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Red Sox find the comforts of home

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  April 13, 2012 05:00 PM

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If there were a way to hit the reset button on a season, there's little doubt Bobby Valentine would have lunged for it sometime in Detroit, or perhaps in Toronto if he happened to be feeling particularly patient.

But of course the Major League Baseball season isn't Madden or MLB2K, and not even the industrious and versatile Bobby V. could invent a way to make it start all over again after a wretched 1-5 beginning turned the new season into a miserable September flashback.

The Red Sox' last, best chance for something resembling a restart came Friday at Fenway Park for the home opener, a day designed for optimism and warm sentiments. While there were pregame suggestions that the crowd may seize the opportunity to voice their displeasure amid the pomp and circumstance -- it was a legitimate question whether starting pitcher Josh Beckett, a chief and unapologetic culprit in the September of Popeye's and, presumably, Lone Star, would be greeted with boos -- the sunny skies seemed to encourage a sunny collective attitude.

The result was the closest thing to a reset the Red Sox could have hoped for, a 12-2 victory over division rival Tampa Bay that reminded the 37,032 in attendance of all of the good things this team is capable of achieving when they play to their ability level and some breaks fall their way. It was just what they needed, and what their fans needed too.

The Red Sox' offense -- still featuring the core performers from the one that led the major leagues in runs scored last season -- finally looked familiar, grinding out at-bats, a hallmark of their finest offenses of recent vintage, and finally coming up with timely hits. They chased Rays starter and usual nemesis David Price after 83 pitches and just three innings, then finished the job against four relievers, scoring eight runs in the eighth inning against helpless, hapless Josh Lueke and Joel Peralta.

The heart of the order had their bats in fine working order. Adrian Gonzalez collected three of the Red Sox' 16 hits, while David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis had two apiece. But it was a guy who batted a robust .176 for the Rays last season who stole the show -- and even a base.

finnshoppach413.jpgKelly Shoppach, who looks like he could be Jason Varitek's lumpy brother and is perceived as the epitome of a good-field, no-hit catcher eight seasons into his career, suddenly turned all Piazza on us , banging out three hits, scored three runs, and driving in a pair against his former team. But it was his first career stolen base -- featuring a clumsy half slide a good couple of feet shy of the bag that somehow managed to work -- that lightened the mood more than anything else and served as a reminder that Red Sox baseball can be pretty darn fun more often than not.

"He slid early, a little Willie Mays Hayes-ish, then goes forward and bangs his head on the bag,'' said Cody Ross, a grin on his face, following the game. "Oh my gosh, we were all over him.''

The Detroit Tigers were all over Beckett in his first start of the season, hammering him for seven earned runs, including five homers, in 4 2/3 innings during the Red Sox' 10-0 loss April 7. But the Rays had no such fortune yesterday, with Beckett recovering in his second start just as he did a season ago, when he followed up a rough debut against Cleveland with an eight-inning, two-hit, 10-strikeout gem against the Yankees.

He wasn't quite that masterful Friday -- he did not collect his strikeout until the eighth inning, and his combination of command, cutters, and curveballs was more John Burkett than Josh Beckett. But it was terrific, if not overpowering performance, with the Rays managing just five hits and a walk through those eight innings. Any notion of booing him the beginning had evaporated by the time his final inning was complete. The man earned his cheers.

The day did not pass without one cloud, however. Jacoby Ellsbury, the runner-up in the American League Most Valuable Player balloting and an essential link in a lineup that entered the day with a team-wide .640 OPS, suffered what the team called a shoulder injury in the fourth inning when the Rays' Reid Brignac came crashing down on his upper back as Ellsbury slid into second base.

It was a shoulder injury, all right, and it looked serious. Ellsbury walked off the field holding his arm as if it were already in a sling, and he was nowhere to be found after the game. Losing the dynamic center fielder, coming off a 32-homer season, would be a tough blow to absorb. But that's a worry for tomorrow. The Red Sox are 2-5, sure. But they showed us what they can be, and hey, they're unbeaten at home, right?

This wasn't a day to hit reset; it was one Red Sox fans hope to replay, oh, maybe 95 more times, again and again and again, all the way through September.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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