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Opening thoughts on Sox' home opener

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  April 8, 2011 06:38 PM

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On a team where hype sprung eternal, there's finally a reason to believe it.

The Red Sox won their 111th home opener -- and 100th at Fenway Park -- 9-6 over the Yankees today to score their first victory of the season after an 0-6 start. Instead of a seven-game losing streak, the Sox can now celebrate winning a club-record seven straight home openers.

Many thought these Sox would channel a version from the 1940's. Most predictions pegged it as the 1946 Sox, the last inhabitants of Fenway Park to win 100 games. Instead it was the 1945 entry, which began the season with eight straight losses. The Red Sox avoided the ignominy of potentially matching that start yesterday and put down the Pinstripes in the process, making the day doubly sweet.

It was a reminder that it's far too early to evaluate what the 2011 Red Sox are going to be or where they're going to end up at the end of the season. That in part is why all the fretting by the Fenway Faithful about the $161-million Sox entering today's home opener without a win was a bit overblown.

You can't even begin to draw any substantial conclusions about the fate of a baseball team until you reach the 40-game mark. Anything else is premature evaluation. The 2003 Kansas City Royals opened the season with a 9-0 start. They were 17-4 on April 26. Forty games in they were 24-16. Fifty games in they were 26-24. They finished third in the American League Central with an 83-79 mark, which for the Sons of George Brett is like making the playoffs.

But the point is their fast start didn't ultimately prevent them from reverting to being the Royals, just as the Red Sox bumper-to-bumper traffic slow beginning doesn't doom them to failing to live up to lofty pre-season expectations.

Remember, last year the Sox were 20-20. By July 4, they were 49-32 and a half-game out of first place.

Among the highlights of this day of new beginnings were Yaz throwing out the first pitch, and Adrian Gonzalez beating out a bunt single against the shift. It's just a shame that Manny Ramirez couldn't have retired a few hours earlier so the Sox could have brought him in for the festivities. Oh, well.

In proving they wouldn't go 0-162 we learned a few things about the Sox:

-- Dustin Pedroia is still going to be Dustin Pedroia -- diminutive, dynamic, demonstrative -- after recovering from a broken foot. Pedey, who entered the day without a single extra base hit, homered in the first for the Sox' first run. He finished 3 for 5 with three runs batted in, including a two-out, two-run single in Boston's five-run second. Pedroia showed his wheels were fine when he scored from second on a single to left by Gonzalez that same inning. With Kevin Youkilis still scuffling out of the gate (2 for 20), the Sox need a potent right-handed presence in the lineup. Pedroia's performance was a good sign that the Sox order can have left-right balance.

-- The Red Sox' bullpen has the potential to be just as good as the Yankees'. The relievers were resplendent after John Lackey labored through five ineffective innings. Freshly-recalled Alfredo Aceves, then Bobby Jenks, then Daniel Bard and finally closer-under-fire Jonathan Papelbon combined to pitch four scoreless innings, allowing just one hit, while striking out five.

Papelbon buzzed through the Yankees faster than the F-16 fighter planes that flew over Fenway before first pitch, needing only 11 pitches to end the affair. He fanned Yankee pest Brett Gardner, who reached base four times, and Derek Jeter on nasty fastballs. Jenks was equally impressive in the seventh, striking out Alex Rodriguez.

-- Jarrod Saltalamacchia might be worth giving a long leash, Sox fans. Salty, who entered today with just one hit had a two-hit day. He collected his second of the game in the fifth and it was huge, a two-out, double off the Wall that scored Youkilis to put the Sox up, 7-6.

-- Beware of the Sox rotation. Is it possible we took too Pollyanna a view of the Sox' starting pitching situation? Lackey pitched with a horseshoe under his hat to get this win. He went five innings, allowing six runs (all earned). After a five-run second gave the Sox a 6-3 lead, Lackey squandered it away. Alex Rodriguez tied the game with a heat-seeking solo shot over the Wall to lead off the fifth.

Here is a question you have to ask about Lackey, the Sox presumptive No. 3 starter, what is his out pitch? I asked a Hall of Fame pitcher in attendance today that question. He could not name it. The scary fact is that 15.58 ERA and all Lackey at this point is still more reliable than Josh Beckett, who pitches Sunday, and Daisuke Matsuzaka.

-- Carl Crawford is a tough fit in the Red Sox batting order. This was the seventh game of the season and it was already the fourth different spot that Crawford has resided in the Red Sox order. In his newest spot, the foundering free agent didn't look any more comfortable with the carmine hose. He went 0-5 with a strikeout.

Crawford is an incredible talent, as evidenced by his sliding catch in the fourth, but the Sox need to find a home for him in the order so he can feel at home here. He doesn't have enough power to hit third. You don't pay $142-million for a No. 7 hitter, and Crawford has never warmed to the lead-off spot.

The logical spot would be second, where he can use his speed. That would require reinserting Jacoby Ellsbury into the leadoff role and moving Pedroia. The Sox have toyed with the idea of hitting Pedroia third before. He has done it for 14 games in his career, and was .255/.316 OBP/.806. OPS. But that is a very small sample size. If the Sox don't want to move Pedroia then Crawford probably needs to be batting fifth or sixth, either in front of or behind David Ortiz.

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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news

Dearth

...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.

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