NEW YORK — To a man, and that includes players, manager, coaches, general manager, equipment manager, trainers, you name it, the Red Sox executed perfectly Monday.
In one 8-2 Opening Day win over the Yankees they accomplished a lot.
They got strong starting pitching (Jon Lester), and great work out of the bullpen (Koji Uehara, Andrew Miller, Andrew Bailey, Junichi Tazawa, and Joel Hanrahan).
They got aggressive base running (Jonny Gomes, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia), patient at-bats (Saltalamacchia and Jackie Bradley Jr.), and small-ball execution (Jose Iglesias).
There was superb defense (Bradley, Iglesias), and the successful introduction of Bradley and the “other” rookie everyone has forgotten, Iglesias.
Manager John Farrell, making his Red Sox debut, did a good job.
The only thing they didn’t do was hit the ball out of the park. They’re saving that for later. That is probably first baseman Mike Napoli’s role, but he went 0 for 5 as the cleanup hitter.
Undoubtedly, if the Red Sox want to look back and recall how to beat an elite pitcher like CC Sabathia, how to beat the Yankees, or simply how to beat anyone, this should be the game that video coordinator Billy Broadbent should make a few copies of.
Again, it was one game, but all the things one thought could work, did. Even Shane Victorino, who had caused some concern in spring training, delivered a big two-run base hit in Boston’s four-run second inning.
Newcomer Gomes contributed two hits. He also scored from second base on an infield single in the ninth.
“We put together some quality at-bats,” hitting coach Greg Colbrunn said. “We worked the count against a very tough pitcher [Sabathia]. Jackie had a couple of great at-bats, Salty had a couple, and Victorino with a big hit in the second inning to drive in some runs. We really did so many things right. This is the way we want to be as an offensive team.”
Let’s start with Bradley. The box score reads 0 for 2. But he walked three times. He fell behind, 0 and 2, to Sabathia in the second inning and then worked a walk, loading the bases and keeping the inning alive for RBI hits by Iglesias, Victorino (two), and Dustin Pedroia.
One could see the plate discipline in Bradley. Sabathia looked surprised the kid hung in that well.
In the fifth inning, the Yankees tried to play the percentages and walked Gomes in front of him. Bradley could have been overeager with two on and two outs. Instead he was patient and turned the tables on the veteran Sabathia, making him work and winning the psychological battle by drawing a walk (although the Sox didn’t score in the inning).
Saltalamacchia also walked three times as the Sox drew eight walks and made the Yankee staff throw 190 pitches. The Sox averaged just under four pitches per plate appearance, a very good rate.
It’s always a good strategy to lay off Sabathia’s curveball and slider, which he tends to throw in the dirt. Saltalamacchia, in particular, has bitten on bad pitches in the past, but he made an attempt in spring training to be more disciplined.
Through five innings, Sabathia had thrown 102 pitches. He was done.
“Just want to see more pitches and not swing at balls,” said Saltalamacchia, who also doubled hitting righthanded. “The point is to swing at strikes and put the ball in play.”
On defense, Bradley made The Catch of the game in the third inning, robbing Robinson Cano of extra bases with a long run and leaping catch in left field, a game-changer for sure.
The value of Iglesias’s quick feet and hands at shortstop is immeasurable. It’s not that Stephen Drew couldn’t have made the same plays, but let’s face it, the pitchers have tremendous confidence in Iglesias’s glove.
It’ll be even more valuable as the Sox get into the back end of the rotation, where Ryan Dempster, Felix Doubront, and John Lackey need strong defense because they put the ball in play so often.
Right now, the left side of Boston’s defense looks stellar with Iglesias, Will Middlebrooks at third, and Bradley.
Farrell has said that Drew will get his job back as soon as he’s able to return from post-concussion issues, but the manager did reserve the right to change his mind on Bradley playing left. Shortstop is a key position, and when you have a great defender like Iglesias, who also chipped in with three infield hits, doing what the Sox want him to do — get on base any way he can and move runners along — then what more are you looking for? We are aware the Sox are paying Drew $9.5 million, but . . .
The only iffy play came when Ellsbury let an Ichiro Suzuki fly ball drop in front of him in right-center in the fourth inning. Take a chance and dive for that ball . . . Victorino was right behind Ellsbury, so the ball wouldn’t have bounced too far.
Farrell stressed after the game that he wants to put pressure on the opposing defenses. He tried that in Toronto with mixed success, as there were times when overaggressiveness cost the Blue Jays outs and ultimately runs. But that wasn’t the case in Game 1 for the Sox.
We saw Saltalamacchia make a heady play in the seventh when he stopped between first and second on a ball Bradley hit off the pitcher that went to Cano. He couldn’t turn the double play because Salty’s decision created just enough of a delay.
Ellsbury, who had tripled, was gunned down at home in the sixth on Pedroia’s hard grounder. That may have been overaggressiveness, and it cost the Sox a run.
All we have to go on is one game against a team that had four All-Star players out of the lineup in Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, and Curtis Granderson. And let’s not forget, the Yankees didn’t re-sign Nick Swisher. Sabathia was certainly not at his best. All of those factors matter.
But all you can go by is that on one sunny, mild spring day in the Bronx, the Red Sox’ execution was nearly flawless, and it resulted in a team feeling good about itself to start the 2013 season.