Baseball is a game of numbers, and most of them were downright ugly yesterday as the Red Sox tried to give the new owners some of their $700 million worth against the Toronto Blue Jays on Opening Day at Fenway Park.
Here’s a sampling of the numerical madness the teams foisted on the faithful among the 33,520 who endured every last twist of the 4-hour-12-minute “slobber knocker,” as Trot Nixon portrayed the 12-11 loss:
* 27 runners left on base, with the Sox leaving the bases loaded three times and wasting a couple of other prime opportunities;
* 19 walks;
* four hit batsmen, all Blue Jays;
* two wild pitches;
* and one highly vulnerable franchise pitcher, Pedro Martinez, who was knocked out of the game after allowing eight runs (seven earned) on nine hits and two walks in three-plus innings that at times seemed interminable.
Good thing beer sales were cut off at 3:30 p.m., when the game was only in the fourth inning, or a lot more folks may have been crying in their suds.
The seven earned runs Martinez surrendered equaled the total he yielded last April over his first five outings. The ace insisted he felt no residual pain from the slight tear in his rotator cuff. But he has entered a new frontier in his pitching career, he acknowledged, and where it takes him could be a mystery.
“Some of the things that are happening with me are different,” he said. “I’m not used to being wild and erratic at this stage. I’m just hoping everything is going to change.”
But will it, now that he’s pitching with a different body, altered by 14 pounds of muscle he added to his chest and shoulders over the winter?
“I don’t know how I’m going to react the next three months,” he said. “I don’t even know what’s out there for me. I can only hope to be healthy and make some adjustments.”
In an unsettling development for Sox fans, Martinez put his team in a 7-1 hole going into the bottom of the second. His new manager, Grady Little, counseled fans to be patient.
“I would be nervous if his arm was bothering him, but it’s not,” Little said. “It’s a matter of command and control. It’s coming, and it’s coming slowly, but it will be here soon.”
Martinez contributed to his demise with an uncharacteristic error when he bobbled a bunt by Felipe Lopez in the second. He said he lost his grip, which, in some ways, was the case with pitchers on both teams.
The Sox rallied to an 11-8 lead in the fourth after pummeling New Hampshire native Chris Carpenter, who started for Toronto. Carpenter surrendered solo homers to Jose Offerman, Nixon, and Jason Varitek, and a three-run shot by Tony Clark, all in the first three innings.
But Darren Oliver, exiled to the bullpen after losing his bid for the last spot in the Sox rotation to Frank Castillo, aggravated matters by blowing the lead in the fifth.
Still, the Sox had their chances to regain the edge. In the fifth, they loaded the bases with two out, but Rey Sanchez, who had singled in two runs an inning earlier, whiffed. They loaded the bases again in the seventh, and Sanchez appeared to break the game open with a sinking liner to left. But Jose Cruz made a spectacular headfirst dive to snare the ball and end the inning.
“He made a beautiful diving play,” said Varitek, who went 3 for 3, scored two runs, and knocked in two. “If that ball falls in, it’s a totally different game.”
The Sox spoiled another chance to inch ahead when Johnny Damon (1 for 4 with a sacrifice fly in his Boston debut) walked to lead off the eighth. The speedy Damon, who was given the green light to steal, waited while Offerman tried to bunt, only to watch him pop out on his second try.
When Little was asked why he had Offerman bunting rather than Damon trying a straight steal, he said, “We wanted to force their hand a little bit. We didn’t know what they were going to do after we got the runner to second base.”
The Sox would never know because when Damon finally tried to steal, with Nomar Garciaparra at the plate, Jays pitcher Kelvim Escobar pitched out.
“I had a great jump,” Damon said. “I ran into a 20-mile-an-hour headwind, but that’s the situation to go in. [Darrin] Fletcher had time to throw it and he made a perfect throw. But we had to take that chance.”
After Rolando Arrojo, Casey Fossum, and Rich Garces held the Jays scoreless for 3 1/3 innings, Little lifted Garces for closer Ugueth Urbina as the teams entered the ninth in an 11-11 tie. Urbina, who is paid to protect leads, instead gave one up.
With one out, he made a crucial mistake by walking Raul Mondesi. After Carlos Delgado singled to right, moving Mondesi to second, the Sox did something painfully reminiscent of past seasons: They allowed an uncontested double steal, which put Mondesi 90 feet from the plate with one out.
Varitek said he was expecting a fastball from Urbina instead of the slider he threw, which hindered his chance to make a play. But Little indicated the problem began before Urbina released the pitch.
“Maybe we didn’t keep enough attention on [holding] Mondesi at second base,” he said.
After Urbina intentionally walked Cruz, Mondesi scored on a sacrifice fly to center by Fletcher, who last year ranked third-worst in the American League in grounding into double plays (18). Fletcher said he figured Urbina was trying to set him up for a double play ball.
“I just had to keep from trying to pull the ball,” Fletcher said. “I was able to get it up in the air with my natural swing.”
Despite a one-out single by Clark in the ninth - and Rickey Henderson’s Boston debut as a pinch runner - the Sox were snuffed.
So much for Martinez, Garciaparra, and Manny Ramirez playing together for the first time. Sox pitchers yielded more runs in a day than the team’s staff did in its first seven games last year. And Little’s major league managerial debut - sweet at the start - was a bust.
“It’s probably a feeling that’s second to none I’ve ever had in my life,” he said of starting the season as the skipper. “The next best feeling is going to be winning a game, and that’s probably going to happen pretty soon.”
The only consolation: Roger Clemens (eight runs in 4 1/3 innings) pitched as poorly as Martinez as the Yankees bowed to the Orioles, 10-3, in Baltimore.