CLEVELAND — Game 1 of the 116th Red Sox season played out just about as perfectly as Dave Dombrowski could have planned. Travis Shaw and Brock Holt stroked four hits, Mookie Betts hit a homer and made a spectacular catch, the three-headed bullpen monster pitched a scoreless 7-8-9, David Ortiz launched his farewell tour with a long homer to right . . .
And, oh yes, David Price took over the role of staff ace with six innings of sometimes dazzling hurling as he fanned 10 and survived a couple of jams in a bone-chilling, 6-2 Opening Day victory over the Cleveland Indians.
"It was a tough day to pitch for anybody, but he gave us six strong innings,'' said Dombrowski, who spent $217 million of John Henry's money to bag the best starting pitcher on the market last winter. "I'm sure he'll win many games for us.''
This is sort of what it felt like when the Sox acquired Pedro Martinez from the Expos in the winter of 1997-98. Pedro fanned 11 in his Sox debut. Price settled for 10, throwing 103 pitches and walking two batters while improving his career record to 105-56.
"That was a good win,'' said the 30-year-old southpaw. "I'm happy it went the way it did. I've been doing this for quite a while now . . . Every five days I want to go out and throw the baseball the way I'm capable of throwing it.''
It was a 34 degrees at game time, a numbing 26 Farenheit if you account for the windchill. That made it the coldest Cleveland opener of all time, precisely 2 degrees colder than the 1907 opener when the Cleveland Naps played the White Sox.
Cleveland knows a thing or two about great pitching performances on Opening Day. Young Bob Feller started a bunch of them and Rapid Robert remains the only pitcher in baseball history to toss an Opening Day no-hitter. Feller shut down the White Sox at Comiskey Park on April 16, 1940.
I spoke to Feller about this in the spring of 1989 when it crossed my mind that Roger Clemens might repeat the feat in the Sox opener at Baltimore that year. The Orioles were coming off a historically bad season in which they lost their first 21 games and finished 54-107. Clemens, meanwhile was a robust 26 years old, already a two-time Cy Young winner. A no-hitter at old Memorial Stadium seemed possible. My advance story about this possibility somehow got misinterpreted and the Orioles wound up thinking that Clemens himself had predicted an Opening Day no-hitter. He did not. Baltimore GM Roland Hemond (Dombrowski's first boss) playfully shook his fist at me when the O's got their first hit off Clemens in the third inning and Baltimore won the game in extra innings.
Given the temperature, the Tribe lineup — plus Price's stuff and motivation — a no-hitter on Tuesday seemed remotely possible.
Price chewed up the Indians in the first three innings, striking out six and allowing . . . no hits. He struggled briefly at the start of the second when he had difficultly with his footing and walked Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana back to back. Price settled down after the wildness, striking out four straight in the second and third.
The fourth was trouble. After Betts stake Price to a 2-0 lead with his two-run homer in the third, Cleveland's star shortstop Francisco Lindor led with a clean single to right to start a two-run rally. Lindor's hit was the first of four singles in the inning. In between the hits there was an 11-pitch at bat by Napoli. The former Sox hero fouled off a raft of Price two-strike pitches before finally taking strike three on a devilish backdoor cutter. Napoli argued, of course.
Price needed 33 pitches to get out of the inning and was up to 78 pitches through four.
"It was important that he got out of that without allowing more damage,'' said Sox manager-under-siege John Farrell.
It was still a 2-2 game when Betts saved Price at the start of the fifth. Rajai Davis led off the inning with a wicked shot over Betts's head in right. It had "triple" stamped all over it, but Betts got on his horse, caught up to the ball, leaped, and made the catch as he streaked toward the warning track. Price smiled and applauded into his mitt.
"Out of the box, Rajai was thinking triple,'' said Price. "There would have been a guy standing on third with nobody out. So he's probably going to score . . . That's why [Betts] has Jordans on his feet. He can stay in the air a little longer . . . Players like him make me so excited to be part of this team.''
In return, Betts said this about Price: "He's got a very dominant personality. On the mound, it shows. I think he's winning before guys step into the box, because they know who's on the mound. With his confidence and everything, it just makes him that much better.''
The Red Sox have an ace.
The first-place Red Sox.
Looks like John Farrell's job is safe for at least one more day.