Welcome to Cleveland. It’s a foggy, misty day, something out of a Stephen King novel. The lights are on, the stands are empty and it looks like a completely miserable day to be playing baseball.
Especially if you’re 0-5.
Fausto Carmona is starting for Cleveland. He gave up 10 runs on Opening Day. We don’t see pitchers give up that many runs too often -- only 15 times in 2010 (including four times by Brewers pitchers). If Boston’s offense is to get on track, this may be the pitcher to do it against, although Carmona had a pretty solid 2010 (13-14, 3.77 ERA, 4.11 FIP).
Jon Lester goes for Boston. A popular Cy Young pick, Lester gave up five runs in his first start and didn’t strike out a batter. He had just one start with fewer than four K’s last season, a one-strikeout game when he got knocked out in the second inning.
Let’s follow along with a running diary. How often do you get to write about the presumed best team in baseball when it's off to an 0-5 start?
Top first: Carmona gets two quick ground balls (his specialty) and then strikes out Dustin Pedroia. That gives Pedroia five K’s against zero walks so far, odd since he entered the season with more career walks than strikeouts.
Top second: It’s cold enough -- 38 degrees -- that the pitchers are allowed to breathe on their hands while on the mound, and Carmona is going to his mouth before nearly every pitch. Carmona gets Kevin Youkilis to line out softly on one of his hard sinkers. Can’t be a fun pitch to hit on a chilly day. That’s the big pitch in his arsenal -- a 91 mph darting sinker that he really has no idea where it’s going. He threw it for strikes often enough last season and in 2007, when he had that great playoff start against the Yankees, but couldn’t locate it in 2008 and 2009, when he had a 5.89 ERA.
Top fourth: NESN tries to kill Heidi Watney by making her try the fried-chicken-and-waffle sandwich that is sold at Progressive Field. I know this is shocking, but she reports that it wasn’t very good.
Lester has Carlos Santana 0-2, thought he struck out him out on a 2-2 pitch and then walks him. Santana -- remember, he had knee surgery in August -- tries a surprise steal and almost makes it, but Pedroia makes a nice tag on a short-hop bad throw from Jarrod Saltalamacchia. As they say, that’s a little thing that doesn’t show up in the box score. I liked the play from the standpoint that this Cleveland lineup is going to have trouble scoring today off Lester.
Except Shelley Duncan just walks. Could have been first and second with one out; instead, it’s one on and two outs.
Lester gets out of it but has to run up his pitch count. Now at 71 through four. Carmona has 72. Although they’ve allowed only three hits combined, neither looks as though he'll last past the seventh. You can't watch a baseball game these days without being a slave to pitch counts, and I don’t know whether that makes me feel smarter or sadder.
Top fifth: Jerry Meals rings up Saltalamacchia on an outside pitch. Salty gives a glare. David Ortiz had a few words the previous inning after getting rung up. C’mon, Meals is cold! Or maybe he’s just hungry for a chicken-and-waffle sandwich. Which has me thinking: Do umps eat anything during games? Do they carry a Power bar in their back pocket for a burst of energy in the seventh inning? Considering the average Red Sox game lasts about four hours, it may be wise to do so.
Top sixth: Carl Crawford pokes a long fly to right-center that doesn’t reach the warning track. Tough day for hitters, with the wind blowing in and the cold air. That’s probably a home run in June.
Bottom sixth: Two more strikeouts for Lester, giving him nine. This is the pitcher everyone expected to see this season.
Top seventh: Another 1-2-3 inning for Carmona. Comment from my friend Mike, a Red Sox fan: "Two hits for $160 million? At least we have the eventual bullpen collapse to look forward to."
Bottom seventh: Duncan leads off with a double into the gap. I’d pinch-run here. How many chances are you going to get? Salty makes a diving catch on a foul bunt attempt behind him. Nice play. Jason Varitek couldn’t have made that catch since 2003. Lester gets out of it.
Top eighth: Rafael Perez enters with two on and one out to face the $160 million man. And Crawford grounds out softly to third. But at least he moved the runners up! That's just good baseball. Perez gets ahead 0-2 on Pedroia, then we get: foul ball on slider, foul ball that trickles foul, nice block by Santana on a slider in the dirt, foul tip on another pitch in dirt, ball low, trickler back to the mound, nice job by Perez to gun down Pedroia.
Bottom eighth: Daniel Bard comes on and walks Adam Everett. I mean ... Adam Everett? He wasn’t that good when he was good. Everett steals second. The Red Sox, of course, couldn’t throw anybody out last season, so we’ll see how Salty does throwing out runners. He airmails this one into center field, so he’s 2-for-2 on bad throws. Orlando Cabrera gets the bunt down after Bard falls behind 2-0 on Cabrera. On NESN, Jerry Remy points out that Bard is getting underneath a lot of his fastballs. He throws a 2-0 fastball down the middle that Cabrera fouls off.
Squeeze! Perfect bunt. Right count, right pitch. (With Bard, you knew a fastball was coming behind in the count.) Love it. Great baseball.
Top ninth: Cleveland’s closer is Chris Perez. Why wouldn’t you leave the lefty Rafael Perez in to face Gonzalez to lead off the inning? No offense to Chris Perez, but he’s not exactly Mariano Rivera or even Jose Mesa in his good Cleveland years. As nice as the squeeze call was, this was a bad decision by Manny Acta.
Take that, Schoenfield! Gonzalez grounds out into the shift, 4 to 3.
Youkilis grounds to shortstop.
Perez works carefully to Ortiz and walks him on five pitches. Darnell McDonald in to run.
Wow ... stunning ending. This may not be Boston’s year. J.D. Drew lines the first pitch off the knee of Perez; it bounces to Everett at third base. McDonald rounds second base too sharply and slips, Everett fires back to Cabrera and McDonald is out on a bang-bang play. McDonald may have gotten his hand on the bag, but Dan Iassogna calls him out. Safe or not, it was bad baserunning.
As Remy says, "Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. This is unbelievable."
And the mighty Red Sox fall to 0-6. I wonder what kind of reception the Fenway faithful will give their heroes in their home opener on Friday.