KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- For their amusement the night before they opened the 107th season of Red Sox baseball, a group of players went to see the testosterone-driven hit movie "300," in which a small band of hopelessly outnumbered Spartans holds off wave after wave of attacking Persian forces.
It's doubtful whether any of them anticipated any parallels between the film and the 7-1 defeat they absorbed yesterday at the hands of the Kansas City Royals, a team that regularly has been crushed by baseball's big-market bullies but yesterday proved more than the equal of a team with vastly superior resources.
The Royals, seizing the opening left them by an out-of-sorts Curt Schilling and cashing in on their own widely lampooned investment in pitcher Gil Meche, knocked Schilling out of the game after four innings and coasted to their most one-sided Opening Day win since 1979. The Sox now have lost six of their last seven openers, their only win coming in Texas last year.
"Very disappointing," said Schilling, who gave up eight hits, walked in a run with the bases loaded, and hadn't been knocked out of a regular-season game this early in 10 years.
"As a starting pitcher, you can make your team look a lot worse than it is some days. Today, absolutely, was one of those days."
While the Sox managed just six hits against Meche, David Ortiz's first-inning RBI double accounting for their only run, the Royals had a dozen hits, including two triples by a kid who used to run around Fenway Park while his dad played baseball for the Sox.
Shortstop Tony Pena Jr., so new to the Royals that he still didn't have a name plate over his locker ("It was delivered to the park and signed for," said a Royals official, "but no one knows where it is"), tripled and scored the go-ahead run in the second, then tripled home the Royals' final run in the eighth.
"I remember playing with a taped ball with Frank Viola's son in a hallway outside the Fenway family room," said Pena, whose father, of course, is the former Sox catcher and Royals manager who departed Kansas City under strained circumstances, which is about the only way a manager leaves a franchise that has lost 100 games or more in four of the last five seasons. "John Flaherty used to get down with my father and play with me, too."
Pena, who was out of options with Atlanta, was acquired just over a week ago by new general manager Dayton Moore, who was interviewed for the Sox job by Larry Lucchino and Tom Werner during that faux window in 2005 when Theo Epstein vacated his office, then risked apparent career suicide by making his first act as Royals GM the signing of Meche.
All winter, Meche was maligned as the poster boy for a free agent market run amok. The Royals paid him $1 million for each of the 55 career wins he'd recorded for the Mariners. This was the same franchise that in the past had refused to spend an extra nickel to keep Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran, and Jermaine Dye, among others. Now it was spending millions on Meche?
Schilling said he never added his voice to the chorus of Meche mashers.
"He's got great stuff," said Schilling, who by his own admission never had command of his fastball yesterday. "Physically, he's worth every penny of that contract. Gil Meche, when he turns the corner mentally, if he ever wants to get to the next level and be great, the stuff is there.
"He'll be worth every penny of that contract and more if he wants to be one of the best guys in the game."
Ortiz has been a Meche tormentor over the years, hitting four home runs in just 15 at-bats, but yesterday offered nothing but praise.
"He had good stuff," he said. "Everything was working."
The Sox did not have more than one hit in an inning against Meche after the first, when Kevin Youkilis singled and came around on Ortiz's gap double. They got two runners on in the eighth, but reliever Joel Peralta struck out Youkilis and Ortiz to end that threat.
The day was a mixed bag for Sox newcomers. Julio Lugo whiffed three times, Hideki Okajima gave up a home run to John Buck on his first pitch in the big leagues, J.D. Drew had a single and a walk, and Dustin Pedroia had two hits but was erased by yards trying to stretch his second-inning single into a double. "An aggressive play that didn't work out," he said.
Ortiz said Meche also took advantage of a situation that had faint echoes of "300" in it as well. There's a scene in which the Spartans are told that the Persian arrows will "darken the sun." Good, a Spartan answers. "Then we will fight in the shade."
Meche, Ortiz said, operated beautifully in the deepening shadows of a game played in the late afternoon. "It was tough to see right there," he said.
Meche, who freely admitted the shadows worked in his favor, walked just one batter and yielded just six hits before leaving after Pedroia's single in the eighth. This after walking more hitters (84) than all but two pitchers in the American League last season.
"I know I have good stuff," he said when apprised of Schilling's comments. "I have confidence in my ability. It's a matter of being consistent. That's been the question about me for as long as I've been in the big leagues. I'll have two great months, then six starts in a row I don't know what I'm doing.
"Coming here is obviously a great challenge for me. I felt I needed a change for a little while, different environment, different people around me. Getting a contract and all is great, but coming in here and taking the challenge of trying to carry a staff is something I think I'll enjoy.
"All the media hype I got in the offseason, I wanted to come in here and get this thing going in the right direction.
"Everything happened perfect today. It really did."
Depends which side of the empire you were on.
Gordon Edes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org