Red Sox were lacking championship intangibles
BALTIMORE — OK, 162-0 is out. What else have we got?
Everything Was Not Awesome for the Everything Is Awesome Red Sox in Monday’s 114th franchise opener here in The House That Larry Lucchino Built. Shane Victorino went on the disabled list, the Red Sox were 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position, left 12 runners on base, wasted a nice eight-strikeout effort by Jon Lester, and lost, 2-1, to Dan (More Days In First Place) Duquette’s Baltimore Orioles.
Making this one sting a little more, the deciding blow — a solo homer leading off the seventh — was delivered by Cheatin’ Nelson Cruz, one of the Biogenesis Bad Boys of 2013. It’s OK when those guys are playing on your side (remember Manny?), but you hate it when their cheaters are the ones who beat you.
The Sox were the Same Old Grinders of championship lore. They made Baltimore starter Chris Tillman throw 20 pitches in a scoreless first inning and chased the Oriole ace by making him throw 104 pitches over five. Unfortunately, your Red Sox did not do a lot of the little things that made them magical in 2013.
Case in point: The Sox put two men aboard to start the second. Mike Carp was on second base. When Xander Bogaerts drilled a deep drive to left, Carp wandered halfway to third and was unable to tag up when Cruz make an awkward, off-balance catch.
It was a mistake. Carp should have been on third. If you ignore the fallacy of the predestined hit, you could conclude that Carp would have scored when A.J. Pierzynski followed with a deep fly to center.
Small things. Those are the things the Sox did right in 2013, which is why they are going to the White House on Tuesday.
“I thought the ball was going to be a home run,’’ said Red Sox skipper John Farrell. “But we do teach our guys to be in position to get back and tag and try to advance.’’
Farrell will be in for some criticism in the wake of the opener. Trailing, 2-1, in the eighth, he pulled his cleanup hitter, Mike Napoli (looking more and more like Russell Crowe’s “Noah”), for pinch runner Jackie Bradley when Napoli got to second base with one out.
With runners on first and second and two out, Farrell kept Jonny Gomes on the bench and left lefthanded-batting Pierzynski to face tough southpaw Brian Matusz. Pierzynski hit a grounder to the mound.
“I liked the matchup there,’’ said Farrell. “I’m not second-guessing the move.’’
Bradley wound up in the batter’s box with two aboard and two out in the ninth. Facing flame-throwing Tommy Hunter, Bradley took two strikes (93 and 96 miles per hour) and managed to foul off a 99-m.p.h. heater, but wound up taking strike three after Hunter missed with a couple of pitches.
Bradley hit .189 in limited big league play last season and has yet to demonstrate he can hit in the bigs. He is probably not the guy you want at bat with two out and two on in the ninth inning of a 2-1 game.
The good news is, Lester was fairly dominant and Grady Sizemore lined a single and a homer, enlarging the legend that took Fort Myers by storm in March. Watching Sizemore Monday, it was hard not to think about Tony Conigliaro.
Sizemore had not played a major league game in 2½ years. Nine hundred and 22 days. This happened with our war heroes of the early 1940s when Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky, and friends put their careers on the shelf for three seasons, then roared back into big league ball in 1946.
But their ballplaying gap was forced by Germany and Japan. Sizemore had baseball taken away from him by seven surgeries in four years. Both knees. His back. Sports hernias. You name it. His previous big league game was on Sept. 22, 2011. Now, at age 31, he is back hitting homers.
Conigliaro’s story comes closest to Sizemore’s. Tony C was hit in the eye by a Jack Hamilton fastball on Friday night, Aug. 18, 1967. He was done for the rest of the year. He was unable to play in 1968. But on Opening Day in 1969, in Baltimore, Tony C hit a two-run homer in the 10th inning of a 5-4 Red Sox win.
Monday was Sizemore’s turn. He hadn’t homered in 990 days, which is almost as long as the presidency of John F. Kennedy. But he went deep to right off Tillman, breaking his bat on the swing. Unfortunately, he was the only Sox player who touched home plate.
Amazingly, the Orioles have won eight of nine games started by Lester since that fateful night at Camden in the final week of 2011.
POTUS on Tuesday.
“It will be a good day,’’ said Farrell. “We are able to get there because of what guys did last year.’’
Those were the things they did not do on Monday. Luckily, the Red Sox do not play in a town that’s likely to overreact to a loss on Opening Day.
Wednesday night, however, just became a Must Win for the Olde Town Team.