(Pictured: Red Sox 2B Dustin Pedroia prepares to launch his game-tying home run into the Green Monster seats in the bottom of the seventh inning of the Red Sox 9-7 win… SOX1FAN photo)
By Red Sox-Yankees standards it was a relatively short game in terms of time (only three hours and 46 minutes); but, it must have seemed much longer than that to the ballplayers who participated in this Opening Night contest at Fenway Park.
The Hollywood-scripted pre-game ceremony was filled with heroes (the Red Sox), villains (the hated NY Yankees) and drama (the introduction of current hero Mike Lowell and the appearance of former hero Pedro Martinez). And then, once the game began, the offenses coaxed a tremendous number of pitches from the opposing pitching staffs (326 in total)…amassing a grand total of 15 full counts and putting 34 runners on the base paths throughout the game.
The Red Sox fell behind early, trailing 5-1 after just 3 1/2 innings; but, when all was said and done, the offense rescued starter Josh Beckett from a rough start as the ballcub rallied for a 9-7 victory over the defending world champion Yankees at Fenway Park.
Beckett didn’t have much in the way of control during his outing. He had trouble throwing his curveball for strikes and was unable to control the fastball within the strike zone—frequently leaving fastballs over the heart of the plate to be tattooed by the Bronx Bombers.
Both Beckett and NYY starter CC Sabathia retired their opponents in order in the first inning. Beckett retired the first two batters of the second inning and appeared ready to record another easy 1-2-3 inning, but New York catcher Jorge Posada lined a belt-high fastball that was left over the middle of the plate down the right field line. The ball hit the metal mesh of the Pesky Pole for the first home run of the MLB season, and the Yankees were staked to a 1-0 lead.
The Yankees lead doubled when CF Curtis Granderson launched a knee-high fastball, again thrown over the heart of the plate, deep into the bleachers in right-center field for back-to-back home runs. The Red Sox ace surrendered consecutive singles to corner outfielders Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner before finally retiring Derek Jeter on a ground ball to shortstop to end the inning.
The Sox answered with a run of their own in the bottom of the frame. Kevin Youkilis ripped a double into left-center field. He advanced to third base on David Ortiz’ grounder to first base and scored on 3B Adrian Beltre’s sacrifice fly to the wall in dead center field.
After both starters got through the third inning with the assistance of a double play, the Yankees again got to Beckett in the top of the fourth inning… and, once more, they scored all of their runs after two were out. Leadoff batter Robinson Cano doubled and was still on base with two outs after Beckett retired Posada and Granderson on grounders.
After Swisher walked, Gardner dropped an RBI-single just in front of Jacoby Ellsbury in left field to extend the lead to 3-1. Jeter’s run-scoring single into center field scored swisher and moved the speedy Gardner to third base. The Yankees runners then executed a successful double steal, enabling the Yankees to increase their lead to four runs.
At that point, it looked like the Sox might be in for a long evening, especially when Sabathia retired them in order in the bottom of the fourth inning and the Yankees knocked Beckett from the game in the next frame after mounting yet another two-out threat.
But lefty Scott Schoeneweis made his Red Sox debut and struck out Granderson to end the threat… and when the Sox offense came to bat in the bottom of the fifth inning the tide began to turn.
While Sabathia limited to Boston offense to just a run on one hit over the first four innings, the Red Sox had forced the Yankees starter to throw 61 pitchers to get through the first four inning (12 pitches to C Victor Martinez alone). It started to take its toll on the southpaw in the fifth inning.
After retiring the first two batters of the inning, he surrendered consecutive singles to Drew, Cameron and Scutaro (RBI) that enabled the Sox to close the gap to one run. And although he struck out Ellsbury to avoid further damage, Sabathia threw another 25 pitches in the inning, bringing his total to 86.
After the Yankees were kept scoreless in the top of the sixth, the Sox tied the score and knocked Sabathia from the game in the next half inning. Pedroia led off with a walk and V-Mart launched a double into left field. Kevin Youkilis then tripled down the right field line to pull the Sox to within one run and put the tying run just nine-feet from home plate.
After Ortiz grounded out to second base, NY manager Joe Girardi finally pulled his starter from the game (after 104 pitches). Beltre greeted RHP David Robertson by driving the reliever’s first pitch into center field for a game-tying single.
The Yankees responded with two runs of their own in the top of the seventh inning. Reliever Ramon Ramirez walked leadoff hitter Mark Teixeira and was removed from the game when 3B Alex Rodriguez ripped a double off the Green Monster. Both inherited runners scored off winning pitcher Hideki Okajima (1-0)—one scored on a ground out to second base and the other came across on Posada’s RBI-single to center field.
Let down again by the pitching, the offense responded by taking the lead for good in the bottom of the seventh inning. Scutaro led off with a single. After Ellsbury struck out for the second consecutive battle without lifting his bat from his shoulder, Pedroia lined the Red Sox first home run of the season into the Green Monster seats to tie the sore at 7-7. Youkilis followed Pedroia with a double into deep left-center field… he came around to score the eventual game-winning run on a wild pitch by lefty Damaso Marte and and a passed ball by Posada.
RHP Daniel Bard threw a succession of 97-mph fastballs in retiring the Yankees in the eighth inning. The offense added an insurance run on a walk and two singles off Joba Chamberlain in the bottom of the inning. Closer Jonathan Papelbon surrendered a two-out single to Posada in the ninth inning, but recorded his first save of the year on ten pitches as the Olde Towne Team took the first game of the season series against the Bronx Bummers.
The ballpark was rocking with elation at the end of the game, but Youkilis cautioned Red Sox Nation not to get too high: “We all have faith in ourselves. It’s good to get a win opening night. It’s good for the city. It’s good for the fans. It’s good for the players. It’s good for everyone… But it’s still just one game.”
Prospect Ryan Westmoreland was in the house last night. He and his family were guests in the luxury suite of Red Sox owner John W Henry.
Last night’s game was the first night-opener in the history of 98-year-old Fenway Park.
Former Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez got a warm greeting when he was introduced before the game to throw out the ceremonial first pitch, but the biggest ovation of the pre-game came when Red Sox 3B Mike Lowell was introduced during pre-game introductions.
Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler sang ‘God Bless America’ during the 7th-inning stretch. Neil Diamond sang ‘Sweet Caroline’ in the middle of the 8th inning.