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Dan Shaughnessy

Pieces of April at Fenway

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / April 7, 2010

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Now we know the Red Sox are not going 162-0. Two games is a very small sample. Here’s what we’re seeing:

■ You knew it was going to be bad when the Run Prevention Sox made their first error of 2010. And it was. The Sox and Yankees were locked in a 4-4 game in the eighth last night when Derek Jeter hit a routine grounder to short with two on and two out. Marco Scutaro’s throw bounced in front of Kevin Youkilis and everybody was safe.

What could we say other than, “Lugo would have made the play, Renteria would have made the play, Nick Green would have made the play’’? Naturally, Hideki Okajima walked the next batter and the Yankees went ahead, 5-4, on the way to a 6-4 win. It’ll probably be Boston’s only unearned run all season, but it hurt nonetheless.

■ The David Ortiz Dilemma is real. Big Papi went 0 for 4 last night and is hitless in the first two games. He made the final out of three innings. He struck out miserably with a man on second and two outs when the game was tied, 4-4, in the fifth.

Ortiz is going to be a thorn in the side of Terry Francona unless he starts hitting. If we could extract emotion and loyalty from the equation, Ortiz would not have started the opener against CC Sabathia and he would not start tonight against Andy Pettitte. Granted, Ortiz has good lifetime numbers against Pettitte (18 for 49, .367, 1 homer, 10 RBIs) but that was then and this is now.

Ortiz can’t hit lefties anymore. He says he has nothing to prove. He’s wrong. He says he’s going to be here next year. Wrong again. We love the Big Fella, but it looks very much like it’s over.

Ortiz never gets a hit against a good pitcher anymore. He’s missing his pitch when he gets ahead on the count (did you see the slow swing on the 3-and-1 cookie Sabathia threw him Sunday?).

Oh, and the shift is killing him, too. Papi actually barreled up a ball on a 3-and-1 pitch from A.J. Burnett last night, but it resulted in a grounder to second that would have been a single to right if not for the shift invented by Joe Maddon.

It’s not fair to give up on Ortiz based on a couple of games, but at this juncture, it’s clear that the Sox would be better off using Mike Lowell as designated hitter against lefties. Lowell is a man waiting to be traded (he was dutifully taking grounders at first base at 4 o’clock yesterday), but he’s still more of a threat than Ortiz to hit southpaws.

■ The Sox probably have the best starters in baseball, but Josh Beckett and Jon Lester in the first two games combined for an aggregate 9 2/3 innings, giving up 13 hits and 9 runs, walking 6 and hitting 2. Red Sox Nation tonight turns its lonely eyes to newbie John Lackey.

■ Anybody feeling good about Manny Delcarmen these days? Anybody? He pitched a scoreless inning last night, but it was another high-wire act (leadoff double, one line drive that found a glove), and all thinking Sox fans cringe when Manny comes into a close game.

■ There’s a catching problem in New York. Last night’s Yankee battery featured Burnett throwing to Jorge Posada. This is like pairing Nomar Garciaparra and Curt Schilling on the set of “Baseball Tonight.’’ It’s awkward. It’s two guys who don’t work well together and don’t care for one another.

The Sox were beneficiaries of the Yankee misfits in the bottom of the first when Posada threw into center field as Jacoby Ellsbury stole second. Ellsbury advanced to third on the error, then scored on Youkilis’s sac fly to center. Let’s not forget that Posada’s passed ball was the critical play on Opening Night.

■ Mariano Rivera (save last night), Jeter, and Posada are the first trio of teammates in the history of American professional sports to play together for 16 consecutive seasons.

■ The Sox’ home sellout streak reached 552 last night. Boston’s immature owners (Tom Werner went on NESN’s pregame show last night and twice spanked “journalists’’ who raised questions about the club’s operation) want us to promote the brand and tell you that everything is swell in Red Sox Nation. But the sellout streak is in jeopardy, and some serious house-papering will be needed to keep the streak going this year.

Scalpers are starving on Brookline Avenue/Boylston Street, and there was virtually no buzz accompanying last night’s Red Sox-Yankee game. It felt like Sox vs. Twins at City of Palms, vying for the Mayor’s Cup.

Granted, it was a weeknight in April, but it never felt like this in 2003, 2004, or 2005. Not even close. It’s unrealistic and unfair to expect the fever pitch to remain at ’04-05 levels, but in some ways the Sox today are victims of their own extraordinary success. Sorry, Tom. That’s the reality.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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