Oh What An Opening Night
Opening Night at Fenway Park featuring arch rivals the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees was supposed to be a cold and uncomfortable early April night. But hot weather and memorable pre-game moments such as five-year-old YouTube sensation Josh Sacco reciting the famous 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey coach Herb Brooks’ speech, and an elated Pedro Martinez making a surprise return to Fenway to throw the ceremonial first pitch to the captain Jason Varitek warmed up the soldout Fenway fans.
Highlight of the game: the offense, led by new third baseman Adrian Beltre’s clutch hitting and Dustin Pedroia’s two-run shot off veteran Chan Ho Park, which led to the Sox coming back to beat the Yankees 9-7 in a game that was supposed to be all about pitching. Both starters Josh Beckett and CC Sabathia gave up five earned. Other notes: Dr. Dre and Nomar (working for ESPN) were in the house. And at long last, the Red Sox got Neil Diamond to come out to Fenway Park, and right field in particular to sing fan favorite “Sweet Caroline” with the Fenway masses in the middle of the eighth inning. The only person seemingly not quite into it (besides me) was Joba Chamberlain, who threw warmup pitches while Diamond performed.
The rest of the three-game series was less successful for Boston, as the Yankees won the next two games. In game two, Jon Lester did what he normally does in April, struggle (four earned runs in five innings pitched). And between games two and three combined, the Sox offense only scored five total runs. John Lackey’s six shutout innings in his Sox regular season debut in game three was Boston’s bright spot for the rest of the series. The low point: new shortstop Marco Scutaro’s costly (first) error with two outs late in game two, which led to the Yankees getting to the Sox bullpen for runs five and six, winning 6-4 in the end.
The Early Struggles of David Ortiz: Here We Go Again
Big Papi has taken more pitches than anyone else on the BoSox. But he’s a measely 2-for-18 on the young season through Sunday and already showing frustration with his slow start. First, he lashed out at reporters after going hitless the first two games against the Yankees, then got thrown out of a game over the weekend in Kansas City after arguing about being struck out on a check swing. And for the record: home plate umpire Mike Estabrook made the right call.
The problem seems to be that Ortiz just isn’t seeing the ball well, laying off pitches on the outside corner, having trouble with offspeed pitches down-and-in, and striking out a lot as a result – eight times in his last nine at-bats in the Sox-Royals series. Or when he makes contact, Papi keeps grounding out into the shift on the right side
So much like early last year, the pressure is already getting on Big Papi to start hitting, or at the very least, getting on base via walking. Ortiz knows that Mike Lowell is still here and along with Victor Martinez (when not catching or playing first base) can step in and DH at any time. But with a player-friendly manager like Terry Francona and the fact that the season is only a week old, Ortiz will get plenty of time to get back on track before being benched for other alternatives. When he starts getting hits to the opposite field, that’s when you’ll see signs that he is getting out of his funk.
Tim Wakefield’s 2010 Season Debut: A Waste
In the six games the Sox played last week, Sox starters pitched reasonably well in four of them. That included Tim Wakefield, who struck out six and allowed just two earned in seven innings in his impressive season debut Friday night vs. the Kansas City Royals. But the bullpen continued its subpar opening week and led by Hideki Okajima and Daniel Bard, blew the 3-0 Sox lead that Beltre and J.D. Drew (two-run shot) built. The Sox lost 4-3 as a result.
Boston Bombs Away KC
The BoSox took the next two games vs. KC to end the weekend behind good (but not ace-like) starts by Beckett and Clay Buchholz, scoring eight runs in both games, including five home runs on Saturday night. It was an offensive outburst few expected outside the Sox clubhouse, and came against no slouches: 2009 A.L. Cy Young winner Zack Grienke on Saturday and Gil Meche on Sunday. Most impressive about the offense, besides the fact that Dustin Pedroia now has three homers on the year already, was the contribution of the bench, as reserve outfielder Jeremy Hermida and Varitek went back-to-back off Greinke Saturday, and Mike Lowell looked good defensively and went 1-for-4 offensively that same night. Varitek would hit another homer on Saturday and Hermida drove in two more runs Sunday.
The only scary element to Sunday’s 8-6 win, besides Ramon Ramirez giving up a three-run bomb to Jose Guillen in relief in the eighth to get the Royals to six runs, was Jacoby Ellsbury’s left ribs colliding with Adrian Beltre’s knee in the ninth inning. But he luckily avoided major injury and is expected back in the Sox lineup by midweek in Minnesota.
The Final Take
The Red Sox went six days without wins between Opening Night on April 4 and Saturday April 10 but ended this first week with as many wins as they have losses (3-3). All three wins came via big scoring games, and all three losses had either poor relief pitching and/or weak offense as the culprit.
But overall, with mostly good starting pitching, an offense better than expected and worthy contributions from the bench, the Sox are in good shape despite its record. What do they need to improve upon immediately? This week, it’s the bullpen, along with Lester and Ortiz that need to right their respective ships. Next week? Well, you’ll know in due time.