The 0-1 Red Sox are in last place.
Which is home for this once-great franchise. The Sox have finished in last place in five of the last 11 seasons — more than any other team in Major League Baseball.
The upstart Orioles beat the Boston wannabes, 10-9, Thursday at frozen Fenway — a train wreck of a baseball game (12 walks, 3 errors, 5 Oriole stolen bases, none of which drew a throw) in a non-tidy 3 hours and 10 minutes.
Ugh. This is not what Theo Epstein was aiming for when he helped create rules that hasten down the wind and speed up the game.
With the Sox trailing, 10-4, in the middle of the eighth inning, the Olde Towne Team came off the field on a freezing March afternoon and the public address system blared “Sweet Caroline.”
So good. So good. So good. The Orioles’ mound wildness and defensive sloppiness made it close in the final two frames, but the Sox were worthy losers, and frozen fans went home unhappy, probably emboldened with false hope.
This is what the Red Sox have become. For the first time in a long time, they are the fourth-most-popular team in our sports-crazed region, and they rely on past glory, an idiotic song, and pink-hat fans to bolster past days when they were a serious baseball organization spending money and trying to win championships for a loyal, long-suffering fan base.
Now they are a nerd-larded operation (33 folks in the analytics department) intent on not overspending, selling the illusion of contention in a watered-down playoff format that promotes “all are welcome” every October.
There was some nice nostalgia on First Thursday. Keeper of the Sox flame Peter Gammons was on hand as he has been every year since the late 1950s, and Joe Castiglione was in the booth for his 41st Sox home opener. WBZ legend Jonny Miller was here for his 65th consecutive Fenway opener.
Not present was legendary former Globe photographer Frank O’Brien, who died Wednesday night on his 82nd birthday. O’Brien photographed the 1967 Red Sox and was still shooting at the beginning of the century.
The new-and-improved Red Sox clubhouse has the vibe of a disco club from the 1970s. The room is bathed in red-tinted lighting that reminded me of the light shining into Cosmo Kramer’s digs after a Kenny Rogers Roasters opened across the street from his apartment. Think of it as Game On Meets Studio 54.
But then there was the game.
Not a party-starter.
Vaunted Sox manager Alex Cora elected to let Corey Kluber (did you know he won a Cy Young Award NINE years ago?) start the game instead of Chris Sale, the fragile $147 million ace who has won five games in three injury-plagued seasons since winning the contract lottery in 2019.
Kluber never cracked 90 miles per hour on the gun, walked four, and gave up five runs in 3⅓ innings. Then we got to see head-tilting Ryan Brasier (35 pitches, 16 strikes, 2 hits, 2 walks, 3 runs in one inning!) and Kaleb Ort (4 hits, 2 runs in two innings) in the middle of the first game of the 2023 season. Boston pitchers walked nine batters. Nice work, Chaim.
“All around, it wasn’t a great game,” confessed Cora. “We’ve got to be better.”
That would start by not starting your season with a 36-year-old (37 next month) once-great pitcher.
Seriously. Why did Sale not start this game? Because it was his birthday? Because the Sox didn’t want him to overextend in the bigly hyped opener?
Now Sale is on deck to pitch Saturday, which looks like a rain-soaked, delay-driven disaster that can only threaten a fragile erstwhile ace who is not suited for unexpected interruptions.
Where were the 33 analytics guys on this decision? Or Chaim Bloom? Is it not clear that Sale should have started Thursday instead of tsunami Saturday?
When I asked Cora about Sale’s status for a weather-risky Saturday start, the manager said, “If we have to make adjustments, we can.”
All that aside, how do the Sox adjust to a rule-change-induced, newly empowered running game that allowed the Orioles to steal five bags without drawing a single throw?
The good news is that Masataka Yoshida (2 for 4) looks like a player, Average Al Verdugo hit a double and a triple, and Rafael Devers and Justin Turner each had a couple of knocks.
But I can’t get my head around the fact that meatball artists Brasier and Ort were called upon in the fifth and sixth innings of the first game of the season. When you do this on Opening Day, you forfeit all illusion of contention.
Perhaps the most pathetic moment of the opener came during pregame introductions, when the Sox felt the need to oversell members of their starting lineup with résumé-bragging superlatives. When Devers was introduced, the PA guy reminded fans that Devers recently signed a long-term contract and will be here for the next 10 years.
The oversell was a bad idea. All it did was remind everybody that the Sox elected not to pay the going rate for homegrown stars Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts.
You get the team you deserve.
This is your team.