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Dan Shaughnessy

They stumbled over initial hurdle

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By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / April 2, 2011

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ARLINGTON, Texas — I guess this means 162-0 is out.

The Best Team Ever wasn’t the best team in Dallas-Fort Worth yesterday. The Red Sox spit up on their own shoes, dropping a 9-5 decision to the Texas Rangers, a.k.a. the team that actually won the American League pennant last year. (Boston finished third in its division in case you got lost in the hail of preseason hype.)

“There’ll be a lot of better days,’’ said secure manager Terry Francona. “Hopefully, it will start tomorrow.’’

Still, we are faced with a new reality. The 2011 Red Sox are not going to go undefeated. They aren’t going to be the 1972 Dolphins. They still have a chance to be the 1927 Yankees or the 1912 Red Sox, but they’re going to have to do better than they did in the franchise’s 111th opening game.

The good news is that Jacoby Ellsbury got on base four times, Adrian Gonzalez looked like the sweet-swinging slugger you thought he’d be, Kevin Youkilis established that spring training means nothing, and David Ortiz hit a game-tying homer (off a lefty!) in the eighth inning.

The bad news is that Jon Lester gave up three homers for the first time in his career, Carl Crawford fanned three times and failed with men in scoring position four times, and Daniel Bard imploded in a four-run eighth and is unavailable tonight. How many of us expected to see Tim Wakefield in mop-up duty in the lid-lifter?

By any yardstick it was Theo Epstein’s worst opener since his first opener. Coincidently, Crawford was an integral part of both disasters. Back in 2003, a 21-year-old Crawford hit a ninth-inning walkoff blast off Sox chattel Chad Fox in the season opener at Tropicana Field. That Red Sox team made it to the seventh game of the ALCS, only to lose because of Grady Little’s reluctance to go to a bad bullpen.

Crawford had to be wishing he was back in St. Petersburg yesterday. Here’s a clip-and-save recap of Crawford’s first day in a Sox uniform:

He came up in the first inning with a man on third and one out and lined softly to short.

He came up in the third with runners on first and third and one out. He struck out.

He came up in the fifth (third time up against lefthander C.J. Wilson) with a man on second and one out. He struck out.

In the seventh, he came up with a man on second and two outs. He struck out.

That’s four runners in scoring position. Two failures with a man on third and one out. Three strikeouts. It doesn’t get much worse. Who will be the first to mention that the Sox are paying him $142 million over the next seven years? Not me.

“Wilson carved him up pretty good,’’ acknowledged Francona.

Crawford made no excuses. He told us he hoped to get off to a good start. It just didn’t work out.

Lester and Bard were a little different. They were more frustrated than guilty. Both thought they pitched OK. They sounded like they spent spring training living with John Lackey.

“Things didn’t go the way I wanted, obviously,’’ said Lester. “For the most part, I felt like I did a fairly good job.’’

Here’s Lester on the first homer, a leadoff shot by Ian Kinsler: “It’s not the first time I’ve ever given up one of those and it won’t be the last. Second pitch of the game, I’m going to throw a fastball. I’m not going to screw around.’’

All of the Red Sox — Lester, Francona, even Dustin Pedroia — were amazed at Mike Napoli’s game-changing three-run shot off Lester in the fourth. Lester maintained the pitch was not even in the strike zone.

“I thought it was a good piece of hitting,’’ said the Sox ace. “For whatever reason, we couldn’t get many swings and misses.’’

Bard’s meltdown lost the game. He walked into a 5-5 tie in the eighth. After giving up a one-out walk and a single, Bard surrendered a chalk-raising, two-run, opposite-field double on a 3-and-1 pitch to David Murphy. (Not to pile on, but Theo traded Murph to the Rangers for the immortal Eric Gagne.)

“It sucks to be the one to give it away, but I thought I made quality pitches all day,’’ said Bard. “You’ve got to ignore the results sometime. Three inches to the left and that’s a foul ball and we’re having a different conversation.’’

True. Three inches to the left and the Sox and Reds are still playing the sixth game of the World Series. That’s baseball.

The beauty of baseball is that they play another one tonight. And if you really remember how the Sox did in their openers in 2004 and ’07, you should be getting out more often.

One down. One hundred and sixty-one to go. One game behind the Yankees.

“Nobody wants to start this way, but I think we’ll look back on this and be laughing in a couple of months.’’

Those are the words of the Bard. Words to live by after an awful Opening Day for the Best Team Ever.

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

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