Opening Day Off: A Detailed Account of One Red Sox Baseball Game in a 162-game Season

The baseball season started yesterday, Sunday. We sat in the back, in the late morning sun. Less than three months until baby time. Natasha’s Yankees were playing the Rays. The sunshine poured in around us, while back in the northeast, the April storm melted as the mercury climbed to 50 degrees. Both of our families await the end of winter, while we sit in spring sun. We paid for the removal of a giant purple bush that used to sit ten feet from the kitchen window. The fibrous stems kept encroaching on the path to the back door. The bush wasn’t all that pretty. Maybe they previous owners wanted the privacy, but the resulting view of the grass, the little apple tree, and the flowers was obstructed. After the bush was gone, a mound of mud sat mocking me for a few days. Finally, I took a shovel and a root-picker and sweated my way through an afternoon. I cleared a little square, and attempted to reinforce it with some leftover bricks, cornering off the little square for a morning seating area, when the sun pours in from the east. We bought eight little rectangular granite slabs two bags of sand, and a few bags of 1-inch round stones to surround the space. I still had some weeding to do. I’ve been on something of a weeding mission over the last two months. California had its rainiest winter in years, desperately needed after the impact of drought. We flattened out the dirt, digging up a few more roots, poured the sand, laid the granite, surrounded it with bricks, and poured out the stones. We have a new chair and an umbrella. The little square patch is ready. Natasha says this is my form of nesting. A little clean and comfortable space for our little girl to sit with us, near the house.

My favorite lady watched her Yankees and reclined. I read. I was curious about Gary Sanchez. She let me know when he was up with the bases loaded in the 7th. He grounded to short.

Opening Day for the Red Sox would be tomorrow, Monday.

My spring break is broken up into two parts, since I teach in two places. The evening class is on break for all of this week. My morning home-school teaching assignment continues with one last session Tuesday morning, then break begins. I leave for Boston on Wednesday morning. If the weather cooperates, I’ll see the Red Sox in Fenway with an old friend, Mike, who will head down from Maine, on Thursday afternoon. Right now, the forecast tells me the game will be rained out. One-hundred percent chance of precipitation. If that game is rained out, I won’t see a game at Fenway this year, but I’ll still get to see Mike for a Thursday in Boston.

Today, however, there will be baseball. I don’t have to teach today. The Red Sox are Opening up at home. The sky is filled with sun in El Cerrito, just north of Berkeley. The sky is mostly blue, with a few clouds drifting over Fenway on the television.

The game starts at 11:00 am California time. The Pirates exciting young lineup includes Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, and Gregory Polanco as their 2–3–4 hitters. The Red Sox have Rick Porcello on the mound. What a dramatic turnaround he’s had from the disaster of 2015 to the Cy Young in 2016.

In the field, fans will see newly arrived Mitch Moreland at first. Moreland has the unfortunate task of replacing the irreplaceable David Ortiz in the lineup. Moreland is a lefty who has never hit for average in Texas, but should be good enough for a heap of doubles off the Monster, and has a solid glove. Moreland will bat 5th instead of Bogaerts in order to break the righties up.

Red Sox Lineup

2B Pedroia

LF Benintendi

RF Betts

DH Ramirez

1B Moreland

SS Bogaerts

CF Bradley

3B Sandoval

C Leon

Top 1st

Porcello delivers a first pitch. Foul ball. A first pitch ball is always a bad omen. Frazier pops out to potential Rookie of the Year Candidate Andrew Benintendi in left field. An Italian-American left-fielder with the potential to hit for a high average. He’ll be a fan favorite within months.

Facing Marte, Porcello gets Marte on a chopper to second. Pedroia, who will turn 34 in August, fields it cleanly. Andrew McCutchen rips a first pitch fast-ball into the left-field grandstand. If he’d waited another third-of-a-second, he would’ve had extra bases. Instead, it’s a loud strike, followed by a line out to Jackie Bradley Jr, who glides underneath for his first put-out of the season. 1–2–3. Exactly what a pitcher is looking for in his first inning of the season.

