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Eric Wilbur's Sports Blog

For openers, Lester and Sizemore provide spark but can't ignite the Red Sox

On Opening Day, Jon Lester and Grady Sizemore both picked up right where they left off.

In the case of Jon Lester, who heretofore will be known this season as “free agent to-be Jon Lester” unless an in-season contract is worked out with the Red Sox, maybe after last October, we can finally talk about scrapping that scarlet letter “A” from following the “1” that determines ace status in baseball. The Red Sox lefty was mostly dominant Monday afternoon against the Baltimore Orioles, allowing two runs on six hits over seven innings in Boston’s 2-1 loss to kick off the 2014 season. It was the seventh inning that will be of some debate, as Lester had already thrown 92 pitchers in his first start of the season. It was during that frame Lester surrendered a deep tie-breaking home run to Nelson Cruz which proved to be the difference.

Cruz is now 10-for-22 with two homers against Lester in his career. What, John Farrell didn’t expect any first-day second-guessing with a Grady in the house?

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You have to go back a little further than last October to find the remnants comparable to what Sizemore delivered in his first game in a Red Sox uniform, which also happened to be his first major league game since Sept. 22, 2011. Sizemore introduced himself back to the bigs with a single in his first at-bat, then tied the score at one with a wind-aided home run to right field in the fourth inning that had probably had BBWAA members fighting for the phone lines in the Camden Yards press box in order to pitch “Grady’s Comeback” to publishers.

It’s easy to get sucked into the compelling story that is Sizemore’s return to baseball, but if spring training stats are to be taken with a grain of salt, what happens on Opening Day ought to be at least sprinkled with some seasoning left over from Florida. As good as Lester was, his offense did little to support him, going 0-for-12 with runners on the basepaths, 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position.

Pee-yew.

Given, the Red Sox lineup was a bit bamboozled with the absence of Shane Victorino, who was indeed placed on the disabled list prior to the opener. Daniel Nava was 0-for-5 at the top of the lineup, but did see 21 pitches, same amount as Sizemore. Mike Carp got a surprise start in left field, and looked about as fast as Eeyore with a cinder block tied to his hoof running the bases. Will Middlebrooks batted ninth, perhaps because Farrell felt he couldn’t have free-swingers Mike Napoli and the third baseman so close to each other in the order. Among starters, Middlebrooks saw a team-low 10 pitches on the afternoon, not exactly delivering additional faith in his patience at the plate.

David Ortiz didn’t even hit the ball out of the park with runners on in the ninth inning. Where are we?

It was the first Opening Day loss for Lester in his Red Sox career, but in the process joined Pedro Martinez (1998-2000) as the only Boston pitchers to record eight or more strikeouts on the road in the first game of the season. The last time Sizemore played on Opening Day was back on April 5, 2010. He went 0-for-4 against the Chicago White Sox.

Monday wasn’t the end of Sizemore’s comeback road, but the beginning. The bandwagon is still accepting riders, but its getting pretty crowded at the moment. (A.J. Pierzynski’s bandwagon is wide open, however. The keys are by the door.) If spring training and Monday were not a mirage, Ben Cherington will have one of the greatest steals in recent memory on his record. For $750,000, plus incentives, Sizemore’s base salary is one-twenty-eighth of what the Yankees are paying former Boston outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury in 2014.

Lester’s resume is growing at the most opportune time. During last year’s playoffs, he was 4-1 with a 1.56 ERA, a performance that came on the heels of uneven seasons under Terry Francona, Bobby Valentine, and Josh Beckett. After he and the Red Sox couldn’t come to a contract extension in the offseason, he’s now also pitching to the free agent market come season’s end. If there are more starts like Monday, the phrase “hometown discount” might as well be conveyed to Lester’s camp in sand script.

Boston is 0-1 on the season, but 2-for-2 with the performances of Lester and Sizemore. Les and More.

Too bad almost everybody else was a big, fat 0-fer.


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