KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- There might be icicles hanging from the gyroball this afternoon, but the change in atmospheric conditions here meant more to the Red Sox than just a precipitous drop in temperature.
The 42-degree game-time reading in Kauffman Stadium last night -- 37 degrees colder than it had been at game time two days earlier -- was more than offset by the thaw in the Sox' dugout after they posted their first win of 2007, a 7-1 beating of the Kansas City Royals.
Kevin Youkilis's two-run home run, Mike Lowell's two-run double, and two hits by J.D. Drew, including an RBI double, made an easy winner of Josh Beckett, who threw more balls (48) than strikes (46) in five innings but allowed just two hits and a run.
Beckett survived a rare double-bobble inning by third baseman Lowell, who had the first three-error game of his career, with the help of a terrific running catch by Drew, and was ably assisted by four scoreless innings of one-hit ball by the bullpen, which came into the season as a potential trouble spot.
"I think it's huge," Lowell said of the work turned in by Javier Lopez, Kyle Snyder, J.C. Romero, and Joel Pineiro, with the only hit a two-out single by Ross Gload off Lopez in the sixth. "We're going to rely on our starters big time, but we're going to rely on our pen big time, too. They all looked good, and that's a good sign. I think it gives you options, and that's important."
Lowell kicked two consecutive ground balls in the third, then threw a ball away in the ninth with two outs, his three errors representing half of the misplays he made last season. "I wanted to throw it out of the stadium," he said of the glove he smacked in disgust in the ninth. "But how could I get mad at the glove? It didn't do anything in the ninth."
Instead, he had an ice cream sandwich, an interesting dining option on a night so cold that second baseman Dustin Pedroia said he covered himself in Vaseline.
"You know what's hard? At-bats don't carry over in this weather," Sox manager Terry Francona said before the game. "Normally, you get a nice swing and you come up the next time and you feel good. In this weather, you can have a nice base hit, you come up the next time your bat feels like a stranger. The handle's cold, it seems thicker, it's hard to get in a groove.
"Then, if you hit one off the end or get jammed, you don't feel your hands for about two innings."
Beckett didn't have a
But Curt Schilling, among others, will sell you on what Beckett means to this club.
"Josh is going to have a phenomenal year," said Schilling, who'd taken a beating by the same 7-1 score in Monday's Opening Day loss. "Not a lot of people paid as much attention to his spring training as they should have. He's good."
Beckett came out pumping fastballs in the first inning that touched 97 miles per hour, an unpleasant experience for any Royal batter who made anything less than solid contact. But while he struggled with his command, he remained committed to working on his offspeed pitches, particularly his curveball.
At times, he said, the cold affected his grip. "I threw sinkers that almost slipped out, almost like a dry spitter. Tek [Jason Varitek] was catching those balls, but some of 'em he didn't even know where they were going."
Beckett threw more pitches than he would have liked -- 94 in his five innings -- and was not happy about walking the first batter he faced, David DeJesus, after being staked to a 3-0 lead in the top of the first. But DeJesus was quickly erased on a double play started by Lowell, which made Mark Teahen's subsequent bloop double a mere irritant.
Lowell committed two errors in one inning for only the second time in his career to give the Royals a chance to climb back into the game. But Beckett picked up Lowell by whiffing Teahen on a called third strike for the second out, then benefited from a big catch by Drew, who tracked down Mike Sweeney's liner toward the gap in right.
"Sometimes the first one's the hardest to get," Beckett said. "Hopefully, we can keep it rolling, score some runs for Dice-K, and take some pressure off him.
"J.D. got an unbelievable jump on that ball. When I looked back, I thought, 'He's got a chance to catch that ball,' and he did. It was one of those deals I wanted to pick up Mike Lowell bad. He's picked me up so many times."
The Sox, who ended a string of six consecutive losses in Kauffman Stadium, scored three runs with two outs in the first off Odalis Perez to seize the advantage. David Ortiz drew a four-pitch walk and Manny Ramírez followed with a line single to left, his first hit of '07. Drew followed by hitting a sharp liner past first baseman Gload into the right-field corner, scoring Ortiz. Lowell then lined a ball that landed just inside the left-field line and rolled into the corner for a double, Ramírez and Drew scoring.
Perez subsequently set down nine in a row until Varitek's single with two outs in the fourth. He departed in the sixth after Ramírez walked and Drew grounded a single into right for his second hit of the night. Reliever Joakim Soria walked Lowell to load the bases and Varitek's deep fly to right brought home Ramírez with Boston's fourth run.
After a walk and sacrifice by Julio Lugo in the seventh, Youkilis crushed a pitch over the left-field fence for a two-run home run, his first of the season, which came off Kansas City's third pitcher, Todd Wellemeyer.
After Lopez gave up Gload's two-out single in the sixth, Snyder, Romero, and Pineiro set down nine Royals in order until Lowell's third error, then Pineiro got Tony Pena on a tapper to end it.
"No matter where you came from, you want to establish confidence, and you want to establish the manager's confidence in you," Snyder said. "From an objective perspective, I think our bullpen is fantastic. Some people may not think that, I can see us doing a lot of really good things. Granted, it's just the second game of the season, but I think we have a lot of talent, and hopefully that will turn into production."
Gordon Edes can be reached at email@example.com.