There were heaters in the dugout, Red Sox rookie second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. But even in 43-degree weather -- on a day when a brief appearance by the sun at Fenway Park drew one of the day's bigger ovations from the crowd of 35,847 -- pitcher Josh Beckett never gave the Sox a chance to feel the chill.
"It seems like we were out on defense for only five seconds," Pedroia said, "and then we were back out there hitting."
Even as the buildup for tonight's first encounter on US soil between The Monster (Daisuke Matsuzaka) and The Heavenly Talent (Ichiro Suzuki) threatens to knock the globe off its axis, Beckett did his own slicing and dicing of Ichiro and the rest of the Seattle Mariners in a 14-3 home opener so one-sided that Sox manager Terry Francona was pulling his regulars in the fifth inning yesterday.
While the Sox, who had 14 hits, scored in each of the first five innings to take a 13-1 lead against a Mariners team that looked as if it was still stuck in a snowdrift in Cleveland, Beckett pitched six 1-2-3 innings and retired 15 in a row after Kenji Johjima's single and Yuniesky Betancourt's double in the third. Those were Seattle's only hits in seven innings off the 26-year-old Texan, who stuck a K-K-K branding iron on Ichiro, whiffing him in all three of his at-bats.
That's a rarity for Ichiro. In 13 years of playing baseball on both sides of the Pacific, he has struck out in three consecutive at-bats only three times -- the other two times in Japan, once in 1994, his first season as a pro, and again in 1999, against Matsuzaka. Dice-K, who was an 18-year-old rookie at the time, was so moved by the experience, he proclaimed, "My confidence has become conviction," a saying that still resonates in Japan almost as much as Dick Williams's jaunty, "We'll win more than we lose," to foreshadow the 1967 Impossible Dream does here.
But on a day devoted to honoring Yaz and the other Dreamers 40 years after their improbable pennant run -- Reggie Smith briefly shared center field with Coco Crisp, who attended Reggie's baseball camp as a kid -- Beckett was typically subdued in victory. He didn't say anything that will one day wind up on the side of a coffee cup (certainly not in Japanese, which is how Dunkin' Donuts now advertises its goods on a billboard in Fenway Park).
But general manager Theo Epstein, who cast a $30 million vote of confidence in Beckett last summer while others were looking askance at the righthander's 5-plus ERA, had a ready answer for someone inquiring as to what most impressed him about yesterday's win.
"Beckett," said Epstein. "He was very under control, throwing strikes with all his pitches. He executed all the adjustments he talked about making this winter.
"He did it in Kansas City in the cold, and today with a big lead, ordinarily he could have just pumped fastballs in there, but he and Tek [Jason Varitek] did a great job of mixing it up. I was very impressed with that. He was very under control."
Mariners starter Jeff Weaver, who was pitching 10 days after his last start, was anything but the picture of control. He threw a whopping 47 pitches in Boston's four-run first, which began with a four-pitch walk to new leadoff man Julio Lugo, and left after a three-run second, capped by a home run by another Sox newcomer, J.D. Drew, that almost looked as if he hit it one-handed.
"It looked like he didn't hit it that well," said Pedroia, who hit two balls to the track but was the only regular without a hit in a Sox offense that put up the most runs in any home opener except a 15-5 laugher over the Yankees in 1973, the year Boss Steinbrenner bought that club.
"But it kept going and going. The ball seemed like it was carrying well to center, and it kept going and going. That's how strong he is."
As hellos go, it would be hard to top the one by Drew, who also had a sacrifice fly, reached on an error, and extended his season-opening hitting streak to seven games. But Lugo gave him some competition by reaching base four times with a single, double, and two walks, while Brendan Donnelly entertained the hardy fans who stuck it out with an eighth-inning grudge match against Jose Guillen that nearly precipitated a rumble.
Over the years, Donnelly has had any number of issues with Guillen, who was suspended for insubordination at the end of one season in which he and Donnelly were Angels teammates -- a punishment heartily seconded by Donnelly -- then a year later, in 2005, tipped off Washington manager Frank Robinson that Donnelly had pine tar in his glove. For that indiscretion, Donnelly was given a 10-day suspension (later reduced to eight), not to mention an incentive to harbor some ill will toward Guillen.
This was their first encounter since, and Donnelly struck him out. That tugging he did near his front pocket -- as if his uniform had a front pocket -- was unintentional, Donnelly said, and nothing like the vulgar farewell salute Derek Lowe gave the Athletics after the final out of the 2003 AL Division Series.
"I'd never do anything like that," Donnelly said. "There are kids in the [expletive] stands. It's just a bad habit."
In any event, Guillen said something and pointed his bat in Donnelly's direction, Donnelly barked something back, and the benches emptied for some obligatory milling and posturing. Guillen was tossed, and when Donnelly hit the next batter, Kenji Johjima -- an accident, he swears, though acknowledging it looked bad -- Donnelly was gone, too.
"The umpires were on alert before the game," Francona said. "They told us, 'The first guy who says something is gone,' and they kicked him out. We even called our bullpen before we brought [Donnelly] in and said, 'We don't need to lose pitchers.' He threw the ball great to Guillen, and he wasn't trying to hit Johjima."
Donnelly's ejection had the unintended consequence of giving one more newcomer, Hideki Okajima, the chance to make his Fenway debut. Okajima told Japanese reporters he was so worried about making the fans wait, he hurried through his warmups, even though the circumstances allowed him to take as many practice tosses as he needed.
No worry. The stale Mariners had long since turned this one into a training exercise, although they did touch Mike Timlin, fresh off the disabled list, for two runs in the ninth.
"They were put in a tough situation," Francona said of the Mariners, who hadn't played since last Wednesday because of snow in Cleveland that wiped out a series against the Indians. "From our standpoint, we hope it bothers them a couple more days.
"But they have a pretty good guy [Felix Hernandez] throwing [tonight]. We'll have our hands full."
Gordon Edes can be reached at email@example.com.