The Opening Day festivities began with their customary fanfare and pageantry. Flyovers! Huge flags of the United States! Uh . . . Dana Barros? (Yes, Dana Barros! You have no right to make fun of the school that represents Mattapan, Xaverian, BC, and now Stoughton.
But right around the time of the pregame introductions, something didn’t feel quite right. The long-retired catcher Jason Varitek received the greatest ovation, and a Red Sox hype man desperately embellished the starting lineup. Rafael Devers is planning to spend the next decade playing baseball in the Boston area. The most recent champion of the World Baseball Classic is Masataka Yoshida! Corey Kluber has won the Cy Young Award twice during his career.
Everything felt contrived, as one would expect from an undertaking that has lost its shine at exactly the same rate that the Red Sox have dropped homegrown All-Stars. Opening Day used to be a local celebration that marked the unofficial beginning of spring, but now days it’s just another day in between speculations of Lamar Jackson being traded. (“T-Pain told Mr. Kraft that Lamar enjoys shopping at the Wrentham Outlets for Le Creuset!”)
But give it to the Red Sox for this: just when it appeared that they would be blown out of their own building to set a horrible tone on a 2023 season that is already bordering on buzzless, they showed enough fight, especially offensively, to forestall their obituary by proving that they are not dead yet.
I can’t really crush them today, because the ratio of negatives to positives basically mirrored the 10-9 final vs. the Orioles. The Red Sox spent the winter carefully constructing a pitching staff that would absolutely, positively throw strikes, and then promptly tied a franchise record for an opener with nine walks. All of those extra baserunners contributed to five of the easiest steals the Orioles will ever record while running wild.
But after falling behind 5-1, 7-2, and 10-4, the Red Sox still made a game of it, aided in part by some sloppy Baltimore defense. New left fielder Masataka Yoshida looked like the real deal, going 2 for 4 with an RBI and easily turning around a 95 mph fastball over the inside corner. Rafael Devers hit rockets from pole to pole. Justin Turner and Alex Verdugo recorded two hits apiece. The offense had some juice.
The Red Sox outscored the Orioles 5-0 over the final two innings and nearly completed the comeback in the ninth before Adam Duvall struck out with the tying run on second to end it.
So while no one’s suggesting we should feel good about yet another 0-1 start, at least the Red Sox avoided an unmitigated disaster.
“You want to win the first one. We’ll try it again next year,” said manager Alex Cora. “It’s just the way we played, too. You’d rather play a crisp 3-2 game, 1-0 game, but that wasn’t the case. But you take the positive at the end. We battled and had traffic. Offensively we did a lot of good things.”
Considering that Opening Day is often a time for making important announcements, how about this one: The Red Sox and the Orioles gave the impression of being two clubs competing for last place in the finest division in baseball. That does not imply that any of them is horrible; rather, it merely means that they should brace themselves to be outcompeted by the Yankees, the Jays, and the Rays, all of whom won on Thursday.
Turner remarked that his team “fought with good fight today.” “The guys kept being hit, but they didn’t stop moving or fighting back, and that’s how we were able to give ourselves a chance to win the game in the ninth inning. I am quite pleased with what we accomplished. We were just unable to make the cut.”
On Saturday, the Red Sox will get back into the game, and their ace pitcher, Chris Sale, will be taking the mound. The Red Sox will be hoping that Sale will outperform the three innings of work that Corey Kluber provided against the Orioles.
The Red Sox cannot afford to go off to a bad start, and they have already made a hole for themselves. The fact that the outcome was not as disastrous as it might have been buys them another day, but that is all it does for them. The baseball season lasts for a very long time. We can only hold out hope that it won’t be too long.