As far as opening acts go, you couldn’t expect more from either Josh Beckett or Mike Lowell, the two former Florida Marlins who sparkled around the diamond in the Red Sox’ 5-3 win over the Blue Jays to kick off Fenway season in style.
As for Wily Mo Pena, well ...
It’s not so much that folks are focusing on the negative, particularly after the Red Sox won their fifth straight game to run their record to 6-1 on the season. Beckett settled down after a jittery first inning and kept Boston’s stunning run of starting pitching going for his second win. Lowell posted a four-hit day -- which included three doubles -- that had people doubting talk of this so-called slow bat.
But the buzz after the game was focused on Pena, who struck out swinging weakly on three straight pitches in the seventh, and in the following frame had Frank Catalanotto’s deep fly ball ricochet off his glove and into the Blue Jays’ bullpen for a home run. If the best of Pena is that he hits mammoth shots to the moon, this was all of his worst on display.
“The thing kept going back, back, back,” Pena said. “And then I felt the wall.”
No kidding. Want more salt for the wound? Bronson Arroyo, the man he was traded for, hit his second home run of the season today while leading the Reds to a 9-2 win over the Cubs, also his second win of the season. That’s two more home runs for Arroyo than Pena and Many Ramirez combined, seven games into the season.
Pena came into the game today in the fourth inning, after Trot Nixon left with a groin strain suffered on his own adventure in right field. “It seemed like the ball stopped in mid-air,” Nixon said of the play in the second that had him twisting and turning.
The injury isn’t serious -- on a scale of 1-3, Nixon called it a one -- but it still will require 5 to 7 days of assessment. That means more playing time over the next week for just-recalled Dustan Mohr and Wily Mo.
Pena came up to bat in the fifth to a chorus of cheers, and lined out to center on his first pitch. Following his ugly at-bat in the seventh, Pena made his blunder in the field, backing up and feeling his back hit the short wall in right. And out came the ball that Keith Foulke had in his hands just seconds before. It was scored a home run.
“I was worried because I thought he might be hurt,” said David Ortiz, who slugged his second homer of the season in the win.
Nixon defended Pena’s mistake, pointing out the shortness of the wall and what it can mean for your concentration when it hits your waist. But this also wasn’t the first time Pena has made such a play at Fenway. Last year, he made a similar mistake on a Manny Ramirez line drive while playing with the Reds last summer.
After today’s missed catch, Pena made back-to-back plays on fly balls to end the inning, prompting a mock cheer from the sellout crowd. Pena didn’t get the sarcasm.
“That was incredible,” he said. “It gave like more energy to me. They’re happy here, whatever you do.”
Um, Wily ...
Pena thus far has been everything advertised, without the power. Last season, he struck out once every 2.7 at-bats, the highest ratio in the majors. This season, he’s struck out three times in five at-bats. His strikeout before the home crowd in the seventh was exactly like the pair in Baltimore on Saturday night. Ugly and off-balance. That’s just Wily Mo being Wily Mo.
“I know I’m going to strike out,” he said. “I’m just doing the best I can. You have good days and bad days. That was one of the bad days.”
Since Saturday, two-thirds of the Red Sox Opening Day starting outfield has gone down with injuries, Coco Crisp with a fractured finger, and now Nixon. That means more Adam Stern (two more RBIs today), Mohr, and yes, Pena.
Wily Mo Pena started the day with rousing cheers during pregame introductions. He ended it getting mock cheers from the Fenway Faithful, who otherwise went home happy as the 2006 edition of the Red Sox continues to impress.
Wily Mo has yet to do the same. Oh, and Bronson Arroyo is 2-0. With two home runs. Just so you know.