NEW YORK — First walk. First hustle on the basepaths. First strikeout. First run. First RBI. First “tremendous” catch.
How long before Dr. Charles Steinberg produces “The Ballad of Jackie Bradley Jr.?’’
How long before Yawkey Way is renamed JBJ Way?
How long before we’re eating loaves of Jackie Bradley Jr. Bread?
The kid made his major-league debut Monday afternoon and was instrumental in the Red Sox’ 8-2 Opening Day thrashing of the New York Yankees. In his first big-league plate appearance, in the second inning, Bradley turned an 0-and-2 count into a hard-earned walk off CC Sabathia that triggered a four-run Red Sox rally. Bradley beat shortstop Eduardo Nunez’s throw to second when Jose Iglesias followed with a hit into the hole. Bradley knocked in an insurance run in the seventh, doing his job when he batted in a first-and-third, one-out situation. He walked three times and saw 26 pitches in five plate appearances. He made a catch that reminded old-timers of Yaz’s iconic grab in the ninth inning of Billy Rohr’s major league debut, a one-hitter in April of 1967 at Yankee Stadium.
And the Red Sox won.
“Twenty or 30 years from now, I can say ‘When I opened up, we got a win,’ ’’ the 22-year-old Bradley said in the visitors’ clubhouse. “That’s pretty good. It’s definitely special to be able to contribute on your first day.’’
There were plenty of others who contributed. Shane Victorino had two hits and three RBIs. Jarrod Saltalamacchia had a hit and drew three walks. Iglesias had three infield hits. Jacoby Ellsbury had three hits in his final Opening Day with the Red Sox. Jon Lester fanned seven in five serviceable innings for the win. Five Sox relievers allowed zero runs over four innings.
But Bradley gets the imaginary game ball. Fans are going to remember The Catch . . . in the big-league debut.
Imagine what we’ll be saying and writing when he actually gets his first hit in the bigs?
It’s 1967 all over again. The Cardiac Kids had rookies named Reggie Smith and Mike Andrews. They went from ninth place to Boston’s first pennant in 21 years. They had a first-year manager who said, “We’ll win more than we lose.’’ And they had a rookie pitcher who hurled a one-hitter in his big-league debut in Yankee Stadium in April.
Sunday in the new Yankee Stadium, Sox first-year manager John Farrell predicted, “We’ll win more than we lose.’’ And Monday the Sox did everything they didn’t do when they finished 69-93, losing their final eight games, including the finale, 14-2, at Yankee Stadium.
The second inning set the tone. Bradley set the tone. He was down 0 and 2 with two aboard and one out.
He took a ball in the dirt to make the count 1 and 2.
He took a close pitch, away, to make it 2-2.
He fouled off a pitch.
He laid off a breaking ball, which was close to being a strike. Three and two.
Then he walked on a 92-mile-per-hour fastball.
“I was definitely anxious,’’ said Bradley. “You want to swing the bat. But you don’t swing at the pitcher’s pitch. I was able to lay off some pitches and get the count back in my favor.’’
With the bases loaded and one out, Iglesias followed with a hot grounder into the third-base hole. Bradley beat the throw to second to keep the rally going.
“Probably the key to that four-run inning was Jackie beating out that throw to second base, not only to extend the inning but give us a chance to put up a crooked number,” said Farrell. “Jackie impacted the game in many ways today.’’
Bradley is on pace to walk 486 times. Yankees cleanup hitter Kevin Youkilis, The Greek God of Walks, had to be impressed.
Youkilis was in the on-deck circle in the third when Robinson Cano drilled a long fly over the head of Bradley in left. Like Yaz running down Tom Tresh’s drive in 1967, Bradley got on his horse and ran back toward the wall. (OK, Yaz ran toward left-center and dove. Yaz’s catch was a better catch. But this was pretty good.)
“I knew it was over my head,’’ said Bradley. “I ran back and picked a spot where it was gonna land. I looked up at the right time and there it was, coming right at me.’’
Today is an off day and the last-place Red Sox of 2012 are in first place in 2013. They are perfect and infinite. They are grinding out at-bats, just like in the old days. The new guys all look good, and the bullpen is a deck of aces.
“Off day tomorrow,’’ Bradley said. “I’m kind of bummed. I can’t wait to get back on the field.’’
And we can’t wait to see him play again.