The Boston Red Sox, so highly touted for their off-season acquisitions, had the opportunity to make a statement against the American League-champion Texas Rangers and reassert their dominance in the MLB. They did not.
In an Opening Weekend series in which the Rangers swept the Red Sox and outscored them 26-11, including beating Boston 5-1 Sunday afternoon, the only statement the Red Sox could make was that they still have a long way to go.
Home Runs Kill the Red Sox… Again
Red Sox pitchers combined to allow 11 Rangers home runs through the three-game series, with nine hit against Boston’s starting rotation. Sunday’s starter, Clay Buchholz, gave up four solo home runs to Rangers hitters. Designated hitter Ian Kinsler and right fielder Nelson Cruz became the first teammates in MLB history to homer in the first three games of a season.
Left fielder David Murphy put the Rangers on the board with a solo shot in the bottom of the second, on an 0-1 pitch down and inside that Murphy muscled to right, straight into the teeth of a wind that gusted at 29 miles per hour.
It was one of Buchholz’s better pitches. The next two home runs came on far worse pitches.
In the bottom of the third, Kinsler smoked a dead-center 2-2 change-up to left. In the fifth, catcher Mike Napoli took a 3-2 middle-inside fastball to center to make it 3-0 Rangers. Both looked like missed-location pitches by Buchholz.
Buchholz pitched into the seventh inning, finally leaving after giving up a one-out shot to Cruz. He took the loss, finishing the game having given up four earned runs on five hits, two walks and three strikeouts. He pitched one perfect inning, in the fourth.
In the bottom of the eighth, Jonathan Papelbon gave up a run on two doubles sandwiched around a hit batter. After intentionally loading the bases, Papelbon struck out the side, 1-2-3.
Clearly, Papelbon can struggle just as he did in 2009 and 2010. But he also clearly can still overpower hitters the way he did in 2007 and 2008. It remains to be seen which Papelbon will show up this season.
Few Positives or Scoring Chances For Red Sox
The Red Sox managed just a run on five hits and two walks against Rangers starter Matt Harrison, who struck out eight in seven innings and earned the win. David Ortiz continued his strong start, going 2-4. Carl Crawford, dropped from third in the lineup to seventh after an 0-7 start, broke through his mini-slump with a 2-4 performance.
In the seventh, Crawford drove in Kevin Youkilis (1-3 with a walk, two strikeouts) with a single to center, making it 3-1 Rangers.
One of the few positives from Sunday’s game was Boston’s infield defense, which started two double-plays and caught two Rangers runners trying to steal. Jed Lowrie also made a nice diving stop in the fifth before throwing out shortstop Andres Blanco.
Boston’s only scoring threats came in the second and the seventh, and Harrison handled both of them with ease.
In the second, Ortiz reached on an infield single and Crawford got his first hit of the season with a single down the third-base line. But Harrison came back and struck out Jarrod Saltalamacchia (0-3, reached on an error) to end the threat.
In the seventh, after Crawford’s RBI, Harrison struck out Jacoby Ellsbury (0-4) with the bases loaded. The Red Sox went 1-2-3 in the eighth and ninth innings, two of five innings of Sunday’s game in which they failed to put a runner on base.
A Less-Than-Ideal Start
Whatever the Red Sox expected of their team this season, this was not it. The starting rotation, unchanged from last year, directly cost the Red Sox two games, and failed to protect the lead in a third. Boston’s hitters, meanwhile, were completely contained Sunday after putting up decent numbers Friday and Saturday. The bullpen gave up runs in all three games. Nothing seems to be clicking right now.
Despite Red Sox fans’ disappointment and frustration with this start, it must be remembered that this is just the third game of the season. There are 159 games left. Can the Red Sox win a World Series if the hitters strikeout in key situations, the starters give up runs and the bullpen makes it worse? Of course not. Will the Red Sox be a different team 20, 40, 60 games from now? Of course.
A measure of patience is necessary while the Red Sox figure out what works for them and what doesn’t (such as Crawford’s position in the lineup). After delivering two World Series titles in the last seven years, they’ve earned it.