Red Sox manager John Farrell arrived at Fenway Park at 7:45 a.m. on Friday for a game that wouldn’t start for another seven hours or so. When he looked into the clubhouse, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia was already at his locker.
The Red Sox had not been to the postseason since 2009, a long drought for a franchise that had grown accustomed to being part of baseball’s October drama. There was no arriving too early on this day.
“It wasn’t nerves,” Saltalamacchia said. “I think we just all wanted to get out there and finally play.”
Sprung from their cages by an odd mistake in the outfield, the Red Sox beat the Tampa Bay Rays, 12-2, in Game 1 of the American League Division Series.
On the one-year anniversary of the firing of manager Bobby Valentine after an embarrassing last-place finish, the Red Sox thrilled a sellout crowd of 38,177 with their first postseason victory since Oct. 18, 2008.
“It’s been a long time for us,” David Ortiz said. “But this team, we’ve got a chance to do something special. You saw that.”
Every player in the Sox lineup had at least one hit and scored at least one run. Saltalamacchia, in his first career playoff game, was 2 for 4 with a double and three RBIs. Shane Victorino drove in two runs with three hits.
Jon Lester pitched into the eighth inning and came off the field to a standing ovation.
Game 2 of the best-of-five series will be Saturday at 5:37 p.m. at Fenway. The Red Sox will pitch John Lackey against David Price.
“That’s just one game, baby. That’s just one. We’ll be back tomorrow,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “I promise you, we’ll be ready to play. We will not be affected mentally by this game.”
The Rays survived a tiebreaker game in Texas Monday and won the wild-card playoff game in Cleveland Wednesday to get to Fenway Park. They looked well-rested early, taking a 2-0 lead on home runs by Sean Rodriguez and Ben Zobrist.
Tampa Bay starter Matt Moore went into the fourth inning having thrown 17 consecutive shutout innings against the Red Sox dating to May 14. He had yet to allow a hit.
Then came one of the wildest — and weirdest — innings of the season.
Dustin Pedroia singled up the middle. Ortiz then hit a routine fly ball to right field that rookie Wil Myers settled under.
As the ball descended from the overcast sky, Myers stepped forward. The ball bounced untouched into the bullpen for a double.
It appeared at first glance that somebody had called Myers off. But he accepted blame later.
“Totally my fault,” he said.
So strange was the play that several Red Sox relievers stepped forward to say nobody from the bullpen tried to distract Myers.
“Nobody said anything,” Craig Breslow said. “He just missed it.”
With one out, Jonny Gomes doubled off the wall in left to drive in two runs and tie the game. It was his first postseason hit.
With two outs, the inning really got strange for the usually efficient Rays.
Stephen Drew grounded to first base and beat the feed from James Loney to Moore. Gomes, one of the smartest base runners in the game, came all the way around from second and the Sox led, 3-2.
“That hustle is definitely erased if Stephen Drew doesn’t hustle to first,” Gomes said. “So it’s double hustle.”
Will Middlebrooks was next and he knocked a ball off the wall then caromed past Rodriguez. Drew scored and Middlebrooks landed at second base.
Jacoby Ellsbury struck out, but was safe on a passed ball and Middlebrooks went to third. Victorino singled and drove in another run.
“Sometimes one play can do it. I’ve been in the playoffs before. One little thing can lead to a lot. It became a snowball for them,” Victorino said.
Moore did not make it through the fifth inning.
Mike Napoli doubled with one out after belting a ball to left. He should have been out by several steps but the throw from Rodriguez was off line.
Gomes was then intentionally walked. Saltalamacchia got ahead in the count and doubled off the wall. The Rays were slow to react again and Gomes scored from first.
That was it for Moore. Wesley Wright came in and struck out Drew for the second out. Middlebrooks was intentionally walked before Ellsbury singled off the glove of Wright and Saltalamacchia scored.
Moore allowed eight runs (seven earned) on eight hits. Over two innings, the Sox sent 19 batters to the plate and pressured the Rays with aggressive base running.
“We’re always going to give good effort,” third base coach Brian Butterfield said. “Base running is a tough sell sometimes. When you have veteran guys who carry the torch correctly, it becomes easier for everybody.”
Once the Red Sox took the lead, Lester was fiercely efficient. He retired 11 in a row at one point before walking a batter in the eighth inning. Lester tipped his cap as he left the game, acknowledging the cheers of the crowd.
Lester allowed two runs on three hits, walked three, and struck out seven. His 114-pitch effort left the Red Sox bullpen set up well for Saturday.
Lester showed a fastball that touched 97 and continued a second-half trend of dominance that again stamped him as the team’s ace.
“Getting to start Game 1 at Fenway Park is pretty exciting,” Lester said. “The adrenaline was going.”
The Sox kept attacking in the eighth inning, scoring four more times. Victorino (single), Napoli (walk), and Saltalamacchia (single) drove in runs.
The 12 runs were their most in a postseason game since a 13-1 victory against the Rockies in Game 1 of the 2007 World Series. That was the prelude to a sweep.