Sox’ first win comes with bullpen help
The gates to Fenway Park swung open yesterday just as the Red Sox were finishing up batting practice. As eager fans streamed in to see the green grass that signals the end of a long winter, general manager Theo Epstein was in the clubhouse about to address his team.
The Red Sox had arrived home shockingly winless after six games and some sort of meeting was required. Epstein, the architect of an underachieving roster, decided he would do the talking.
His message was an affirmation, reminding the players the season had just started and that the winning tradition built in recent years would not crumble because of one road trip. Adversity would reveal their character.
Professional athletes have heard it all before. But the words made an impact this time.
“For me, there’s always a certain situation where the lead man has got to light the fire and that’s what I think he did today,’’ closer Jonathan Papelbon said. “Just letting us know that we’re a good team and to keep working hard and that things were going to start falling our way.’’
It was, Daniel Bard said, ex actly what the players needed to hear.
“Pretty awesome,’’ he said.
The positive words helped lead to positive results. Dustin Pedroia homered and drove in three runs and the bullpen was near perfect for four innings as the Red Sox beat the Yankees, 9-6, before a crowd of 37,178.
“That’s a step in the right direction,’’ Pedroia said. “We’re 1-6. Whatever. We’re just grinding, man. We don’t really care what you guys write. We don’t care what people think. We’re just going to go play baseball. We have a lot of great players; we have a lot of great pitching. We’ll find ourselves.’’
The 100th home opener at Fenway Park started in solemn fashion with a tribute to former GM Lou Gorman, who died last week. Then Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski threw out the ceremonial first pitch to Jason Varitek, two captains connecting as the crowd cheered. Boos were next as John Lackey allowed two runs in the first inning.
But the Red Sox scored more runs than they had in their previous four games combined, knocking Yankees starter Phil Hughes out after two innings.
Manager Terry Francona shook up the lineup, dropping slumping Jacoby Ellsbury from first to eighth. Carl Crawford hit leadoff for the first time since 2007. Adrian Gonzalez hit third and that moved up Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, and J.D. Drew.
Crawford, who would prefer not to lead off, was 0 for 5. But the Sox had a season-best 12 hits.
“That’s what we can do,’’ Ortiz said. “That’s us.’’
They needed all of that offense as Lackey allowed six runs on seven hits, two walks, and a hit batter in five innings. After the two runs in the first, the Yankees scored single runs in the next four innings. Lackey’s earned run average is now 15.58.
Pedroia started the Sox on the road to redemption with a solo shot to left in the first inning, the third straight year he has homered in the home opener.
“That gave everybody a lift,’’ Drew said. “Even though we were still down, I think we relaxed a little. Then we started to hit.’’
The Sox sent nine batters to the plate in the second inning and scored five runs.
Singles by Drew, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Ellsbury loaded the bases. Marco Scutaro grounded into a force at third, driving in one run. With two out, Pedroia slapped a two-run single to center and advanced to second on a throwing error by Curtis Granderson.
Gonzalez followed with an RBI single. After Youkilis walked, Ortiz drove in another with a single to center.
After the Yankees tied the game at 6 in the fifth, Saltalamacchia hammered an RBI double off Bartolo Colon. In the seventh, Gonzalez bunted for a single against the defensive shift, Ortiz moved him to third with an opposite-field double, and Drew drove them both in with a single to right.
“It felt great. We were just waiting to get home so we can win,’’ Ortiz said. “Just kidding.’’
Former Yankee Alfredo Aceves, called up earlier in the day from Pawtucket, pitched a scoreless sixth inning, getting Derek Jeter to ground into a double play with two runners on. Bobby Jenks, Bard, and Papelbon followed. The bullpen quartet allowed one hit and two walks. Only one Yankee advanced as far as second base.
“Those guys did a tremendous job,’’ Youkilis said.
After Papelbon retired the Yankees in order in the ninth inning, striking out Brett Gardner and Jeter, the players enjoyed the postgame handshake ritual to the fullest with Ortiz hugging every uniform in sight.
“I’ve never seen a team so happy to be 1-6,’’ Francona said.