Commentary

Red Sox make most of clean slate

Bradley, other newcomers breathe life into team in season-opening win

Updated: April 2, 2013, 10:13 AM ET
By Jackie MacMullan | ESPNBoston.com

NEW YORK -- Now it's official: It truly is a new day.

Expecting the Boston Red Sox to turn the page really wasn't possible until this juncture. You can't move beyond until you have some momentum to catapult past the misery.

[+] EnlargeJackie Bradley
AP Photo/Matt SlocumJackie Bradley Jr. didn't have a hit in his major league debut, but drew three walks, scored two runs and had a nice grab in left field.

So go ahead. File away the 93 losses, the last-place finish in the American League East, the quirky manager and his "nice inning, kid" tactics, the Ellsbury injury, the Youkilis trade, and the toxic clubhouse dump to the Dodgers.

"I wasn't part of what happened in the past," rookie outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. noted, "but we're leaving it in the past."

The 2013 season is exactly one game old, but already young Bradley has come to personify the infusion of new life and renewed hope for the Red Sox.

Boston thumped its perennial nemesis, the New York Yankees, 8-2 Monday afternoon and Bradley's fingerprints were all over the victory. The Kid got on base three times (all walks), scored two runs, had his first RBI and made an acrobatic grab in left field to save a run in the third inning.

He wasn't the only newcomer that instilled a needed spark into the lineup. There was Shane Victorino, who, after a quiet spring, came up swinging in his Red Sox debut, collecting two key hits and three RBIs.

And then there was Jonny Gomes, who blasted off from second base on a tricky infield bouncer from Jacoby Ellsbury in the ninth inning and raced home, sliding in with equal parts flair and emotion.

"When you go the extra 90 feet for a guy to get him that RBI, it becomes contagious," Gomes explained.

Think it worked? The normally reserved Ellsbury was so excited that someone did what he has done for years -- tore up the basepaths to enhance a teammate's stats -- that he tracked down Gomes in the video room to give him a high-five.

"I swear," a beaming Ellsbury said, "I was fired up. I don't think I've ever been that fired up in my life."

OK. So this is where we temper the giddyness of the day with some obvious truths: No. 1, it's only one game, and only one win. There are exactly 161 others to go. No. 2, the victory came at the expense of a reeling Yankees lineup shredded by injuries to Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez. Let's just say the Pinstripes aren't actually "championship driven" at the moment.

Even so, the Red Sox roughed up Yankees ace CC Sabathia, and Jon Lester backed up his magnificent spring training ERA with a solid outing in which he had only one bad inning. The Red Sox bullpen escaped untouched. The Sox position players were patient at the plate and aggressive on the bases.

"There's a tremendous amount of energy with this group," said manager John Farrell, who pocketed career victory No. 1 as the Red Sox skipper. "The word we've been using is relentless."

Farrell's decision to start Bradley in left field panned out in every respect, defying those who felt a debut in Yankee Stadium against an All-Star lefty would be too overwhelming.

The Kid's first major league at-bat put any such discussion to rest when he fell behind 0-2 in the count (including a big cut on which he seemed to be swinging for the fences), but then patiently outlasted Sabathia to draw the walk. The poise Bradley exhibited was noticed by more than one veteran in both clubhouses.

Bradley corralled his adrenaline by telling himself, "Don't swing at a putaway pitch."

[+] EnlargeJonny Gomes
Anthony Gruppuso/USA TODAY SportsScoring from second on an infield grounder got Jonny Gomes and his teammates fired up.

"[Sabathia] was making some tough pitches, but I was able to lay off them," Bradley said. "Then he threw a two-seam fastball that I knew didn't have a chance to come back down."

Asked if he was tempted down 0-2 to chase the ball, he admitted, "You want to swing the bat, but I wanted to stick with my approach and make him work a little bit."

Bradley compounded Sabathia's woes on the next play by managing a huge jump on Jose Iglesias' deep grounder to short and beating out Eduardo Nunez's throw to second. Boston scored its first run on the play.

Yet, for all his contributions on offense, Bradley's most memorable highlight was when he snagged a Robinson Cano fly ball in the third that he knew was sailing over his head.

"It was one of those balls you run back and pick a spot where you think it's going to land," Bradley calmly explained. "I work on that quite a bit."

Asked if he experienced any pregame jitters, the 22-year-old claimed, "I wasn't nervous. I'm never really nervous, to tell the truth. I was ready. I was excited, just doing whatever I can to try to help the team win. I'm a pretty relaxed guy."

For those players who endured the negativity of 2012, Monday's Opening Day win was a feel-good start to a clean slate. Words like "relaxed" and "relentless" were absent from the team's vocabulary for the better part of the last season and a half, and the vigor provided by the overhauled lineup was appreciated most by the holdovers.

"There was a lot of 'pick up each other and pass it on to the next guy' today,"' catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia noted.

Not every day will be this wonderful. Not every day will the discerning New York fans flee Yankee Stadium in the ninth inning, unwilling or unable to watch their proud baseball team be creamed by a bunch of guys they've never equated with the Red Sox logo.

But pardon Jackie Bradley Jr. and the 2013 Red Sox if they bask in this victory, just for a moment.

"I can say 20, 30 years from now that I opened my major league career with a win," Bradley said. "It was exciting, a big crowd. I'm enjoying every second of it, just taking it all in."

Asked what was running through his mind as he jogged off the field as a winner, the Kid said, "I can't wait to get to back on the field. I have an off day tomorrow, so I'm pretty bummed out about that."

Imagine a Red Sox team that can't wait to get to the ballpark. A new day, indeed.

Jackie MacMullan

ESPNBoston.com columnist

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