. (Speaking of the fourth, Ross made a fantastic diving catch to prevent a base hit and secure the first out in the top of the inning.) We went down in order in the fifth again, and we had two baserunners again erased in the sixth and one erased in the seventh.
Now, at that point, the score was 4-1, and with the way Beckett was pitching, that lead alone would have held up fine. Honestly, if that had remained the score, Bobby V. would have let Beckett stay in there and finish it up. He’s a beast against the Rays; he’s got four wins and is undefeated in six starts with a 0.84 ERA going back to September 12, 2009. As it turned out, Melancon came out to pitch the ninth. He faced four batters. Three of them represented outs, but between the first and second one was a solo shot to right on a 2-1 fastball. Those two runs were the only runs that the Rays would have scored. In plenty of other scenarios, which unfortunately we have seen first-hand this year, that may have cost us the game. Fortunately, Melancon made that one isolated mistake and recovered. So if we had only scored four runs, in this particular game we would’ve been fine.
But we didn’t only score four runs. We exploded majorly in the eighth. It was fantastic. It was like a whole new team up there. Almost every batter in that inning contributed to the run total in one way or another, and it was just a string of well-orchestrated scoring plays. It really looked and felt like the team was playing like a team.
It all began with a pitching change; Joel Peralta replaced Wade Davis. What a cold, cold greeting we gave him. McDonald opened the inning with a very patient at-bat that concluded with a double. Then Ross walked, and McDonald moved to third on a wild pitch. Then Aviles walked to load the bases. Then Shoppach doubled and scored two. Then Sweeney singled and scored two. Then Pedroia and Gonzalez singled back-to-back to reload the bases. Then Youk singled and scored two. Then Papi doubled and scored one. Then McDonald got hit to reload the bases. Then Ross hit a sac fly that scored one. Then Aviles singled to reload the bases. And then Shoppach and Sweeney provided the last two outs. So, before Ross hit his sac fly, we sent ten men to the plate with nobody out in the inning, and our first out of the inning was still a scoring play. We scored eight runs in the eighth inning alone.
We posted sixteen hits to their six. We posted five extra-base hits to their three, even though ours were all doubles and they had a homer. We left ten on base to their five, but – are you ready for this? – we went ten for seventeen with runners in scoring position to their 0 for 5. Ten for seventeen.
Youk and Papi both went two for four, the latter with a double, and Gonzalez went two for three. But the man of the hour, who went three for four with two doubles, was Kelly Shoppach. Not bad for a catcher. Not bad at all. All told, we had five multi-hit games.
There was only one downside to the game, and unfortunately it was extremely significant. Ellsbury went two for three but left in the bottom of the fourth with an injured right shoulder. Right after his RBI single that inning, Pedroia grounded into a double play to end it, and Reid Brignac landed on the shoulder at second base after he threw to first. Hard. It looked bad; he grabbed it and stood up with some difficulty. He walked off the field holding his arm pretty delicately. Make no mistake, folks: this is a complete and total disaster in every conceivable way. The incident quieted Fenway pretty quickly, and rightly so. He was examined after the game, but there is no definite word yet on his condition; you can be sure, though, that he’ll be temporarily replaced for at least five or six weeks.
So the team does indeed start to celebrate Fenway’s one hundredth birthday with a win! It was a win for Fenway, a win for Red Sox Nation, and a win for the team, and we all badly needed it. And so we should feel happy about that. But we should also be aware of the fact that we hope we didn’t just trade in a win in the short term for a win in the long term; in other words, we hope that Ellsbury isn’t injured for the long term as a result of what occurred in this game. Seriously. This is an extremely, extremely big deal.
In other news, the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs for the Bruins have officially begin, and on a high note at that. We beat the Caps, 1-0! As I said, I’m really thinking repeat.