A sellout crowd of 36,728 at Fenway Park cheered loudly Friday as the Red Sox reminisced about the World Series title they won on the same field five months ago, then watched helplessly as the Milwaukee Brewers scored four times in the ninth to spoil the home opener with a 6-2 victory.
Between the pregame cheering and the postgame moaning, many of the fans in the stands took an opportunity to unload a healthy, full-throated batch of boos. Six opportunities, in fact: When Ryan Braun was introduced with the rest of the Brewers before the game, then again for each of Braun’s five plate appearances.
Braun was suspended for the final 65 games of the 2013 season, agreeing to the ban after Major League Baseball said he violated “the Basic Agreement and its Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program” as part of the Biogenesis investigation. Braun also tested positive for performance-enhancing drug use back in October 2011, but that result was reversed on appeal, and Braun was spared any suspension. He was named the National League’s MVP in 2011, when he hit .332 and slugged 31 home runs. He produced a career-high 41 homers the next season.
Braun received multiple standing ovations in the Brewers’ home opener Monday, but that was in front of forgiving fans. Friday marked the first true road game Braun had played since his suspension, and Red Sox fans let him have it.
“It’s not easy, it’s not fun. There’s no blueprint for any of this stuff. I just deal with it the best I can,” Braun said. “I certainly wasn’t anticipating a reception like I got in Milwaukee.
“I’ve dealt with it for the last couple years, it’s not something that’s new to me. Regardless of how challenging anything is, the more you deal with it, the easier it becomes. Dealt with it in 2012, had my best year. Last year, was off to a good start before, you know, my early departure.”
The negative reaction from the Fenway faithful appeared to decrease each time Braun appeared on the field: Loudest during pregame introductions, not as loud (but still loud) for his first trip to the plate, not as loud (but still loud) for his next at-bat, and so forth.
Until his last plate appearance, that is. After the Brewers scored three ninth-inning runs to break a 2-2 tie, Sox fans were in a predictably foul mood when Braun came to the plate, and unleashed another chorus of loud boos, along with some noticeable “Steroids!” chants.
Braun was the designated hitter, instead of playing right field, his usual position.
Before the game, Braun confirmed to Milwaukee media that the thumb injury that surfaced last season — before his suspension — has flared up. He said the injury — a nerve issue between his right thumb and index finger — has brought numbness, and has caused bruising and blisters because he’s been gripping the ball too hard.
Braun came into the game batting .091 (1 for 11), and went 0 for 5 against Sox starter Jake Peavy and relievers Burke Badenhop and Edward Mujica. He struck out swinging in the first inning — to the delight of the crowd — popped out to second baseman Dustin Pedroia in the third, and flew out to right fielder Daniel Nava in the fifth, all off Peavy.
Facing Badenhop in the top of the seventh inning of a 2-2 game with two outs and a runner on first, Braun grounded out to shortstop Xander Bogaerts on a close play at first. Braun immediately turned and questioned the call, and Brewers manager Ron Roenicke also came out to argue with first base umpire Tim Welke, the crew chief.
Welke didn’t budge. His call — like the consistent noise spewing from the majority of Friday’s crowd — went against Braun.
In the ninth, against Mujica, Braun again flied to Nava in right. But by then, the Brewers had done their damage. As tough of a day as it might have been for Braun personally, he was happy with the win.
“It always makes it so much better,” Braun said. “I’m happy we were able to win tonight. Incredible team over there, special day for them, getting to enjoy what they were able to accomplish last year.”