It’s an annual tradition, practically a rite of spring around here, to assign outsized importance to the outcome of the Red Sox opener.
That goes for wins and losses alike. I was a teenager in 1986 when Dwight Evans walloped the first pitch of the season for a home run at Tiger Stadium. I took that as a surefire sign that this was going to be the year, finally, that the World Series would be theirs to win.
Come October, they did beat the Angels in a thrilling American League Championship Series. Let’s just call the World Series memorable and move on.
(By the way, Evans hit that home run off ol’ Pitch-To-The-Score Jack Morris. The wrong one of those two players is in the Hall of Fame.)
The opener is just one of 162, or for those of you that favor percentages over fractions, it’s 0.61728395 percent of the schedule, to be way too precise. It won’t be long before its key plays and plot twists blend into scenes from all of the other W’s and L’s a season brings.
That’s a truth worth remembering especially this year, because the Red Sox’ 10-9 loss to the Orioles Thursday at frigid Fenway is one we’d just as soon forget. Not so much because of the outcome — at least the Sox went down fighting, scoring a pair of runs in the ninth and leaving the tying run on second base — but because it was that certain lousy brand of familiar that we were hoping would go out of style in the new season.
I have hope for the 2023 Red Sox, or at least more hope than I possessed when spring training began. Upon their arrival in Fort Myers, I presumed the lineup would be fine, even with the uncontested departure of cornerstone shortstop Xander Bogaerts to the Padres. But at least a third of the defensive alignment was playing out of position, and the starting rotation featured an assortment of interesting pitchers, but no sure things.
When spring training concluded, I felt increasingly optimistic about the Red Sox, at least in comparison to the conventional wisdom that they would be a sub-.500 team and win the race to the bottom in the American League East. I know, I was surprised about that turn toward optimism too, but the charisma of Masataka Yoshida, the potential of Triston Casas, and this healthy, happy version of Chris Sale that we saw all spring contributed to the upgrade in vibes.
And then came Opening Day, and the sorry flashback to last season. Red Sox pitchers walked nine Orioles and allowed 15 hits. Ryan Brasier, a nice find five years ago but someone who authored a 5.78 ERA in ’22, allowed five baserunners and three earned runs in an inning of work. I started wondering last season why he’s still on the roster. Still wondering.
Brasier was followed by Kaleb Ort, an avatar of the good stuff/bad results archetype of pitcher who ends up getting way too many chances from the analytics crowd. He gave up four hits and two earned runs in two innings. He now has a 6.46 ERA in the major leagues. What’s his ceiling, the next Blaine Neal?
For a team that should have a much improved bullpen, it was discouraging to see Zack Kelly, Brasier, and Ort as the first three relievers utilized by Alex Cora this season. Then again, if Corey Kluber (who got the Opening Day start over Sale for a reason I still don’t comprehend) had been able to get out of the fourth inning, perhaps the parade of relievers would have lined up differently.
The pitching performances were frustrating. Other circumstances were just plain weird. The Orioles stole five bases against catcher Reese McGuire and Red Sox pitchers, who were outwitted by Baltimore’s baserunners manipulating the new pickoff rules.
Relatedly, am I the only one starting to think that between the pickoff rules and the bases that have been altered from the size of a small pizza box to a large one, stolen bases are going to explode even more than anticipated this season? The last player to steal 100 bases in a season was Vince Coleman of the Cardinals with 107 in 1987. I’m starting to think someone will break triple digits this year.
Ah, well. At least there were some glimmers of hope Thursday, reminders that this is not 2022, even if the result was all too recognizable. That most notable glimmer: Yoshida, whose success or failure may determine Chaim Bloom’s job status in the long run. He went 2 for 4 with a run and an RBI, inspiring chants of his name from hopeful fans who were surely encouraged by his World Baseball Classic star turn. I like him already, don’t you?
Game 2 — right, 2 of 162 — commences at 4:10 p.m. Saturday afternoon, with Sale on the mound. It’s unfair to ask for him to be reminiscent of, oh, the 2017 version of himself, of course. A strong showing that ends in victory would be enough. And please, no more reminders of ‘22.
Read more from our Red Sox season preview
- Chaim Bloom is transforming the Red Sox. What does the future hold?
- ‘This group knows what we can do but the world doesn’t:’ Whether it’s confidence or cockiness, Red Sox manager Alex Cora has it
- The ultra-competitive Rafael Devers is the cornerstone of the Red Sox — now and for the foreseeable future
- Dan Shaughnessy: Regardless of Red Sox expectations, this is a day to celebrate the return of baseball
- Dueling columns | Alex Speier: Why projection systems don’t like the 2023 Red Sox
- Dueling columns | Peter Abraham: For an unpredictable Red Sox team, let’s call it 86 wins and in contention for a playoff spot
- Meet the 2023 Red Sox Opening Day roster
- MLB season predictions: Will the Red Sox make the playoffs? Our staff doesn’t think so.