Bottom 1st

The Sox face Gerrit Cole of the Pirates. Cole started his career brilliantly, and was a rising ace in 2015 with a 2.60 ERA in 200+ innings, ran into problems in 2016. First it was the triceps and then a lingering elbow issue. In all, Cole pitched 116 innings while giving up an alarming 131 hits. The Pirates have a good young core but will need Cole to remain healthy and dominant.

First pitch swinging, Pedroia lines a one-hopper to short.

Benintendi up second, takes a first-pitch ball off the outside. Young Andrew is the youngest opening day left-fielder for the Sox since 1962. Baseball loves its history. These little tidbits fill in the gaps between pitches. It’s what separates the game from the 21st century, and the leisurely pace is a topic of concern for the sport as attention spans dwindle and an older generation of baseball fans age. Yaststremski, in 1962, was fifty days younger than Benintendi. Camera cuts to the red “8” on the upper deck. The symbolism is clear. No pressure, young Andrew. Benintendi works the count to 2–2. Cole throws a 94 mph fastball up and in, but just misses, filling the count. After a foul-ball, Announcers Jerry Remy and Dave O’Brien praise his temperament, Benintendi foul-tips a fastball into the mitt and sits down on strikes. Great at-bat. In the box score, it’s a strike out, but now Cole has thrown 8 pitches. Might mean the difference between starting the seventh or sitting down after six, especially in early April, when managers are careful with their starters.

Up comes Mookie Betts, and the parade of Betts’ “spectacular” 2016 numbers. Betts take a pitch high. He lines a second pitch slider to left field, but its right at Adam Frazier. 1–2–3.

Top 2nd

Clean-up hitter Polanco up. Sox shift into left-handed pull-mode. Polanco goes the other way on the first pitch. A would-be one-hopper to shortstop becomes a single. Here we go again, with announcers talking about shifts. With David Freese at the bat, Polanco takes off. Catcher Sandy Leon throws a perfect strike to Pedroia. Gets Polanco by six inches. Wonderful throw.

Freese smacks one right back to Porcello, who deflects it, but it dribbles into the space between Pedroia, who slipped after the deflection, and the empty dirt between first and second. Runner on 1st and one out.

Francisco Cervelli, former Yankee, for his first at-bat. Cervelli has a great eye, but doesn’t hit for any power. Cervelli takes two sinking fastballs low. Porcello needs to throw a strike and makes a nice pitch, outside and up, which Cervelli fouls weakly. Porcello misses up and in. 3–1 count. More talk of the shifts from Dave O’Brien. Porcello doesn’t walk many. Tosses one leisurely over to first. Porcello gets a check-swing foul from Cervelli. Pirates send Freese, but another foul ball. These types of at-bats are what makes the pace of play debate meaningless. Baseball is full of foul balls. The pitcher nibbles. The hitter protects. The ball is fouled off into the stands. Cervelli earns a walk.

First and second with one out, and up comes rookie Josh Bell, who played 45 games at the end of last year. Bell is playing first base. Porcello goes above the zone, and Bell chases for strike one. Porcello goes back to the fast-ball and nails the inside corner. No balls. Two strikes. Porcello gets a weak pop-out to shallow left. Great location, inside corner. Big out.

Josh Harrison, hitting eighth. Harrison has speed and line-drive power. Harrison works the count to 2–1. Gets a foul on the cutter. 2–2. Remy makes the comment about pitchers hoping for short innings in their first few starts due to the shorter April leash. On the 32nd pitch, Porcello gets a nice strikeout on a slider. Out of the season’s first jam.

Bottom 2nd

Four-Five-Six. First time through the lineup in the post-Ortiz era. Hanley has DH’s throughout the spring because of lingering shoulder soreness. After a great 2016 season, the shoulder brings back bad memories from mid-2015. Hanley, in the left-field experiment, rammed his shoulder into the wall, and was a mess the rest of that year. Hanley’s health is a huge deal for this team. As O’Brien mentions his 63 runs batted in after the All-Star break last year. Hanley will play first against lefties, so Chris Young can DH in those matchups. They hope Hanley can play first within a week or two. Hanley drops a liner in front of the center-fielder after working the count.

