At JetBlue Park, a partly cloudy day, in Fort Myers, Florida, Betts made a huge statement to keep him as the starting center fielder on Opening Day. Today, in front of over 9 800 fans, against the Philadelphia Phillies and their starting, right-handed pitcher Jerome Williams, Betts hit an inside-the-field home run in the bottom of the third inning. It helped the Red Sox win the game, narrowly, 7-6.
This marvel came after Dustin Pedroia singled a line drive to center field, scoring Betts in the bottom of the first inning. The leadoff man gave the Red Sox an excellent start.
Right-handed starting pitcher Steven Wright also contributed to that success. He blanked the opposing bats for four straight innings, keeping the lead for his team in tact. Wright gave up two hits and walked two batters, while striking out two Phillies to complete his outing.
Hanley Ramirez got into the fun in the third by smashing a three-run blast off of Williams over the center field fence. The play scored Reed Gragnani and Pablo Sandoval. Williams finished the inning, but the damage had been done.
Even with Andy Oliver relieving the Phillies’ starter, more of the same continued in the bottom of the fourth inning. Ramirez, again, was the culprit of the onslaught, hitting a ground-ball single to center, scoring catcher Ryan Hanigan and Gragnani.
That was pretty much it for the Red Sox bats, but the scoring was just getting started.
Mar 12, 2015; Bradenton, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox shortstop Hanley Ramirez (13) at McKechnie Field. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
In the top of the seventh inning, the Philly bats sprung to life, much to the chagrin of relief pitcher Heath Hembree, whom had a much better outing, recently. Phillies catcher Cameron Rupp took the first Hembree pitch thrown to him and made it a double to left field, scoring Odubel Herrera and Cord Phelps.
Darin Ruf, Philadelphia’s first baseman, must have felt that Hembree was angry about the previous play, because he was hit by the following Hembree pitch. The next better, pinch hitter Andres Blanco made the Red Sox pay for that, as he took his revenge for Ruf by doubling on the very next pitch. Phelps and Ruf scored on the play.
It wasn’t all Hembree’s fault in the inning. After bowing out, Edwin Escobar came in for relief, which took the form of a routine throwing error on a pickoff play allowed Blanco to score. Much like Ruf, hitter Grady Sizemore also felt the wrath of a Red Sox pitcher after a miscue, by being hit by the very next pitch. What was with Boston’s bullpen and their thirst for revenge?
Then, in the top of the ninth inning, the Phillies almost tied the game. Their center fielder Jordan Danks had a grounding single to center field, which scored both Chris McGuiness and Brian Bogusevic. But that was all the runs the Phillies could muster, as the Red Sox had no need to go up to bat in the bottom of the ninth. The one-run lead was preserved, barely.
- Betts went 2-for-2, with an RBI and two runs scored. He is hitting .438, this spring, with 14 hits in 32 at-bats, crossing the plate, himself, 7 times. The Castillo-Betts battle for center field is definitely on. Maybe enough to have both men join Ramirez in the outfield, leaving Shane Victorino on the bench, instead of right field.
- Ramirez did what he was paid to do, and then some. He hit 5 RBIs on the day, with 2 hits in 3 at-bats.
- As a team, the Red Sox had 13 hits, a staggering total compared to previous games. The issue was that the bullpen gave up 7 of the 9 Philly hits. Not good.
- Anthony Varvaro and Craig Breslow cannot be included in that bullpen bashing. The two men combined for allowing only 1 hit in two innings of work.
- Spruill did get the save, his first of the spring. His ERA is 7.50, but it’s spring training. Relax.
- Wright had a great outing. Stay tuned for the grade.
He deserved the win. There were almost no signs that he was slowing down. If Wright went two more innings, with Varvaro and Breslow finishing the game for him, the game would never have been as close. Wright proved that he can handle the job for extended innings, making him an option if a pitcher in the starting rotation gets hurt or if a number of relief innings are needed in a game. Keep your eye on Wright in his next few spring training appearances; it looks like there could be more where that came from.
If it were not for these two men, the bullpen would be getting a failing grade. With a commanding lead, the Red Sox almost lost the game at the end of the frame. Opposing batters were hit, multiple times, right after bad situations happened. These events reflect a lack of confidence and control, which is exactly the opposite of what a relief pitcher is meant to do. He is supposed to hold the other team at bay until offensive reinforcements arrive. Spruill may have got the save, but only because the bullpen messed up so badly, the game went back into a competitive, suspenseful climax.
The day belonged to him, regardless of the excitement Betts brought with his own version of the home-run ball. When you hit 5 RBIs, you get the game ball. However, the Red Sox hits dried up once the Phillies’ starter was pulled from the game. He allowed 10 of the 13 Boston hits. It’s hard to take away from the fact that the team had so many balls in play, offensively, but they will have to learn to do it in the later innings, even with substitutions coming into the lineup.
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