The ancient walls of Fenway Park have seen some pretty unusual stuff since the last-place Red Sox slinked out of town at the end of September.
In November, we witnessed Fenway football for the first time since Gino Cappelletti dropped field goals into the bullpens in the 1960s. The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame shook down the thunder against Boston College, and then Boston English, Boston Latin, and six other EMass rivals brought Thanksgiving football to Yawkey Way. This was followed by a Galway-Dublin hurling match and an Irish Festival, replete with stepdancers and Dropkick Murphys. Finally, in February, a two-day snowboarding and freeskiing event played out on a 140-foot-high Fenway snow ramp that was visible from the Mass. Pike and the top of Mount Wachusett.
On Monday, we get baseball at Fenway Park again. Finally. The 3-2, not-in-last-place Red Sox will play the undefeated Baltimore Orioles in the 105th Fenway opener at 2:05 p.m.
The 116th franchise home opener represents the beginning of the interminable David Ortiz Retirement Tour — he already had a “day” in Fort Myers, and Tuesday is Ortiz Necklace Giveaway Night — and the much-anticipated first home start for $217 million free agent lefty David Price.
Price got the Chiclet-white ball for the season opener in Cleveland last Tuesday and beat the Indians with six innings of 10-strikeout pitching in a 6-2 win. His presence on the mound for the home opener triggered the first mini-controversy of a fairly smooth start to the 2016 Boston baseball season.
Price is 30 years old and at the absolute peak of his estimable pitching powers. He is a former Cy Young winner, owns a 105-56 won-loss record, and is coming off an 18-5 season split between Detroit and Toronto. He has pitched his entire career in the American League, most of it in the heavy-hitting AL East. The acquisition of Price represents a bold commitment by new Sox baseball boss Dave Dombrowski and a reversal of an ownership philosophy (“we don’t sign pitchers over the age of 30,” “we don’t need an ace.”)
The Sox and their fans want to see Price work a heavy load. Manager-on-the-spot (three last-place finishes in four years) John Farrell stated this spring that his plan for Price was to get him on the mound as much as possible. Price was originally scheduled to pitch Sunday in Toronto. When a Thursday rainout in Cleveland pushed all Sox starters back by one day, Farrell had the option to skip knuckleballer Steven Wright and use Price on his regular fifth day. Instead, Farrell opted to keep the rotation in turn, which conveniently pushed Price ahead to Monday’s opener at Fenway.
Was this a baseball decision, or a PR decision? We’ll never know for sure. The Sox no doubt are happy they don’t have to introduce local pinata Clay Buchholz (routed in his first start in Cleveland) as the Opening Day guy at Fenway, but Farrell worked hard to stress the baseball worthiness of the decision, explaining that the Sox wanted Wright to get in some work, and that the extra day would do Price some good.
Farrell’s “baseball” explanation looked solid when Wright gave up only two runs in 6⅔ innings of a 3-0 loss to the Blue Jays Sunday. Wright’s effort represented the longest start for the Sox this season. Now comes the bonus: Sox fans get to see Price in the home opener.
Swell. Price is the alpha dog of the staff. He is the successor in a conga line of Boston aces that includes Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, Josh Beckett, and Jon Lester over the last 30 years. The bad news for Sox fans is that Buchholz, Joe Kelly, and Rick Porcello — the three guys who follow Price — allowed 16 earned runs over a mere 13 innings in their three starts. Boston’s bats, coupled with tremendous bullpen work, enabled the Sox to win two of those three games, but Buchholz, Kelly, and Porcello will have to do better if the Sox want to contend. It was starting pitching that blew up the Boston season last summer, and at this hour Sox fans are saying, “David Price and roll the dice.’’
There will be a flyover Monday and plenty of pomp, circumstance, and patriotic bunting. But no banner raising, no ring ceremony.
“It should be a great day, it always is,’’ Farrell said Sunday. “We’ll certainly feel the energy coming off the road.’’
The Sox were in Florida for six weeks, then went to Montreal (exhibition games), Cleveland, and Toronto to start their season.
Finally they are home.
It is a day to get excused from class. It is a day to call in sick.
It is Opening Day at Fenway Park.
With David Price on the mound.