Cut to the feel-good story. Seven Red Sox players experiencing Opening Day for the first time. Ben Taylor. A name I haven’t heard. I’m guessing a reliever. Turns out he is. Steve Selsky, Christian Vazquez, and Heath Hembree as well. Now I’m googling “Steve Celski, Red Sox,” which turns out to be wrong, its “Selsky.” Selsky made the 25 man roster with the final spot as a utility guy. Left out was Marco Hernandez, who can play multiple infield positions. The 27 year-old Selsky may be insurance for first-base against lefties, if Hanley isn’t ready to play the field. Mitch Moreland has some serious problems with lefties.

Here comes Moreland, with Hanley on first and no outs.

Moreland won the gold glove with Texas last year. Funny term the “gold glove.” Imagine trying to field a ground ball with a glove made of gold. Ridiculous. Remy describes the utopian version of Moreland as a Fenway hitter, the opposite-field doubles approach that made Wade Boggs the greatest American League hitter of his generation, smacking weak fly balls that grazed the 37-foot wall in left, trotting casually into second base. My own utopian version of this hit will come from Pablo Sandoval, who I loved watching in San Francisco (before the Giants started winning every October), and who signed with Boston in the winter of 2014. If you search for Pablo Sandoval contract, you learn that it is the 5th worst in baseball according to one metric. The Boston media has highlighted Sandoval’s weight and his less-than-workmanlike attitude since the day that contract was signed. It was clear that Sandoval’s numbers in October were wildly different than the regular season numbers he’d accumulated with the Giants. What many in Boston don’t recognize is that AT&T Park is where fly balls go to die, especially in the evening. Sandoval could hit 35–45 doubles this year, because Fenway is where weak fly balls go to heaven, when directed toward the left-field line. Moreland might hit 25, as he’s more likely to sit against lefties.

Moreland works the count to 2–1. Right down the middle, but Cole hits 97 on the radar gun. Moreland fouls it out of play. Strike-three. Cole hits 99, going up the ladder. This won’t be Moreland’s last strikeout of the season. “Tough pitch to hit, unless you can foul it off,” explains Remy.

Xander Bogaerts up. Runner on first and one out. Jackie Bradley Jr. on deck. Bogaerts is still only 23. This season should be fun. Watching the young Bs. Betts, Bogaerts, and Benintendi. Bogaerts gets jammed. Cole gets an easy double play.

Top 3rd

I love the name Jordy Mercer. He’s the Pirates number nine hitter. Quickly grounds out to Sandoval at third. This gives Remy the chance to talk about how good Sandoval looks having lost the weight, and having committed himself to conditioning during the offseason, after missing the entire 2016 season, managing a mere 7 at-bats. Overweight fans are going to adore Panda when he resurrects himself this year. People love cheering for chubby players, when they do well. And everyone loves hating those players when they stink. Remember Kirby Puckett?

Adam Frazier singles. One on, one out.

Chris Sale promotion time. O’Brien explains Wednesday will be Sale’s debut. Remy explains the ugly weather expected Tuesday should be gone in time for Wednesday (but not for the Thursday afternoon game, Jerry!).

O’Brien asks, “You still have snow on your lawn?”

Remy replies, “Ah. We lost a lot of it yesterday.”

O’Brien responds, “…April. It’s ri-dic-ulous!”

I laugh to myself. Every winter, Natasha and I tell each other how glad we are not to live in the northeast anymore. This spring, we’re especially happy, after going through an especially gray and rainy winter. All about perspective. This winter was mild in the Boston area, but March got especially cold and snowy.

O’Brien, “You and I both grew up here, so it lulls you a little bit…then you get to March, and you figure…we’re gonna be fine, right?”

Remy, “It wasn’t bad until March.”

O’Brien, “March was a cold month! Really cold.”

