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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

A startling start after hype and hope

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Worse than Ellen DeGeneres's first night hosting the Oscars. Worse than Arsenio Hall's first shot at late-night television. Worse than Patriots coach Clive Rush's first press conference, when he was nearly electrocuted.

The much-anticipated Red Sox baseball season of 2007 kicked off yesterday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium, and Curt Schilling and the Boston Nine were thrashed, 7-1, by the Kansas City Royals.

Perhaps anticipating the beating he and his teammates will take today on the Hub airwaves and in print, Kevin Youkilis said, "If you're going to get upset at losing one game, it's going to be a long year. If a team loses only 60 games in a season, that's a great year.

"People are going to get all worried. We want to win them all, but I don't think anybody ever went 162-0."

Where to start? Blogmaster Schilling threw like a man suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome, yielding five runs on eight hits and two walks in just four innings. 38pitches? That's almost how many Schill needed to get out of the first inning, when he threw 33 and walked home a run. It was the earliest he was knocked out of a regular-season game in 10 years and hardly a good start to his 2007 campaign for a new contract.

Meanwhile, Bill James-mandated shortstop Julio Lugo started his Red Sox reign in Renteria-esque fashion, fanning in his first three at-bats, Japanese lefty Hideki Okajima yielded a home run on his first big league pitch, two Sox runners were cut down at second base, and spring strugglers Jason Varitek and Coco Crisp had hitless starts. Sox pitchers yielded 12 hits and two walks in eight innings.

Facing the widely mocked Gil Meche ($55 million over five years?), the Red Sox lineup was hardly the relentless run-producing machine that Theo and the Minions envisioned when they hovered over their computers during the wild-spending winter. The Red Sox struck out 10 times, and six of their eight hits were singles.

We all laughed when the Royals gave Meche the money, and he's been the baseline for Big Curt's request for an extension. After all, if Meche is worth $11 million per year, how much is Schill worth? That's the logic. Well, on this day, Meche was a far better pitcher than his counterpart (no blog updates from Schill during the game, darn it). He enjoyed the best Opening Day by a Royal starter since Bret Saberhagen in 1988.

Schilling made no excuses. Never does.

"No fastball command," he started. "I did not adjust. I can't remember that ever being the case. It's very disappointing. As a starting pitcher, you can make your team look a lot worse than it is some days."

This was one of those days.

A few years ago, our print brethren over at Herald Square bannered a "Wait 'Til Next Year" headline after an opener like this. Funny, but untrue, of course. We all know that baseball is a marathon, not a sprint -- remember? They play 162 of these things, and one game in April means nothing in the scheme of a season. This is not football, where everyone has to stick their head in an oven after a single game is lost. The 2004 Red Sox lost their opener to the lowly Orioles and that season worked out pretty well.

Still, after all the hype and hysteria that accompanied the start of this season, it was somewhat shocking to see the team with the $58 million payroll -- a team that lost 100 games in four of the last five seasons -- croaking the team with the $145.7 million payroll.

We'd do well to remember that the Sox were swept by the "lowly" Royals in this ballpark in early August 2006. That series proved to be a harbinger. It was a sign of things to come when the Yankees came to down and imploded the Boston season.

The Red Sox don't play today, which is a bad thing. It makes for another 24 hours of nonstop pummeling from Nation members on the edge. It's a good time for the Boston ballplayers to be on the road, where the hardest decision is whether to go to Gates or Bryant's for ribs.

Josh Beckett can make it all go away tomorrow. And then there's some rookie with a hard-to-spell name pitching for the Red Sox Thursday. Wonder if anybody will even bother to cover that one.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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