THAT’S IT (6:44, END 9, 5-3 SOX)
Papelbon polished off Beckett’s gem in 15 pitches with a 1-2-3 inning. Joyce popped to second. After a pesky at-bat, Navarro whiffed on a 3-2, 94-mph fastball. Gross also went full, but he looked at a fastball on the outside corner for strike three. Papelbon delivered a serious, full-body fist pump off to the right side of the mound.
Bottom lines: Beckett authored an Opening Day classic, Pedroia started it with a solo home run, five players drove in the five runs, and Varitek is on pace to hit 150 more home runs this season than last season.
CUE SHIPPING UP TO BOSTON (6:35, END 8, 5-3 SOX)
The Red Sox went 1-2-3 in the eighth. Because the the bullpen gave up two runs, we now have a save situation, which means we now have Jonathan Papelbon. He’ll face Joyce, Navarro, and Gross.
MASTERSON ENDS RALLY (6:28, MID 8, 5-3 SOX)
Masterson struck out Pena looking, his fourth whiff of the day. Burrell looped one to right, where Drew made the catch.
Lowell is leading off in the eighth. Righthander Joe Nelson is in for the Rays.
Papelbon is warming for the Sox.
WE’VE GOT A BALLGAME (6:24, TOP 8, 5-3 SOX)
Longoria ripped the second pitch he saw into right-centerfield for a single. Because the Sox weren’t holding Bartlett and Iwamura on, they had stolen on the first pitch, and both scored.
ROUGH START FOR OKAJIMA (6:22, TOP 8, 5-1 SOX)
Okajima started his 2009 season by plunking Bartlett and walking Iwamura. He rebounded, though, to strike out Crawford swinging. Masterson has replaced him to pitch to Longoria with men on first and second. No action for the moment in the ‘pen.
BECKETT DONE (6:16, END 7, 5-1 SOX)
Okajima has replaced Beckett, who had one of the most impressive Opening Day starts in recent memory. Seven innings, two hits, three walks, 10 strikeouts. He threw 93 pitches, 61 strikes.
The Red Sox nearly added an insurance run. Ortiz led off with a walk, and Youkilis reached on a fielder’s choice. Youkils went to third on a passed ball and a Drew grounder. Bay drove a deep fly to center, but Joyce ran it down while sprinting straight toward the triangle.
MORE DOMINANCE (6:05, MID 7, 5-1 SOX)
Navarro grounded weakly to second, and Gross struck out looking at a 93-mph fastball. Beckett has thrown 93 pitches in a vintage peformance. He’s allowed two hits, three walks, and struck out 10. No Rays have a hit off Beckett when he’s pitched from the windup.
OKAJIMA UP (5:59, TOP 7, 5-1 SOX)
With Beckett’s pitch count at 86, having just struck out Joyce for the first out, Hideki Okajima is warming in the bullpen.
CORMIER DOES THE JOB (5:57, END 6, 5-1 SOX)
Ellsbury chopped to third, and Pedroia lined to right to keep the Sox’ lead at one.
VARITEK BLASTS ONE (5:54, BOT 6, 5-1 SOX)
Varitek’s offensive woes were a main storyline by the end of last year, and you had to wonder if his late-spring resurgence from the left side was typical March fool’s gold or a significant development. It’s still early, pretty much as early as it can be. But Varitek just wrapped the first pitch he saw — Shields’s 100th — around Pesky’s Pole for a solo home run.
Shields exits in place of Cormier.
BECKETT BEARS DOWN (5:49, MID 6, 4-1 SOX)
Beckett put men on second and third to begin the sixth, walking Iwamura and surrendered a double to left-center by Crawford. The Rays’ 3-4-5 hitters were coming up, and that previously stated stretch-struggling theory looked like it had some valditity. At that, Beckett had retired 13 of 15 hitters from the stretch and given up no walks point, while allowing three of the five batters he faced from the stretch to reach base.
And then he made his three most important outs of the day. Longoria popped foul to the backstop. Pena struck out looking at a high, 96-mph fastball. Burrell chopped to third. Beckett made some fine pitches, and from the stretch, when he needed them.
Shileds remains in the game.
SOX BULLPEN UP (5:44, TOP 6, 4-1 SOX)
With men on second and third and one out, Javier Lopez and Ramon Ramirez are up in right.
STRANGE PLAY, SHIELDS ESCAPES (5:34, END 5, 4-1 SOX)
Bay lasered a line drive to left, where Crawford tried to make a sliding catch. He stopped the ball by trapping it. Youkilis, unsure whether he should at first, sprinted to third, but Crawford’s throw got him in time, at least according to third base ump Mark Carlson. Lowell grounded to third, and Longoria stepped on third then fired across the diamond for a double play. Lowell looks mighty slow.
‘PEN ACTION (5:29, BOT 5, 4-1 SOX)
As Drew walked to first, putting two men on with none out, Lance Cormier warmed up in the Rays’ bullpen. Here comes Bay.
BECKETT DEALING AGAIN (5:28, BOT 5, 4-1 SOX)
Beckett reverted back to the untouchable form he showed at the very start of the day. He struck out Navarro on a 94-mph fastball to start the inning, then struck out Gross with an 87-mph changeup. Bartlett flared weakly to short.