Then they realize there’s a still baseball going on, and O’Brien does his play-by-play. “Big swing and a foul tip.” Meanwhile, I don’t even know who’s at bat. This is the pace of baseball. Talking about winter ending and spring beginning. This is what baseball is for. The passage of time. The seasons. This is why baseball is so important in all of the cold-weather cities. Not the same on the west coast. A different place in the cultural imagination. Team history is focused on the last fifty years because these teams didn’t exist in the early 20th century.

O’Brien ends the weather tangent with a perfect example of New Englanders’ forced positivity and the embedded perseverance that comes with living through cold winters.

“The whining is over. You get to the ballpark, and the sun is shining and temperature in the 50s…for Opening Day………0ne-and-two on Marte…and popped up….Pedroia…now on to the dirt…two down.”

McCutchen strikes out. Inning over.

Bottom 3rd

JBJ. Jackie Bradley Jr. Had a twenty-nine game hitting streak last year. Bradley turns the magical age of 27 (the power prime) in two weeks. Jackie’s excellent 2016 was critical in Boston’s success. After years of stellar defense, Bradley’s first two seasons in the majors were filled with ice-cold stretches, his average dipping below .200. Bradley’s power and confidence, have developed nicely.

First at-bat, Bradley makes nice contact, but hits it right to the second baseman and slips coming out of the box. One out. Don’t let anyone tell you Opening Day is just another game. Nerves are real.

Here comes Pablo.

First pitch challenge fastball from Cole. Sandoval swings from his heels. 97 miles per hour. Strike one. “Sandoval with a massive rip, wanted to reintroduce himself to the fans at Fenway…a slimmed down, surgically repaired Panda.”

Cole delivers a sharp curve on the inside corner. Sandoval lifts one to the track in left. Line out.

Sandy Leon, whose career was reborn last summer, delivering line drives all over the field as if he were Johnny Bench, crashed back to earth in September and October. Leon gets the start behind the plate instead of defensive phenom Christian Vazquez. One has to wonder how long Leon will last as the starter. Makes sense to give him a chance to start out on fire again.

More weather-related-banter, after a Leon foul heads into the right field grandstand.

“Is it t-shirt weather? I hope he doesn’t get pneumonia.”

Cole keeps pounding Leon inside. More foul balls. Leon grounds one right at Harrison, near the second base bag. 1–2–3.

Top 4th

Porcello keeps throwing strikes. Two quick outs. Cervelli proves me wrong, and ropes one 400 feet, to the triangle. Bradley retreats quickly, taking the perfect route. Just before crashing into the waist-high fence, Jackie snares it, bracing himself mere feet before collision. Thank goodness his glove is made of leather, and not gold.

Bottom 4th

Pedroia out on a sharp bouncer to the outfield grass behind second. A nice play by Harrison. The difference between a single and an out is razor thin. Benintenti’s age is once again a topic. The camera cuts to the giant billboard in center with Benintendi. The curly hair is mentioned. O’Brien asks, “Do you think he’s a guy who projects to 20 or 25?” Remy is diplomatic, hinting at the next few years, not now. Remy talks about the adjustments Benintendi will have to make, now that pitchers have a scouting report to work with. Foul behind third base. Frazier makes a nice running catch, a few feet from the stands. No foul territory at Fenway. Another plus for hitters who can foul off the pitches they aren’t looking for.

Betts again. Works a 2–1 count. Cole misses his location inside, throwing a bullet toward the outside corner. When it goes 97, if you miss the middle of the plate, you’re usually safe. Betts takes. 2–2. Cole misses low with a change. Full count. Betts doesn’t strike out much. Ball four outside.

Hanley first pitch swinging. Sharp liner hit right at Marte in center. Sometimes a double is an out. Sometimes an out is a double. The game is far from fair.

Top 5th

Porcello gets two quick outs, first Bell, then Harrison. With his 64th pitch, Porcello gets a called strike three on Jordy Mercer, who argues with the umpire for a minute, before retreating to the dugout.

