The Boston Red Sox won the offseason, adding Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler to a team that was already capable of making a playoff run.
On Opening Day in Arlington, facing the defending American League champion Texas Rangers, all the attention was on the new faces in the lineup and bullpen. However, after falling to a 9-5 defeat, the blame fell squarely on two players who have been in Boston for years: Jon Lester and Daniel Bard.
Lester had a terrible outing in his first Opening Day start. He went just 5.1 innings and allowed five runs on six hits, including a career-high three home runs. Ian Kinsler led off the first with a no-doubter to left; Nelson Cruz (solo) and Mike Napoli (three-run HR) followed suit in the second and fourth, respectively.
Perhaps the most startling statistic in Lester’s pitching line was the zero in the K column. The AL leader in K/9 last season, it was only the second time in his career he had failed to strike out a batter.
When the perennial Cy Young candidate departed, the Sox trailed, 5-4. Lester may have struggled, but the offense was very promising. Adrian Gonzalez had a brace of RBI singles and Jacoby Ellsbury was electric in the leadoff spot, reaching base four times.
It got better in the top of the eighth. If there are three things we know about David Ortiz, they are these: He cannot hit lefties, he does not go the other way and he gets off to very slow starts.
So when he took Darren Oliver deep to left center, it was not only surprising, it was reassuring. Big Papi still has it.
His long ball knotted the game at five, and with Daniel Bard coming out of the pen, the Red Sox had reason to feel optimistic. Then their hopes—and Bard—fell to pieces.
The young righty had possibly the worst outing of his career. He walked Napoli, gave up a single to Yorvit Torrealba and then David Murphy laced a pinch-hit double off the foul line. Elvis Andrus and Josh Hamilton added RBI doubles of their own and Bard was pulled for Tim Wakefield.
Two-thirds of an inning, four hits, one walk, four runs, game over.
Boston could not recover in the ninth, as Texas closer Neftali Feliz needed just 12 pitches to shut the door on the preseason AL favourites.
It is not time to panic just yet. There were a few good things to take from the game, but the most important was the reminder that you cannot win the Fall Classic in Winter.
If the Sox are to win an eighth world title, they need their ace to pitch like he can, especially with question marks surrounding John Lackey, Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Bard was the one sure thing about the relief corps entering the season, so Boston cannot afford to have any doubts about giving him the ball.
There are 161 regular season games remaining. Can the Red Sox win the World Series? Absolutely. Will they? With performances like that, it is doubtful.