TORONTO — The Red Sox will throw open the gates of Fenway Park Monday afternoon for the first home game of the season. Yawkey Way has been scrubbed clean, the grass is perfectly green after a bitter New England winter, and the pristine white uniforms are hanging in the lockers.
Will Middlebrooks is guaranteed to hear perhaps the loudest cheers from the faithful after belting three home runs Sunday to lead the increasingly interesting Red Sox to a 13-0 thrashing of the Toronto Blue Jays.
At 4-2, the Sox returned to Boston after the game feeling even better than they did leaving spring training.
Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Napoli, and Daniel Nava also homered for the Red Sox, who had 15 hits. Jon Lester threw seven impressive innings.
“It’s a good feeling to be going home because we’re playing well and it should only get better at Fenway,” Middlebrooks said. “That’s huge, having that momentum.”
It’s a sentiment that stands in marked contrast to the last two seasons.
The Red Sox lost six straight road games to open the 2011 season and returned to Fenway Park met with what proved to be well-founded skepticism as a team of All-Stars proved unable to make the playoffs.
The Sox dropped five of their first six on the road last season and that, too, was an omen of bad times to come in the months ahead under manager Bobby Valentine.
Now they return home having taken two of three from the Yankees and Blue Jays despite the absence of cleanup hitter David Ortiz. The John Farrell-led Red Sox look better than expected.
“To come back as we are, it’s a good start,” Farrell said.
The 24-year-old Middlebrooks had a historic day. He hit a two-run homer off R.A. Dickey in the first inning then doubled and scored in the third.
Middlebrooks led off the fifth inning with another home run off Dickey and started the seventh with a shot off Dave Bush.
Middlebrooks is the first player in the majors with three home runs in a game this season and the first Red Sox player to do it since Dustin Pedroia against the Rockies June 24, 2010.
Middlebrooks also became one of six players to accumulate 14-plus total bases in a game in Red Sox history. Fred Lynn (16), Pedroia (15), John Valentin (15), Carl Yastrzemski (14), and Norm Zauchin (14) are the others.
Hall of Famer Ted Williams hit three home runs in a game three times, but never had more than 13 total bases.
“Yeah, but he did plenty of other things,” Middlebrooks said. “Let’s not go crazy.”
Middlebrooks had a chance to make history in the eighth inning when he came to the plate facing Bush again. Middlebrooks hit a curveball deep to left, but it was caught on the warning track.
“I thought it had a chance, just the way the ball flies here,” Middlebrooks said. “I was blowing it running down the line, but it didn’t have enough steam.”
Middlebrooks is 6 for 13 in his last three games, with four homers, two doubles, and five RBIs. Farrell, ever the manager, pointed out that the third baseman also made two nice plays in the field.
Middlebrooks faced Dickey in a spring training game Feb. 25. It was only one at-bat, but it gave him a sense of how Dickey threw his knuckleball.
But Middlebrooks also noted the advice of some veteran players that Dickey will try a fastball to get ahead in the count. The first home run came on a first-pitch fastball. The second home run was on a 3-and-2 fastball.
“I thought we had a very good approach against Dickey,” Farrell said. “We laid off some tough knuckleballs at the bottom of the zone.”
Ellsbury led off the game with double to the gap in left field, his line drive getting over the head of shortstop Jose Reyes and rolling on the turf.
Shane Victorino, who has reached base safely in all six games, followed with a single to center field. Pedroia was next and he singled to right field to drive in Ellsbury.
Then came the power. Napoli hit a long double to left to drive in two runs. Middlebrooks then followed with an opposite-field home run and it was 5-0.
By the end of the game, as the star-studded Blue Jays were falling to 2-4, two fans ran on the field. One tried to shake Middlebrooks’s hand and was tackled.
“That was a good tackle by that guy,” said Middlebrooks, who turned down a football scholarship to Texas A&M to sign with the Red Sox.
As the Red Sox piled up runs, Lester (2-0) was icily dispatching the Blue Jays. He allowed five hits — all singles — and struck out six without a walk. He is 2-0 with victories against CC Sabathia and Dickey.
Much like the team he plays for, Lester looks renewed this season and is eager to pitch at Fenway later this week.
“We’ve had two good series and that’s big for us,” he said. “For us to go home where we’re at, it’s a good spot to be in. It beats the hell out of the alternative that we’ve been in the last two years.”
Farrell was asked what the fans at Fenway should expect of the Sox.
“That they’re going to get effort and energy every time we walk on the field,” he said. “We’re going to be prepared. We’re going to play the game the right way [and] play the game with an intensity that should work in our favor more times than not.
“I think that has a way to bring us through some challenging moments that are sure to come our way here at some point.”