Bottom 5th

Red Sox have only one hit through four. Here comes Moreland again. As the inning starts, O’Brien congratulates Jerry Remy for coming through another cancer scare over the winter. Remy thanks Dave for the kind thoughts, and explains he wants everyone to know how much he appreciates the support, and then gives a quick public service announcement, “I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve had it four times. Always caught very early, and the reason I wanted to go public with it, “See your doctor. Early detection saves lives. And I’m so happy to be here.”

“Thirty years in the booth…” O’Brien leaves the fact open for Remy to finish.

“I find it hard to believe that I was able to keep a job for that long.” Remy deadpans.

Bogaerts soft liner to right-field.

One-run might be enough for either team today. Halfway through and few baserunners.

Bradley digs in. Called strike one, tracing the black at 98. Misses off-speed low. Throws one in the dirt. 2–1. Replays of the remarkable catch Bradley made in center. Bradley turns on a 96 mph fastball, and barrels it down to the curved area of the right field wall. The double becomes a triple when McCutchen bobbles the ball.

Here comes Pablo with a chance for the season’s first run batted in. Cole fires one right at Sandoval’s front shoulder. Pablo narrowly avoids getting hit. Cole hits 99 on the inside corner. Sandoval swings through. 1–1 count. Cole throws a solid slider, but Sandoval finds the deep spot behind shortstop and Mercer attempts a tough across-the-body jump-throw, pulling Bell off the bag, and Pablo beats it out! A run scores. Sandoval ran well out of the box, and beats the throw for his first RBI. A good omen for the year. Red Sox 1, Pirates 0.

Leon up next. Two down. Leon sees the shift, and bunts down the third base line. Cole scampers off the mound, but can’t corral the bunt. Counts as a single for Leon. First and second and now the top of the order. Looks like it surprised everyone. Cole gets mad for a minute.

Pedroia takes a borderline curve just off the corner. Another ball away. 2–0. Two-out rallies are one of my favorite aspects of the game. Especially when they come without the benefit of a home run. Of course I love a homer, but the momentum that comes from three straight tough at-bats with two outs, or with infield hits or bloops. Those are the moments a team’s spirit lifts. Pedroia screams a liner back through the middle (Cole is lucky he didn’t get hit) and Sandoval comes around to score. Red Sox 2, Pirates 0. Four straight singles.

Benintendi up. Takes a first pitch ball. Cole is up to 31 pitches in the inning, but only 67 on the day. 1–2 count. Misses low. 2–2. Fastball. Cole misses out over the plate at 98 miles. Benintendi launches one over McCutchen’s head in right. Back. Back. There’s the bullpen and the 380 sign. There’s McCutchen turning and slowing down as he hits the wall. There’s a three-run homer. Red Sox 5, Pirates 0. In the replay, Cole lowers his head and kicks at the dirt as soon as he sees Benintendi’s swing.

After the replay, Remy goes back to Leon’s bunt.

“Should I go back and mention the bunt again?” Remy asks, rhetorically.

O’Brien laughs.

“I just loved it. I absolutely loved it. I can’t get over it.”

O’Brien, “Huge part of the inning.”

Remy, “Big part of the inning. There were two outs at the time. Sandoval beat out the infield hit…then the bunt base hit by Leon…Pedroia with the base hit…then Benintendi with the home run, opens the game up.”

Camera cuts to the bullpen, where Juan Nicasio is warming.

Then cut to Cole, who is trying to clear his mind after his outing has swerved abruptly from masterful to massively frustrating in about fifteen pitches.

Mookie grounds sharply to deep short. Mercer throws one in the dirt. The rookie first baseman Bell waves wildly as the ball hops past. Betts takes second base. Rule a single and an error on the throw. Six consecutive Red Sox hits.

Hanley up. First pitch fouled back. Hanley pops one up. Inning finally over. Damage done.

Top 6th

Porcello breezes through the sixth. Another fast inning.

