I confess I had mixed emotions when I started watching this game Friday night. From the brouhaha that was raised during last season to the ostensible doldrums running rampant through the Red Sox Nation, I thought I might rather go to the dentist. Shame on me. The boys looked crisp, loose and had a bit of a swagger. Jon Lester, in his second start, shone like the seat pants of a cheap suit. Three innings does not a season make, but, boy, he looked sharp, relaxed and business-like with three one hit innings.
Rubby De La Rosa, who we got in the Dodger trade last year and who was recovering from the now routine Tommy John surgery brought some serious heat with his two scoreless innings. Steven Wright did okay until he knuckled under (please forgive me, but I had to say it) when he faded in the top of the eighth inning. He was the only pitcher pulled by John Farrell, after he loaded the bases and allowed two runs to come in, scratching the shutout. Wright shows promise, no doubt, but he’s not quite there yet.
Wright was relieved by Alex Wilson, who did a nifty job getting out of the eighth inning jam when he snared a hot come-backer in mid-air and threw to first to complete a double play that ended the inning and stopped any further bleeding. Wilson remained in the game and nailed down the save in the ninth.
We got a solid debut from Mike Napoli. Stephen Drew looked exceptionally comfortable at short and Pedro Ciriaco, as well, at third. Will Middlebrooks sat this one out, but no cause for alarm. Pedroia, as usual, gave 110% and had the dirtiest uniform on the field.
All in all, I think we will be in contention at the end of the season, which I definitely did not think last week. The team had fun. It wasn’t an exciting game but it was comfortable and reassuring. The probable first string acquitted itself admirably (with the possible exception of Jacoby Ellsbury dogging it a bit).Our new right fielder, Shane Victorino played especially well, joined in by Drew, Napoli and Pedroia. I will always remember that Victorino, when with the Indians, was ejected from the game while playing in center field by the home plate umpire, from behind home plate. Never had seen an ejection with that much distance between the offender and offended.
The game, as I said earlier, was comforting for those wanting to see the Red Sox of the last decade. The TV team was split between our Don Orsillo and JerryRemy with the Pirates’ crew of Bob Walk and Tim Neverett. The banter was superb, humorous and insightful. I remember when Walk pitched for the Atlanta Braves back in the Joe Torre years, and I remembered what a horrible name it was for a pitcher to have – Walk. I also remember that he turned his turns at the plate into high drama. From his stance to his swing to his customary strike out, it was worth the price of admission, especially when narrated by Skip Carey, the Ambrose Bierce of play by play men. (Skip was taken from us way too soon. Chip has a long way to go). Forgive me if I wander down Memory Lane but if you can remember Ted Williams‘ return from World War II, you’re allowed a slight digression from time to time.
Remy, Orsillo and Walk finally got around to discussing the Valentine year; Remy adroitly damned Valentine with faint praise, but the tone, in general, was not gentle. They had a decent discussion about the Red Sox’s chances this year (after quickly and gently dismissing the Pirates from any serious contention). Remy, who correctly acknowledged the fans’ anticipated disappointment but he was more than a little optimistic. Last year was a total nightmare. There were numerous reports of anonymous and otherwise covert communications between players and the triumvirate upstairs, all indicating “Get rid of Valentine or we go up in smoke!” The Pittsburgh Pirates who had a worse year than we did last year, looked a little out of it, so I can only get so fired up over tonight’s win, but it does look good. It’s a long way until April 1, and the final members of the Dramatis Personae.
To a large part, this dissension precipitated the wholesale trade with the Dodgers. What it did was move to repair the rent in the fabric of the universe. Josh Beckett had become unbearable; Carl Crawford became our resident rehab patient and Adrian Gonzalez, who played pretty well for us but was about to man the barricade of rebellion against our funny Valentine. At season’s end, as we suspected would happen, Bobby was sent packing – enter John Farrell. An excellent manager and teacher, a familiar and friendly face among the veterans on the team – the proverbial breath of fresh air. Jeff Bridges was in a movie where he played an androgynous space alien who was growing weaker as he was deprived of the rejuvenation of his own people. As the movie progressed, he became weaker and weaker, until he made contact with his people. His change in demeanor was dramatic and instant. He became completely revitalized and all was well (cue the music and fade to black).
From what I understand, the change within the rank and file players was positive and obvious. Remy’s main point was the bad guy had been run out of town and birds in the trees renewed their chorus of optimism. The fans haven’t seen that yet and remain despondent, as despondent as they have been in a long time . They have yet to collectively feel this new energy but Remy’s analysis likened it to motivation with a touch of fear, keeping all awake. Okay, we got rid of the bad guys’ gang with it’s leader (my jury has not returned on John Lackey yet), so we now have no alibi for failure. We got the manager we wanted and needed. We got some fresh strong faces and the only thing in our path to hinder us is ourselves. As Pogo the Possum said,”We have met the enemy and he is us.”
Last night’s game accented this positivism with good, fundamentally sound play and attitude and Lester’s probable reemergence as one of the best left handed pitchers in the game gave off very good vibes. Our new players, the returning ones with injury question marks hanging over them and our core veterans left me with a warm fuzzy feeling. As said at the outset, one preseason game against a “rebuilding” team does not a season make, but from what I saw yesterday, it is a harbinger of things to come. As a mother would comfort a child, last night said “It’s gonna be all right. Don’t be afraid.”