On a night when the Boston marketing department pulled out all the stops, the players on the field managed to match them every step of the way.
There was no shortage of excitement in this one. From Neil Diamond’s 8th inning appearance to Pedroia’s two-run bomb, this game had everything and more. Even Herb Brooks and Pedro showed up which, early on, seemed to be the only exciting parts of the game.
I, myself, was forced down the street to Buffalo Wild Wings before the game due to a blackout on MLBTV — missing the NESN broadcast — and jotting down game notes on a napkin. Though I try to avoid chain restaurants when watching the Red Sox, it was nice to see the Red Sox Faithful well-represented in Colorado — and just as intolerant as in New England of the crap Yankee fans will try to pull.
Nonetheless, it was a classic, back-and-forth matchup that had plenty of surprises, late heroics, and everything you could want in an Opening Day salvo.
Though cruising through the bottom half of the first inning, Beckett got roughed up early. Noticeably absent was his usual dominating stuff — which should have been an easy holdover from his strong spring. Having difficulty finding the plate and falling behind in the count often, he found himself “Yanked” after just 4.1 IP, walking three while striking out only one. Yielding five earned over his inefficient 94 pitches, the silver lining is that he wasn’t hit as hard as the overall line suggests. Other than two second inning home runs, many of the Yankees’ hits found holes or were just out of the reach of defenders — especially up the middle in the fourth.
Still, he couldn’t locate the strike zone all night, missing outside with his curve to left handers, and generating few swings and misses.
Sabathia failed to live up to expectations as well. Though he had an easier go of it in the first few innings, he was visibly uncomfortable on the mound — frequently losing command of his fastball, causing him to fall behind just as often as Beckett while racking up the pitch counts. Removed at the first sign of real trouble in the sixth, Sabathia exited having thrown 5.1 IP with 4 Ks and 2 BBs. Swinging strikes were infrequent, as Sabathia recorded just seven all game.
As for David Ortiz, there were some encouraging early signs in his matchups with Sabathia and lefty reliever Damaso Marte.
It was important in the game to see that Papi was catching up to fastballs and recognizing pitches well out of the pitcher’s hand. Though he finished 0-3 with two groundouts and a popup, he actually was able to register some successful at-bats. Only once was he overpowered by a fastball — a 93 mph offering from Damaso Marte in his fourth plate appearance and, overall, looked far, far better than last season in which he had difficulty catching up with 90 mph heat.
He fouled back a few heaters from Sabathia, who sat in the mid-90s all night, weakly pulling 3-1, 94 mph fastball in the 2nd. Though, on its own, making contact is difficult to get excited about, Papi did a very good job laying off low fastballs and found himself ahead in the count most of the night. Chasing pitches out of the zone was becoming a growing problem during the ’08 and ’09 campaigns, but Ortiz showed excellent discipline and selectivity last night.
He did have an awkward check swing in his first at-bat and got sawed-off in his third, but overall, it was good to see him comfortable and balanced while facing one of the toughest lefties in the league. He wasn’t intimidated by the velocity, didn’t seem to be cheating much on the pitches, and was nearly able to catch up and drive inside fastballs. Still, he has work to do if he is to make the next step. Case in point, he fouled back a 94 mph, 3-1 heater in his first appearance against Sabathia. The pitch was inside and just a bit over the plate. Unfortunately, as we all do, I couldn’t help but wonder where that Sabathia offering would have landed had this been the Papi of 07. Also noticeably absent was Sabathia’s use of the change-up, which he didn’t seem to employ often enough.
Nevertheless, if last night was any indication, Papi’s bat has survived the off-season slumber and should pick up where he left off in the second half of 2009. The results weren’t apparent, but the indicators are there — Papi looks good to go for 2010.
-Though there are sure to be analysts bemoaning Ellsbury’s 0-5, 2K performance from last night, don’t get too down on his opening act. His strikeouts were more the result of two excellent pitches rather than a failure by Ellsbury at the plate. The first was a called strike three on an absolute knee-buckling curve by Sabathia. The pitch was perfectly placed and little could be done.
The second was another called strike three, this time what looked like a two-seamer from Chan-Ho Park up and in. Another perfectly placed offering, Ellsbury just happened to get unlucky in this one, a victim of circumstance who just happened to run into two exceptional tosses.
-Though surviving the eighth unscathed, Daniel Bard looked awful, throwing mostly fastballs and failing to locate any of them. Walking Nick Johnson with two outs on just four pitches, Bard was quite fortunate that Jeter and Gardner made easy outs by chasing fastballs in the dirt.
-The new guys acquitted themselves well last night, as Cameron, Beltre, and Scutaro combined to go 5-9 with 2 BBs, 3 R, and 3 RBI. Lefty Scott Schoeneweis kept the Sox in contention during the fifth, relieving Beckett with two runners on amidst a 5-1 deficit.
-Comment of the night, after Beckett ceded back-to-back home runs in the top of the 2nd
“So much for run prevention when you give up back to back home runs. Nice job Beckett.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself. Looks like the Yankees have figured out to get by the Sox new-fangled, impenetrable defense — hit it over the wall where they can’t field it.
What started out as a sure disaster developed into a classic Sox-Yanks slugfest. This season has all the earmarks of another AL East battle to the finish and the BoSox have just taken round one.
Only 161 more to go…