Even if the afternoon had not ended with the “Dirty Water” victory coda, Monday would have to be considered a particularly fine day at Fenway.
The weather was so perfect for the home opener that one suspected Dr. Charles Steinberg somehow discovered a way to order it in advance. The pregame ceremony paying homage to the Red Sox’ beyond-admirable 60-year marriage with the Jimmy Fund was tender and heartwarming, and the presence of Pedro Martinez only added to the warm vibes.
And the 2013 Red Sox, after a year and a month of the franchise clumsily offending and alienating its fan base, took the home field for the first time this season with a 4-2 record and the sense that the players find it easy to like each other and the fans will, finally, find it very easy to like them. Judging by the overwhelming cheers in introductions, this team is fast making headway in earning forgiveness for its sluggish and petty and predecessors.
“It’s an awesome group of guys, and we had fun all through the spring,” said pitcher Clay Buchholz, who more than did his part in making sure “Dirty Water” did play, pitching seven innings of three-hit, no-run ball in a 3-1 victory over the Orioles. “It’s easier to come to the ballpark, in my opinion, when the team is winning and everyone is in high spirits, in good spirits, and has the same goal,
Buchholz, who threw 113 pitches and earned his second victory of the season with the welcome assistance of Daniel Nava’s three-run homer in the bottom of the seventh, was masterful at times, particularly in utilizing his deceptive changeup as his out pitch en route to eight strikeouts. Yet the righthander, who has given up three earned runs in 36.2 innings since the start of spring training, was fairly subdued in assessing his performance.
“I didn’t have one thing, one pitch that was working all the way through,” Buchholz said. “It was a bit of a grind.”
If that’s a grind, here’s to witnessing what he considers a good start. But someone prone to understatement can recognize the truth: Of all of the positive signs that we can take away from a season that is all of 4.3 percent complete, the most encouraging is the dual reemergence of Jon Lester and Buchholz at the top of the rotation.
It was imperative that the two pitchers — who emerged as top-of-the-rotation starters during new manager John Farrell’s tenure as pitching coach and often battled inconsistency or worse in his absence — rediscover their form. So far, they are a combined 4-0, having allowed three total runs in 26 innings.
“I really don’t feel any different than I did last year,” Buchholz said. “It’s just that some little things have gone right, and it helps when Jonny goes out and sets the tone the way he did [Sunday, in a 13-0 victory at Toronto.]”
Not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but a fun win on Opening Day can make the it’s-a-long-season restraint a challenge. So, we’ll ask: Too soon to call it a pair of aces, John Farrell?
“They’re extremely important to us, but I don’t want to take away from anyone else in that rotation who is going to help us win ballgames,” said Farrell. “We’re going to go as far as that rotation takes us.
“But to have two guys at the front end of it starting the season as they are, it’s set a very good tone. They’re well aware that we’re only seven games into this, but it’s great to go out see them take control of the tempo of the game.”
While Buchholz may have considered it a grind, his ability to control that tempo bought him the benefit of the doubt from his manager, who sent him out for the seventh inning despite his pitch-count being at 90.
“Even though [Matt] Wieters led off the seventh by getting on base, this was Clay’s ballgame. I felt like he earned the right to get through it. He showed me he’s willing to make some big pitches in key moments. It wasn’t like he was losing command or his fastball was becoming more hittable.”
When the top of the seventh was complete, Buchholz was at 113 pitches, having punctuated the inning with a strikeout of Steve Pearce. Four batters into the bottom half, Nava emphatically put three runs on the board, and even some mild ninth-inning suspense from closer Joel Hanrahan couldn’t cloud the sunniest home opener for the Red Sox in what feels like a long, long time.