It almost doesn’t matter what the Red Sox’ record is when they open up at home under sunny skies. Fenway Park was sparkling Friday afternoon and graced by many of the organization’s greats, including Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek, who threw out the first pitch(es).
Few places in all of sports look, sound and feel so perfect on days like this. And once the game began, it nearly was perfect. The Sox broke out for 16 hits in a 12-2 pasting of the Tampa Bay Rays, shaking off the negativity that surrounded their 1-5 start.
However, the sight of Jacoby Ellsbury leaving the game with a painful right shoulder injury, suffered in a slide at second base in the fourth, has the club, and its fans, in hope-and-pray mode.
Here are three things we learned from the Red Sox home opener:
1) Big day for Becketts
On what would’ve been the 106th birthday for famed Irish writer Samuel Beckett, famed Texas right-hander Josh Beckett was exceptional. A question mark after a spring training thumb issue and a rocky season debut, Beckett found his location and dominated, even if it came in un-Beckett-like fashion. He recorded just one strikeout but allowed only five hits and a run in eight stellar frames. We are used to seeing the righty pile up the punchouts when he’s on. However, by getting early, weak contact on a lot of hitters, he needed only 94 pitches to go eight. Perhaps we are seeing a new Josh Beckett, soon to turn 32. Sacrificing a bit of velocity on the fastball and a few Ks in the stat sheet won’t matter if he produces a line like he did Friday.
2) Kelly, Kelly, Kelly, Kelly, K-E-L-L-Y
That reference might fly over the head of all you young’uns who never saw “Cheers,” but the chorus of the Woody Boyd ballad seems fitting in the wake of a breakout performance by catcher Kelly Shoppach. The former Ray went 3-for-4 with two doubles, two RBIs, three runs scored and his first career stolen base. That makes no mention of how he and Beckett performed as a tandem. Much was made of how Beckett would respond without Varitek behind the plate anymore (he owns a 3.68 lifetime ERA pitching to the former captain, compared to a 7.54 mark throwing to Jarrod Saltalamacchia). Shoppach may prove to be the perfect pairing; if he goes 3-for-4 every time out, he will steal even more of Salty’s playing time when the rest of the rotation is up.
3) Time to hold your breath, Sox fans
Manager Bobby Valentine told reporters after the game that Ellsbury was “in a lot of pain,” and the skipper expects to make a roster move prior to Saturday’s contest. Presumably, Cody Ross will man center field with Darnell McDonald and Ryan Sweeney in left and right. Other options could involve Jason Repko, a possible call-up from Pawtucket. Worth noting is the relative lack of progress of Carl Crawford -- he told reporters Friday that he was a bit frustrated with his latest setback, an elbow strain that has prevented him from playing in extended spring training games. And if Ellsbury is out for a lengthy period of time, you may even get a Lars Anderson sighting in the Red Sox outfield at some point this season. The 24-year-old has been given a look in the outfield at Pawtucket after nearly 600 games at first base. With Adrian Gonzalez blocking his path at first and the Boston outfield looking rather lean, don’t count him out.