After a rough road trip to open their 2012 season, it looks like Boston just needed an off day and a little home cooking to snap out of their funk. It felt good, nay, great, to see them tee off against the Tampa Bay Rays; a small measure of revenge against the pesky team that pulled the rug out from under them last September. Although this game was billed as a pitching duel between two aces, it ended as a lopsided slugfest, with the Sox coming out on top, 12-2 over their division rivals. Starting in 2005, the Sox have won eight straight home openers at the Fens.
The Rays drew first blood in the second after a Ben Zobrist single/Jeff Keppinger RBI double opened the inning. With a man in scoring position and nobody out, Tampa was primed to put up a crooked number on the scoreboard. But Beckett buckled down, inducing three consecutive groundouts to neutralize the threat. Boston didn't wait too long to respond, as they jumped on David Price for three runs in the third inning, and it should have been more; they reloaded the bases with just one out before Cody Ross crashed the party by bouncing into an inning ending double play. But Price was done for the day, and the Red Sox added another run the following inning to boost their lead to 4-1, but suffered a scare when Jacoby Ellsbury had to leave the game with a shoulder injury after colliding with Reid Brignac as he tried in vain to break up Dustin Pedroia' GIDP. No word on the severity of his wound yet, but the team fears the 2011 AL Comeback Player of the Year and MVP runner up could miss significant time. Even when the Red Sox win, they still lose.
The score stayed that way until the bottom of the eighth inning, when the Olde Towne Team exploded for eight runs. They sent 14 men to the plate, the first ten of which all reached base before Ross's sac fly. And while I hate to be greedy, Boston should have scored even more. Once again they had the sacks full with just one out, but Shoppach popped an infield fly and Ryan Sweeney flew out. The half inning featured half of Boston's 16 hits, three walks, three doubles, three coaching visits to the mound, but surprisingly just one pitching change; Josh Lueke replaced Joel Peralta four batters in, and Joe Maddon allowed the former to face ten hitters and give up six runs, though the first two were charged to Peralta. By the time the dust had settled , the Sox held an insurmountable eleven run advantage. All ten Red Sox batters had reached base, and everyone not named Cody Ross recorded at least one hit. Number nine hitter Kelly Shoppach, of all people, paced Boston's attack by going 3 for 4 with three runs, two ribbies, a pair of doubles and a stolen base--the first of his career and one of the most ungraceful events I have ever seen occur on a baseball diamond.
But on an afternoon where Boston's bats went berserk, it was Josh Beckett who led the way. He twirled eight innings of one-run ball as he stymied a lineup that's better than most people (myself included) realize. He issued only one walk and, most importantly, didn't allow a single home run after serving up five long balls to the Detroit Tigers in his last start. This time around he permitted five hits total, just one for extra-bases--Zobrist's two-bagger--and needed exactly 94 pitches (61 strikes) to get 24 outs (by comparison, Price used up 83 pitches (47 strikes) for nine outs). Valentine probably would have let him go back out to finish the job in the ninth had the Sox not blown the game wide open in the bottom of the eighth, but with the double digit lead it made sense to bring in Mark Melancon in a zero pressure situation to get the last three outs. The only knock on him is that he recorded one punchout against a lineup that's chocked full of high strikeout guys like Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena, Matthew Joyce, Desmond Jennings, Sean Rodriguez, Zobrist and, when he returns from the DL, B.J. Upton. In fact, he didn't notch a K today until he fanned Pena for the second out of the eighth inning. That gives him a grand total of four whiffs in twelve and two-thirds innings this year. His diminishing strikeout rate is definitely something to monitor over his next few starts.
Clay Buchholz, another starter looking to bounce back from a horrendous outing in Motown, takes the bump tomorrow against Jeremy Hellickson. I'm going to the game, so hopefully Boston can string together back to back wins for the first time this season.