For all the concern and consternation expressed about the reconfigured Red Sox lineup, last night's season-christening victory over the New York Yankees was both a reminder and a reality check. Run prevention might be the Boston baseball bromide for this season, but good old-fashioned run production isn't passe at the Fens.
It remains at the heart of the Sox' success in the Theo Epstein era, even if it's not as reliant on the heart of the Sox order.
There will be nights when the Red Sox miss Jason Bay's sock in the middle of the order. There is no denying that. And early on it looked like Opening Night was going to be one of those evenings, as the Sox had put as many balls off The Wall in 4 2/3 innings as hip hop pioneer Dr. Dre had done in pregame batting practice (one apiece). A 5-1 deficit felt like 50-1.
Then it was bottoms up for Boston and their balanced lineup the rest of the way.
J.D. Drew, batting seventh, got a two-out single off Sabathia, and Mike Cameron followed with a solid single to left. Marco Scutaro, batting ninth, connected for the third straight single to push across the second Sox run. The Sox went on to score in each of the next three innings after the bottom three broke through in the fifth on their way to a 9-7 victory.
While the hitting headlines this morning went to Kevin Youkilis (three extra-base hits) and Dustin Pedroia (two-run homer), the bottom of the order got on base seven times. Drew, Cameron and Scutaro combined to go 5 for 10 with two walks and an RBIs, and all three scored runs.
There are few lineups in baseball that are going to present a pitcher with a 7-8-9 trio the likes of Drew (Mr. OPS), Cameron (at least 21 home runs in four straight seasons), and Scutaro (.379 on-base percentage last season).
"I don't think there is any doubt about our offense," said Scutaro, who singled to lead off the seventh to set up Pedroia's two-run blast that tied the game, 7-7. "If you look at the lineup, I think it's pretty balanced. We have some guys who have had success before and been in the game for a long time. I don't think it's that bad."
Cameron, who before last night had batted eighth in a lineup just 97 times in his 1,829 career games, understands that bottom-dweller is his role on a team like the Red Sox.
"I think that is the kind of role I have to take on now, and just use my ability to do the things that I'm capable of doing," said Cameron. "I'm pretty sure [Scutaro] feels the same way. We have a lot of talent in this room. We may not have the best lineup, so to speak, or whatever it may be, but we got some guys here who can play some ball. I'm thrilled to be a part of it."
The bottom of the order is supposed to be a serene place where an ace like Sabathia or Josh Beckett can conserve energy and save his pitch count. But that's not possible with the loaded lineups of the American League East titans. What separates the Sox and Yankees is that they can afford to pay and put players like Drew ($14 million per year), Cameron ($8.25 million payout this year), and Scutaro ($6 million this year) in those spots.
The bottom of the Bronx Bombers' order isn't a picnic either. Curtis Granderson, who hit 30 home runs last year and made a grand entrance into the rivalry with a home run in his first at-bat as a Yankee, was batting seventh last night. He was followed by Nick Swisher (29 home runs last year) and Brett Gardner. The Yanks bottom third combined to go 4 for 11 with a home run, two RBIs, two walks, three runs scored, and another Gardner heist in Boston, as Brett stole home on a double-steal.
And Beckett wants to sign on for four more years of pitching in this division? He deserves every penny.
The depth of the these lineups is why you can never count either team out of one of these clashes and why any meeting between the ancient rivals should be dubbed the Real Boston Marathon (last night clocked in at a tidy 3 hours and 46 minutes).
Weekend warriors can run the actual 26.2-mile course from Hopkinton to Boston in less time than it takes a game of this revered rivalry to run its course.
It's also why the Red Sox, third in baseball in runs scored with 872 last season, can surprise some of the cynics with their offensive production.
Remember, this is a lineup last year that had Jason Varitek and his .209 average spend the most games batting eighth last season. The No. 9 spot was home to Nick Green, Alex Gonzalez and Julio Lugo for 129 games.
Cameron might strike out faster than Conan O'Brien, but he is a considerable upgrade.
The No. 9 spot will be an even bigger improvement. The diminutive Scutaro scored 100 runs and was second among all MLB leadoff hitters in walks with 90 last season. Scutaro is so good that he might not be long for final spot in the order if Ellsbury gets off to a slow start in the top spot.
The AL average for the No. 9 hole ( in the National League pitchers usually bat ninth, skewing the numbers) was .245, .305 OBP and .654 OPS with 67.5 runs, 56.1 RBIs, and 8.5 home runs. The Sox will surpass that.
Just as they could surpass the lowered offensive expectations many set for them this season.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.