THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Dan Shaughnessy

Finally!

Turns out, all the Sox needed was an empire to feast on

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By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / April 9, 2011

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The Red Sox had the words of Theo and the power of Yaz. How could they lose?

Staring into the abyss, not to mention a New York Daily News backpage headline of “Stinky Sox — Bombers roll into Boston for first look at clueless, winless rivals,’’ the Sox rallied yesterday afternoon and thrashed the Yankees, 9-6, in the 100th Fenway Park opener.

The victory played out after general manager Theo Epstein delivered a rare “Win One For the Gipper’’ speech in the clubhouse. It’s hard to imagine Eddie Collins, Dick O’Connell, Lou Gorman, or Dan Duquette rallying the troops with a pep talk, but that’s exactly what Epstein did.

“I was sort of surprised,’’ said David Ortiz. “He said, ‘I believe in you guys.’ I felt really good after that. He’s not a person who talks too much. It was motivation.’’

Phase 2 was having 71-year-old Carl Yastrzemski, No. 8 in your program, walking to the front of the mound to deliver the ceremonial first pitch. Yaz doesn’t get out much. He is baseball’s Garbo. But he clearly sensed the urgency of the situation and agreed to lend his fame and fable to this desperation opener. He took the field to the tune of the Edwin Hawkins Singers’ “Oh Happy Day’’ (“when Jesus washed’’) and fired a low fastball to Jason Varitek. Captain to captain. Ash wood to ash wood. Gold dust to gold dust.

And finally, a Red Sox victory.

“I’ve never seen a team so happy to be 1-6,’’ said manager Terry Francona.

Epstein was typically humble and understated regarding his pregame speech. This was the first time he’d addressed his team during the season since trading incorrigible drug cheat Manny Ramirez in 2008, and the GM did not want to talk about his Knute Rockne moment.

“We like to keep that in the clubhouse,’’ said Epstein.

Others gave it up. Epstein talked about the culture of winning that’s been established at Fenway. He told his players not to forget who they are. He told them to grind out at-bats— that’s how these Sox were built. He reminded them that the measure of a man is how he responds to adversity.

And then his Red Sox went out and overcame an early 3-1 deficit. Faced with a 6-6 tie in the fifth inning, they regained the lead and broke it open with two in seventh. Dustin Pedroia had three hits, including a first-inning home run, and three RBIs. Adrian Gonzalez, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, J.D. Drew, and Ortiz each had a couple of knocks. Drew hit a huge two-run single off a lefthander in the seventh. Boston’s bullpen allowed nothing over four innings. Jonathan Papelbon picked up the save with a 1-2-3 ninth. Cue up “I’m Shipping Up to Boston’’ and “Dirty Water.’’

“Fittingly, it was a grind,’’ said Epstein. “I’m proud of the guys. They came out battling. This game was mentally exhausting. It was a good indoctrination into the Red Sox-Yankee slugfests. It was good for us to get the intensity back and play a good game. Tito and I are getting congratulatory texts here in the seventh game of the season. We know we can’t go back and get a brand-new start. This hasn’t been pretty. But we’ve got 155 to go.’’

That pretty much covers everything you need to know about the 2011 home opener.

There were no announcements about Fenway Sports Management inking Barry Bonds or Rex Ryan (though I did check with Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck and he’s OK with the unholy alliance of FSM and LeBron James). The Sox enforced a new “no tweeting’’ rule for Francona’s press conferences. My life will certainly never be the same.

Carl Crawford was moved to leadoff, which he hates, went 0 for 5, and is now batting .143. Crawford has hit in four spots in the order through seven games. So what was spring training all about again?

Crawford’s ascension to leadoff bumped Jacoby Ellsbury into the eighth spot (“not a demotion,’’ said Francona) and he went 1 for 4 and is hitting .179. Ellsbury must be wondering if the Sox are going to send him back to left field (only kidding).

Gonzalez went 2 for 5 in his first game ever at Fenway. He is good and tired of being asked about his perfect Fenway swing. One of his hits yesterday was a bunt. The other was a single through the shortstop hole.

Before the game, there was a beautiful moment of silence and a playing of taps and “Anchors Aweigh’’ for the late Lou Gorman. Then came Yaz and “Oh Happy Day.’’ The song was recently highlighted in the film “Secretariat.’’ Thus, the Triple Crown theme on multiple levels.

Perfect. Kudos to Sox VP Sarah McKenna.

So the Sox won’t fall out of the race this weekend. This is not the Fall of Saigon.

Oh, Happy Day.

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

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