Bottom 6th

After an infield hit by Bogaerts, Bradley moves him up to second. Sandoval up with Bogaerts on second. Nicasio throws a first pitch close Pablo’s chin. Sandoval chases, fouling it off somehow. Low and out of the zone, Sandoval smacks one down the first base line foul. Bogaerts steals third, which the Pirates don’t seem to mind, playing deep in the infield. Showing some patience, Pablo takes another ball high. Before whiffing on the outside corner.

Top 7th

Freese beats out an infield hit to leadoff. Cervelli works the count again. Porcello can’t find the inside corner with the off-speed, but finds the outside black with the third pitch. 2–1. After taking another ball, Cervelli hits the weakest double in the majors. A skyscraping 315-foot fly that grazes the wall. Second and third with no outs. Sometimes an out is a double. Sometimes a double is an out.

Josh Bell. Big at-bat for the rookie. Porcello needs an out. First pitch, Bell tries to rip one, pounds it straight into the dirt, and Porcello tosses him out at first.

Harrison up. Porcello misses badly. Pitch count at 92. Seems clear that it’s time for Matt Barnes, but Farrell gives Porcello the chance to get out of the inning with the light-hitting Harrison and then Mercer due up. Porcello is behind 3–1. Throws a change-up down the middle. Harrison with a single past short. Red Sox 5, Pirates 1.

That’s it for Porcello. A standing ovation for Porcello. Here comes the bullpen and Matt Barnes.

Red Sox fans have been worried about the bullpen. Gone are Uehara and Tazawa. Hello to Tyler Thornburg, who will now start the season on the DL. Carson Smith was supposed to be a key cog after he was acquired a year ago, then went down with injury before the season started. Barnes enters with runners at the corners and one out.

Barnes goes off-speed and Mercer knocks one softly into center. Red Sox 5, Pirates 2.

Rookie Adam Frazier to the plate. A big moment for Barnes. Cut to bullpen and the lefty Robby Scott. Barnes goes to 1–1, then throws a 95 mph fastball into the dirt, missing horribly. Both runners move up.

Remy, sounding perplexed: “Back to the fastball, overthrowing it, and all Leon could do was try to backhand it, going across his body…gets by him, and two men into scoring position, so a base hit away, from possibly…a one-run game.” How fickle the fate of a five-run lead. How often tragic this game of baseball…how filled with foreboding and potential disaster.

Barnes misses with a curve. The count goes to 3 balls, 1 strike. Barnes takes a few deep breaths on the mound.

Camera cuts to John Farrell, who chews with annoyance on his gum, and then sees the camera focused on him, and shoves his hands in his pockets and looks down at the dugout concrete.

O’Brien, “The mood has changed considerably here, all of a sudden at Fenway.”

Ball four.

Camera cuts to the bullpen. “Both Hembree and Scott, about to be throwing side-by-side.” A meeting at the mound. Bases loaded.

Marte at the plate. 2–3–4 in the order.

First pitch fastball right over the middle at 96, but Marte swings hard and whiffs. Second pitch, same place. Marte lines one to left. Benitendi turns and lunges, sideways, then raises his glove and snares the liner for a huge out. A potential three-run double turns into a sacrifice fly. Red Sox 5, Pirates 3.

McCutchen up. First and second, with two outs. Barnes barely misses outside corner with a curve. Misses again with curve, this time inside. 2–0. Barnes gets a low fastball call, probably too low, but the first curve could’ve been called a strike. Sometimes you get the call, sometimes the call gets you. Barnes seems like he’s settled down a bit. Gets McCutchen to foul one down the right field line. 2–2. Barnes hammers a curve into the dirt, and McCutchen bites. Strike three. A sigh of relief.

Bottom 7th

Leon leads off, works a 3–1 count, then cracks a solid liner to center. Pirates lefty reliever Felipe Rivero, with his deceptive delivery on the mound. Pedroia works to 2–2. Lobs one out of play to right. Pedroia strikes out on a bizarre change-up that lingers at the belt. Benintendi first-pitch swinging pops one to left. Betts weakly grounds

Top 8th

Robby Scott pitching for the left-handed batting Polanco. One side-arm pitch. One ground-ball out. One pitching change. All in a day’s work, Robby Scott. Well done.

