The Red Sox should have played “Auld Lang Syne” instead of “Sweet Caroline” during the eighth inning on Friday night at Fenway Park. In the aftermath of the Great Purge at Thursday’s trade deadline, the remade Red Sox were ringing in a new year (2015) after kissing 2014 goodbye.
Who needs to wait until January 1? August 1 was not just a new day for the Sox, but the start of a new year. The only thing missing from the Sox’ 4-3 win over the New York Yankees was a ceremonial ball dropping and the celebratory clinking of champagne glasses. Wise guys would say the Sox dropped the ball in the offseason.
The Sox have made a resolution not to rebuild for 2015, but retool. They have a plan to get back to contention at wide open Southeast Expressway speed. A good piece of that blueprint hinges on the major league hitters they got back in separate trades with Oakland (Yoenis Cespedes) and St. Louis (Allen Craig) for ace Jon Lester and pitcher John Lackey.
It also hinges on the status of their surfeit of pitching prospects, like Friday night starter Anthony Ranaudo, whether Xander Bogaerts can handle shortstop, whether Will Middlebrooks, recalled to the big club, can recapture his 2012 form, whether Jackie Bradley Jr. can hit enough to be an everyday center fielder.
The rest of this lost season is the discovery phase for getting a jump-start on 2015. The Sox must answer as many of the roster questions as possible heading into the offseason. The Sox ended up in this situation because they believed they had most of the answers after a World Series title season in 2013. But both the questions and the answers changed.
With their sell-off, the Sox have swapped one roster deficiency for another. Ranked last in the American League in runs scored entering Friday, they were lacking impact outfielder bats. Ostensibly, they have those now. But they have to find quality starting pitching, either by distilling it from their raft of prospects, paying for it in free agency, or packaging some of the cosseted kids in a deal for an established starter.
The Sox have witnessed the trend in baseball in the post-steroid era. They’re wisely betting they can obtain pitching more easily than power hitting.
Red Sox manager John Farrell was adamant that the Sox were not ready to turn Fenway into a research and development laboratory for the rest of the season.
“I guess what I want to be careful of here is this isn’t a development setting right now. It’s still about us going out and winning,” said Farrell. “This isn’t a group of prospects that were brought in in trades. We brought in established big leaguers and our focus should remain the same, and that is to go out and win each night.
“This isn’t about getting X number of at-bats for a young guy or getting a certain number of starts for a young pitcher. We have youth in the rotation, but the expectation isn’t going to change . . . There are changes that have gone on and winning is still the priority.”
The priority switched from winning the moment Lester, et al were dealt away. The rest of this season is about next season, period.
The rival for the new-look Sox was familiar, but the Boston team was virtually unrecognizable from the one that had taken the field Wednesday against the Toronto Blue Jays.
It kind of felt like the first day of school with so many new faces.
“A different mood because we’ve got probably a third of a new team,” said Farrell. “So, there is certainly some newness. But I think there was a lot of enthusiasm with the guys that we brought in.”
The Sox trotted out a lineup with Mookie Betts in center field, Middlebrooks at third, and Bogaerts re-instated at shortstop.
Gone were Lester, Lackey, hype man/pinch-hitter extraordinaire Jonny Gomes, reliever Andrew Miller and shortstop Stephen Drew, who was at Fenway playing second base for the Bronx Bombers.
Wearing Red Sox uniforms for the first time were Craig, acquired along with Joe Kelly from St. Louis in the Lackey deal, and Cespedes, the centerpiece of the Sox deal with Oakland for Lester.
Craig started in left field and batted fifth. Cespedes, who was en route to Fenway on Friday, made it to the ballpark before the game and met with the media, but didn’t play.
The zip-line throwing arm outfield of Bradley and Cespedes would have to be unveiled another time.
Wearing No. 5 and with a prominent nose, the righthanded Craig looked eerily like Nomar Garciaparra the first time he came to the plate. He flew out to former Red Sox Jacoby Ellsbury in the second and doubled to left in the third, finishing 1 for 4.
The highly touted Ranaudo was the first Red Sox pitcher to make his big league debut against the Yankees since Dominican Mystery Man Robinson Checo in 1997.
A New Jersey native, Ranaudo grew up a Yankees fan, his favorite player was Derek Jeter. Ranaudo got the thrill of a lifetime in the third, striking out Jeter looking on a fastball on the outside corner for the tall righthander’s first career strikeout.
He surrendered his first big league home run to Carlos Beltran the next inning.
Ranaudo, who allowed two earned runs over six innings while striking out two and walking four, wasn’t awe-inspiring or overpowering.
But he showed impressive poise, especially in the sixth after the Sox’ 3-1 lead was trimmed to a run. Ranaudo struck out Brian McCann and got Chase Headley to ground out to Middlebrooks in a shift to end the sixth.
The Red Sox welcomed in new players and ushered in a new year. They won the first game of 2015.
There is no ‘wait ‘till next year’ for the Olde Towne Team. It’s already here.