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Sweeney’s debut a little hit and miss

He nearly atones for fly with triple

By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / April 6, 2012
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DETROIT - Ryan Sweeney has experienced Opening Day jitters before.

Take, for instance, the first time he made an Opening Day roster and found himself as the A’s starting center fielder in 2008 against, of all teams, the Red Sox in, of all places, Tokyo.

“Last year, I didn’t start Opening Day and the previous three years I did,’’ Sweeney said. “The one in Japan was pretty cool, but I’ll probably say this one tops all of those.’’

Although his Opening Day debut as the Red Sox’ right fielder was marred by a 3-2 loss Thursday to the Tigers, it did little to diminish Sweeney’s nerves.

“Obviously, Boston has a huge following and is a huge franchise and a huge-market team,’’ said Sweeney, who was acquired from the A’s with closer Andrew Bailey Dec. 28. “So just to be a part of that on Opening Day is an accomplishment.’’

Sweeney, who went 2 for 4, very nearly made it a winning accomplishment.

With two outs in the ninth, Sweeney kept the Sox alive when he drove in pinch runner Darnell McDonald to tie it, 2-2, with a triple to right off Jose Valverde. The Tigers closer converted all 49 save opportunities last season, but blew his first chance of 2012.

“It’s huge,’’ Sweeney said. “It shows we’re not going to give up, so to have that happen against Valverde, too, that’s a huge accomplishment right there. We just didn’t score enough runs today.’’

Sweeney’s triple nearly atoned for the fly ball he misplayed in the eighth that resulted in a leadoff triple by Austin Jackson.

“It was just a hard-hit ball and I drop-stepped back and it tailed on me,’’ said Sweeney, explaining how the swirling winds wreaked havoc on his ability to make even routine catches. “I had to turn back around and it was just out of my reach and I couldn’t get to it.’’

The ball rattled around the warning track before Sweeney could catch up to it. By then, Jackson was standing on third. He scored when Prince Fielder lofted a sacrifice fly to center off Franklin Morales. Delmon Young’s inning-ending to fly to right also proved to be an adventuresome catch for Sweeney.

Was the sun or the shade any kind of factor?

“No, not really,’’ Sweeney said. “It was just hard to explain, but even the one that Delmon hit, it was just a pop-up that took a weird dive on me there at the end.’’

Said manager Bobby Valentine: “It’s a tough one. He had a tough ball. Sweeney’s a terrific outfielder. I even asked him if it was the sun or the wall, but it was a tough play going straight back to the wall.’’

Said Sweeney, “I pride myself in my defense and I work hard at it. It’s just one of those things where you can’t get them all.’’

But as he stood on third base, representing the go-ahead run in the ninth, Sweeney expressed but one lament after Cody Ross’s line drive was snagged by shortstop Jhonny Peralta for the inning’s final out.

“I was just [ticked] that my ball didn’t get out,’’ he said. “I wanted to take the lead right there, that way we could have [Alfredo Aceves] come in with a one-run lead. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen.’’

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.

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