On comes Heath Hembree, with his rising fastball, and his long brown curls and beard. Like a slimmer version of Kenny Powers. Hembree gets ahead of David Freese 0–2. Hembree three strike on the outside corner, but the ump missed it. The replay looks pretty clear. 1–2 count. I keep thinking of Alan Embree, a former Sox lefty from the early 2000s. Embree. Hembree. Probably related, they just spelled it differently on their birth records back in the 1870s. Fly to deep center, but right at Bradley.

Now Cervelli the pest is back up again. Leon keeps calling a fastball away, but Hembree isn’t interested. Finally, Hembree caves. Cervelli fouls it off. Ground out to Xander.

Red Sox 5, Pirates 3. Three more outs…

Bottom 8th

Hanley up. Works the count full with a 2–2 fastball that misses an inch or two low. Hanley waves at a curve, chasing ball four. Hanley’s helmet pops off after the strike out.

Moreland looking for his first hit. Takes a ball high. Gets good contact, but lines one into the seats in right. Moreland looks a bit tight in the box. Like he could use some medical marijuana. Works the count to 2–1, and watches a close one, low and outside, get called for a strike. 2–2 instead of 3–1. Sometimes it’s a ball. Sometimes it’s a strike. The next pitch paints the upper inside corner, and Moreland goes down swinging.

Xander takes the first pitch on a solid arc directly off the manual scoreboard in left. A likely double in other parks becomes a single at Fenway. Bogaerts steals second off the pitcher, Hudson, without a throw. A double becomes a single…plus a stolen base.

Bradley up. Red Sox up to ten hits on the day. After one hit through four. They come in bunches, don’t they?

Bradley takes a four-pitch walk.

Here comes Panda. First pitch comes in right at the knees. Sandoval takes. Hudson misses high and wide. 1–1. Swing on a high fastball. Foul-tipped. Another good fastball inside, Sandoval swings and misses, looking at his bat as he strolls back to the dugout.

Top 9th

Craig Kimbrel’s bright red goatee takes the mound. Three outs needed. Two run cushion. Josh Bell at the plate. Kimbrel’s fastball-slider combo is devastating. 83 strikeouts in 53 innings last year. 31 saves in 33 opportunities last year. 3.40 ERA was higher than he’s been in the past. Remarkable how good the offense was that the team won 93 games and had only 33 opportunities for Kimbrel.

The late afternoon shadows have taken over half the infield, which make it tougher to pick up the pitch. Kimbrel gets the count to 2–2. Misses with a curve. Full count. Bell fouls it off, staying alive. Bell lifts a 98 mph heater on the inside corner high off the monster, six inches from the top of the wall. Double. A homer in some parks is a double at Fenway. Nice swing for a rookie. Went with the fastball, didn’t over-swing.

Harrison at the plate. Potential tying run. Kimbrel starts Harrison at 97 and slightly in. Two pitches later, he’s climbed the ladder and Harrison sits down. A strikeout keeps the runner at second.

Mercer up. Quick 0–2 count. Kimbrel sitting at 97. Hitting 99. A curve way outside. 2–2. Paints the outside at 98 and Mercer joins Harrison on the bench. One more out and the fans will go home happy.

Frazier is up. Strike one. 99 and down the middle. Frazier looks like Adam Eaton in the box. Strong legs. Small frame. 98 and away. Whiff. 0–2. Crowd rises. Frazier flails and fouls one off. Kimbrel throws a curve that gets away from him again. It nails Frazier in the knee. Remy wonders why Kimbrel doesn’t stick with the fastball, the way Frazier looked.

First and second now. Marte in the box. Two down. Tying runs on. 9th inning. Crowd volume turned down, but they keep standing.

Marte works 1–1 count. Kimbrel delivers another fastball. 98 on the outside corner. High pop-up. Moreland drifts into foul ground. Gather it in.

Red Sox win. Relief.

Only 161 to go.

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