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Dan Shaughnessy

Safe at home

They’ve been playing in the old yard for 100 years now, but rarely has a win felt more urgent or welcome for the Sox and their unsettled fans

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / April 14, 2012
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It was a soft opening, played one week before the baseball bacchanalia promised when the New York Yankees come to town for the official 100th birthday of every New Englander’s summer home, Fenway Park.

Red Sox warriors Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield, decorated veterans of great days at Fenway, emerged from the Green Monster to throw ceremonial first pitches. “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy’’ by Blood, Sweat & Tears blared on the speaker system while the recently retired batterymates made their way toward the mound.

Good choice of a tune. After seven-plus months of chaos and disappointment, the Red Sox on Friday finally reminded us that we can still have good times at the ballpark that has become the franchise’s centerpiece star. Josh Beckett ignored some pregame boos and stuffed the Tampa Bay Rays on five hits over eight innings in a 12-2 Red Sox breakout win. The Sox pounded 16 hits off five Tampa Bay pitchers.

“Just what the doctor ordered,’’ said new Sox manager Bobby Valentine. “We have a very good offense, and it came out of its shell tonight.’’

It wouldn’t be the Red Sox of 2012 without a little misfortune, and the Sox got a scare in the fourth inning when megawatt center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury injured his shoulder sliding into second base trying to break up a double play. He went to Massachusetts General Hospital for “further evaluation’’ and looks like a candidate for the disabled list.

“He’s a huge part of our team,’’ said Dustin Pedroia. “He’s a superstar and we definitely need him in our lineup.’’

It was an otherwise splendid day to be a member of Red Sox Nation, featuring blue skies, 60-degree temperatures, and a blueprint blowout over a division rival. It was a day when the Baghdad Bobs of NESN could broadcast good news without fabrication.

Fans walking from Kenmore Square up Brookline Avenue early in the day got a laugh when they saw the sign over Popeyes that read, “Four out of five pitchers prefer our chicken BEST.’’ The eatery is housed in the old Hotel Buckminster, which was where the 1919 Black Sox scandal was hatched. This means that in nine-plus decades, we went from “Eight Men Out’’ to “eight men ordering out.’’ The Popeyes gag was a reminder of how things ended in 2011.

In this spirit, Beckett heard a few Bronx cheers when he was introduced after warming up in the bullpen. Valentine also got a mixed reception from a crowd hungry to see the 1-5 Sox snap out of their September-April slump. The sight of 92-year-old Johnny Pesky energized the crowd, as did a window-rattling flyover (Ted Williams would have loved it) by four F-16s from the Vermont National Guard.

Beckett got into an early jam in the second, falling behind 1-0, but induced three ground balls to get out of the inning. He then watched the dormant Sox bats awake with three runs off Rays ace lefthander David Price in the third. The Sox added a run in the fourth and blew it open with eight in the jailbreak eighth.

Beckett finished with only one strikeout and one walk, throwing a mere 94 pitches, 61 for strikes. It was a dramatic turnabout from his five-home run performance in a 10-0 loss in Detroit one week ago. Now we believe him when he says his thumb (18 months of nagging pain and a couple of cortisone shots) isn’t bothering him.

“The guys played really well behind me,’’ said Beckett, who was going to pitch the ninth until the Sox opened it up in the eighth. “A great day for our offense. We’ll always take one of these days.’’

The highlight was the first stolen base of backup catcher Kelly Shoppach’s career. He carried the base with him after the game and it was in his locker when he conducted interviews.

The only downer was the Ellsbury injury. Boston’s flossy leadoff man was on first with one out when Dustin Pedroia hit a hard hopper that Rays shortstop Reid Brignac snatched. Brignac erased Ellsbury at second but landed on the Sox star’s right shoulder after making his throw to first. Ellsbury was in a lot of pain when he walked off the field.

Get to the park early Sunday. We’re expecting to see Ralph Branca throw out the ceremonial first pitch on the 65th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Branca and Robinson were Dodger teammates. Branca is the man who threw the pitch that led to the “Shot Heard ’Round the World’’ by New York Giant Bobby Thomson. Branca is the father-in-law of Bobby V, who is undefeated as a Red Sox manager at Fenway Park.

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

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