Beckett has thrown only 62 pitches through five, remarkable given his seven strikeouts. He’s managed the feat by throwing 41 of his 62 pitches for strikes.
Also, Youkilis just led off the fifth with a double to center.
QUICK ONE (5:18, END 4, 4-1 SOX)
Shields retired the Sox in order in the fourth, inducing groundouts by Ellsbury and Pedroia and a fly ball to center by Ortiz. Even with two 1-2-3 innings, Shields has already thrown 80 pitches.
BECKETT SETTLES (5:13, MID 4, 4-1 SOX)
Becktt struck out Pena to start off the inning. Burrell flied to the warning track in left, where Bay squeezed the ball with back against the Wall. Beckett struck out Joyce to end the inning, his fifth strikeout of the day. Beckett has thrown 48 pitches, 32 of which have been strikes.
One thing to keep in mind: Beckett has been outstanding out of the windup, but he struggled a bit when forced into the stretch. Probably picking nits, but something to consider.
FINAL DAMAGE (5:07, END 3, 4-1 SOX)
Lowrie blooped a single to shallow left, but Lowell, who is running very slow, had to be held up by third base coach DeMarlo Hale. Varitek lined softly to right, ending the inning. The Sox sent eight batters to the plate that inning, belting four hits and scoring three runs. Pedroia has scored two runs in two at bats.
SOX POUNDING SHIELDS (5:02, BOT 3, 4-1 SOX)
Jim Hickey is visiting Shields, who’s letting the game get away from him a but. The Red Sox took back the lead when Drew grounded sharply down the first base line. Pena made a diving stop, but could only tap first with his glove as Pedroia, who walked to lead off the inning, scooted home. Pedroia had gone to third on a one-out single by Youkilis, who scored after Bay — following Drew — ripped a single to right. With two down, Lowell hit a Wall-scraping double, which scored Bay from first. Here comes Lowrie.
Lowell has hit safely in all 10 of his Opening Day appearances.
RAYS TIE IT UP (4;48, MID 3, 1-1)
Beckett looked invincible 18 pitches into his outing. Navarro had grounded the second pitch he saw to first, and Beckett had retired all seven batters he faced using while throwing three balls. But Beckett lost his domiance, and the Rays gained some patience.
Gabe Gross walked on seven pitches, the final one of which just missed on the outside corner. Gross stole second, a safe call that was pretty much a coin flip; both Varitek and Beckett pumped their fist before second base umpire Jeff Neslon called safe. Beckett then went full to nine hitter Jason Bartlett and walked him, curiously, by throwing a 78-mph curveball low and far outside. Iwamura lashed a single to right, which loaded the bases. Crawford drove a sacrifice fly to deep center, scoring Gross and tying the score. Beckett escaped when Longoria hit a can of corn to right.
DOWN FAST (4:34, END 2, 1-0 SOX)
Shields answered Beckett this time, getting a 1-2-3 inning. Lowrie grounded to first, Jason Varitek drove a sharp line drive to the opposite field, right at leftfielder Crawford, and Ellsbury bounced to second. Despite the quick second, Shields has still thrown 37 pitches.
BECKETT DOMINANT (4:30, MID 2, 1-0)
That was fast. Beckett needed five pitches — all strikes — to mow down the Rays in the second. Carlos Pena struck out on three pitches, the second of which, interestingly, was an 88-mph changeup, a pitch Beckett worked on this spring. Pena struck out when he couldn’t check his swing on a 96-mph fastball. Pat Burrell flied weakly to center, and Matt Joyce broke his bat on a pop to second; the head of the bat flew into the stands behind the Sox dugout.
SOX LEAVE ‘EM LOADED (4:25, END 1, 1-0 SOX)
After Youkilis flied to right, the Red Sox loaded the bases — J.D. Drew doubled with a lined shot high off the monster, and Jason Bay walked. Mike Lowell, though, popped a 2-2 pitch to catcher Dioner Navarro just in front of home plate, keeping a game that could have been blown open instead at a 1-0 Red Sox lead.
The Red Sox are on pace to strand 4,374 runners this season. (That really is 162x9x3.)
HOW’S THAT FOR AN ENCORE? (4:16, BOT 1, 1-0 SOX)
People asked all offseason long how Dustin Pedroia could top his 2009 MVP year. On 1-0 pitch from James Shields, Pedroia launched a fastball over the Green Monster, just below the Sports Authority sign, to give the Sox a 1-0 lead. Jacoby Ellsbury struck out to start the inning, and David Ortiz followed Pedroia with a single up the middle. On out, Kevin Youkilis up.
BECKETT ACES FIRST (4:11. MID 1, 0-0)
In his first inning as a Red Sox Opening Day starter, Josh Beckett looked very much like Boston’s ace. He struck out Iwamura on four pitches. Carl Crawford chopped the third pitch he saw to short, where Jed Lowrie charged, aggressively took the ball on a short hop, and fired to first on the run to nab quicksilver Crawford. Even Longoria struck out on four as well, screwing himself into the ground while swinging at a 78-mph curveball.
WE’RE UNDERWAY (4:06, TOP 1, 0-0)
Josh Beckett fired the first pitch of 2009 to Akinori Iwamura, a 96-mph fastball down the plate’s heart for a strike. Stick here for more updates.