|Red Sox center fielder Coco Crisp hauls in Tigers catcher Ivan Rodriguez's deep drive in the ninth inning. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)|
Bill Buckner exposed the Red Sox as a bunch of softies upon his return to a place where, for too long, revulsion unjustly trumped respect.
Kevin Youkilis said he was nearly in tears when Buckner threw a strike to Dwight Evans with the ceremonial first pitch in yesterday's home opener at Fenway Park. Manny Delcarmen, who was 4 when Mookie Wilson's roller skipped between Buckner's legs in 1986, said he had goose bumps. David Ortiz pronounced it cool. Mike Lowell called it inspiring.
"I think everyone here has gone through ups and downs," Lowell said. "Unfortunately, an unbelievable career gets marked by one play. That's so unfair, especially for a guy who was the epitome of grinding it out.
"It's a historical play and all that, but it's a shame that that's what people relate Bill Buckner to, instead of what a good player he was."
Whatever empathy the Sox felt for Buckner did not extend to the Detroit Tigers, to whom they showed no quarter in a 5-0 decision that dropped the Tigers' record to 0-7. The Tigers, who this winter bumped their payroll to a high-rent district ($138 million) even beyond the well-heeled Sox, will have to make some history of their own if they intend to play in October.
No team has ever begun a season 0-7 and advanced to the postseason. The Red Sox have begun only one season by losing their first seven games, and that was in 1945, when most of their best players were away at war. The Yankees have never started 0-7. The last seven teams to start 0-7, after the 1983 Houston Astros, who finished 85-77, have lost 90 or more games.
"I think anyone would be amazed if someone said they'd start 0-7," Lowell said. "I think it's more of a hiccup than the team they really are. There's too much talent over there for that to continue."
The Sox were more concerned with putting a halt to a losing spin of their own, having dropped three straight games to Toronto at the end of their 19-day, 16,000-mile, three-country, season-opening, Brother Love Traveling Salvation Show. Daisuke Matsuzaka placed their world back on its proper axis by shutting out the Tigers on four hits through 6 2/3 innings, his second consecutive strong start.
Both manager Terry Francona and pitching coach John Farrell noted that on the 14 occasions Matsuzaka had a 1-and-1 count on a hitter, he threw a strike 11 times.
"That really swung the count in his favor and really kept the hitters on the defensive," Farrell said of Matsuzaka, who walked four, struck out seven, and withstood dropping temperatures and swirling winds that became an increasing challenge as the game went on, according to catcher Jason Varitek.
"We have a tremendous amount of respect for their lineup," Farrell said. "They're explosive. But he was relaxed. I think if you look at his body language, his mound presence, he's very relaxed. You don't see him muscling up and overthrowing, and as a result, that allowed him to have better command."
Delcarmen, meanwhile, dodged the kind of trouble that hounded him in Toronto, and the Sox banged out a dozen hits in front of a club-record Opening Day crowd of 36,567, a head count that does not include a championship coterie of Patriots, Celtics, and Bruins invited to witness the Sox receiving their second set of World Series rings in four seasons.
"I'm not a hockey guy, but I know Bobby Orr," Lowell said. "I've gotten to watch Tedy Bruschi on Sundays, and I remember M.L. Carr waving his towel. It was cool that all the sports franchises were represented. That's a lot of winning. I think we carried that into the game. I thought that was great."
Matsuzaka, now 2-0 with a no-decision in his return to Tokyo, said he didn't see his ring until after the game.
"I put mine on during the ceremony," said Delcarmen, who replaced Matsuzaka with the bases loaded in the seventh and retired Carlos Guillen on a liner to Coco Crisp in center. "A little heavy, a little awkward, but unbelievable."
Matsuzaka's countryman, Hideki Okajima, who struck out Jacque Jones to end the game as part of a 1-2-3 ninth, now has championship rings from two nations, having won a Japan Series with the Nippon Ham Fighters in 2006.
"I think this ring is more valuable," said Okajima, who combined with Delcarmen to throw 2 1/3 scoreless innings out of a bullpen that had allowed 11 earned runs in 8 1/3 innings while being swept by the Blue Jays.
The Sox pecked away at 43-year-old Kenny Rogers, who was limited by injury to just 11 starts last season and lasted just 4 2/3 innings yesterday, giving up single runs in the second, third, and fourth. Crisp's sacrifice fly brought home J.D. Drew with Boston's first run. Manny Ramírez tripled to center and trotted home in the third when the relay throw by Placido Polanco skipped past third baseman Miguel Cabrera into the Detroit dugout, Polanco charged with an error that ended his big league-record errorless streak for a second baseman at 186 games.
A throwing error by Cabrera on Julio Lugo's infield hit led to a 3-0 Sox lead, Dustin Pedroia following with a base hit and Youkilis bringing home the run with a sacrifice fly. Youkilis, who had three hits, blooped a double down the left-field line that hopped over Jones and scored Lugo with a fourth run in the sixth, and reliever Jason Grilli walked in the fifth run.
That was sufficient production on an afternoon in which David Ortiz (who was introduced last and to the biggest cheers), had another quiet game - 0 for 3, including a bid for a second-inning grand slam that died on the warning track in right - as did Lowell, who had two walks, lined out twice, and is still looking for his first RBI of the season.
"I'm just going to keep swinging it," said Ortiz (.103 average), who pronounced satisfaction with a ring ("a little bigger than the last one") whose bling factor was upgraded by Sox ownership at Big Papi's prodding. "It's early."
The same, he warned, holds true for the Tigers.
"It's hard to believe," he said of Detroit's start, "but you know that's a team, when they click into good things, it's on, baby. I've seen teams struggle eight games, 20 games. Look at Colorado last season. When you start talking about 100 games, then step into my office and talk to me about it. Anything can happen in April."