Monday, April 5, 2010
Boston bat men make their point
By Gordon Edes ESPNBoston.com
BOSTON -- For a game that started well after dark, Terry Francona showed up long before noon.
Surely, Dustin Pedroia didn't do anything that crazy, did he?
Kevin Youkilis went 3 for 4 with two doubles, a triple and 2 RBIs in the season opener.
"Actually, I did,'' the Red Sox second baseman said. "I put my son down for a nap and told my wife [Kelli] I had to come over [to Fenway Park]. I'm kind of weird about my locker. I like to get everything set, so I came over, got my locker set, and went back home.
"Tito was in full uni, bench-pressing fives," Pedroia said. "He was ready to go at 10:30 in the morning.''
"Fives," for the uninitiated, are five-pound weights. That's probably more weight than Francona usually hoists, Pedroia cracked.
"He's not very strong,'' Pedroia said.
That's the same description some have applied to a Red Sox offense that doesn't have a single player who hit as many as 30 home runs last season, a potentially fatal flaw in the American League East, where the New York Yankees hold the hammer, hitting a major-league leading 244 home runs on their way to winning the World Series last season.
Yankees GM Brian Cashman was quoted in Sunday's New York Times as saying that quality pitching and quality defense are vital, but he added a kicker. "I still think you have to have -- without question -- power," Cashman said.
And there were the Bombers, flexing their muscle early Sunday night against Josh Beckett, Jorge Posada and Curtis Granderson hitting back-to-back home runs in the second inning. Posada has made a habit of doing this in season openers -- this was the fourth time Posada has gone deep on Opening Day, putting him in the company of Babe Ruth and Yogi Berra.
Granderson, meanwhile, is a newcomer to pinstripes who served notice that he will be another deep threat. His home run over the Sox bullpen traveled 455 feet, according to hittracker.com, longer than any home run hit at Fenway Park last season.
When the Yankees opened a 5-1 lead behind CC Sabathia, who allowed just one hit through the first four innings, the outcome seemed foreordained: Big Boppers 1, Run Prevention Inc. 0.
But it turns out that Neil Diamond showing up in Fenway Park to sing "Sweet Caroline" live wouldn't be the only surprise sprung by the Sox before the end of the night, one in which they not only erased that four-spot against CC but rallied again from a 7-5 deficit to win 9-7. Turns out the Red Sox started the season with a bat rack after all.
"We all have faith in ourselves, we know we're a good hitting team,'' said Kevin Youkilis, the hitter who did most of the heavy lifting for the Red Sox on Sunday night.
The Red Sox cleanup man doubled and scored Boston's first run off Sabathia in the second, tripled in two runs in the sixth and doubled and scored what proved to be the winning run in the seventh.
Pedroia, meanwhile, walked and scored in the sixth, hit a two-run, game-tying Fenway Fly off Chan Ho Park to tie the score in the seventh, and singled home an insurance run off Joba Chamberlain in the eighth. Park, a key cog in the Phillies' pen last season, didn't give up a single home run last season. One game into his Yankee career, he'd already given up one.
"We're going to fight you,'' said Pedroia, the type who would go into the ring with Tyson and ask the champ how he expected to last a round. "We lead the world in runs scored. Look at our lineup 1 through 9, we're going to put good at-bats together. Everybody's going to grind at-bats. If we do that consistently, we're going to be a really good offensive team.
"That's why everyone's kind of shocked when they doubted our offense. I know we don't have the guy hitting 40, 50 home runs, not a lot of teams do, but we'll find a lot of other ways to score runs.''
Pedroia hit 15 home runs last season, which would have ranked him ninth on the Yankees.
"Remember, I hit one in the first game last year, then I didn't hit one for like 500 at-bats,'' Pedroia said. "I'm not trying to hit 500 home runs.''
Red Sox fans have to realize that Manny and Big Papi, or at least the version of Papi who hit a team-record 54 home runs just three years ago, are not walking through that door. But take it from Sox newcomer Mike Cameron: The combination of Pedroia and Youkilis
is also a force to be reckoned with, even if far fewer balls are going to leave the yard.
"Gamers,'' Cameron said. "They just hit, they just hit and they keep going and they keep going. It makes you think about it and want to go out and do some of the same things they're doing.
"Youkie, what I see, he takes what pitchers give him and puts the bat on the ball almost every time. And he makes adjustments, like on every other pitch. He's good.
"And Peddy, he's going to lead us. He gets us going every single day. Anyone like him? Maybe one guy that was close was Bret Boone. Peddy, he's all the way to the floor from the time you walk in the door until the time the game starts, and I'm pretty sure it'll be happening like that every single day for the rest of the year.''
The new guys did their share Sunday night. Cameron and Marco Scutaro both reached base three times while Adrian Beltre drove in two runs with a sacrifice fly and single. And just as expected, they made all the plays afield; shortstop Scutaro and third baseman Beltre each started double plays.
Cameron said he tried to treat his baptism into Sox-Yankees as a normal day, unlike his new manager.
"I was at home; it was nice, the family went to Whole Foods buying up a lot of groceries,'' he said.
A couple of shoppers recognized him, he said, but it didn't get to the point that he was followed up and down the aisles.
"Naw, it was cool,'' he said.
But even the 37-year-old Cameron couldn't help but tense up.
"When I got here and saw the ruckus that was going on around the ballpark,'' he said, "it hits you a little bit.''
It got better, he said, after he made his first play of the night, tracking down Nick Johnson's drive to the track in center, then drawing a walk in his first at-bat. And by the time Diamond stepped on the field, Cameron felt comfortable enough to join in the singing.
"A little bit,'' he said. "I've got a shower voice.''
With the time well past midnight by the time Pedroia wrapped up his give-and-take with reporters, even the early-arrival man finally was ready to call it a night.
"Too much drama, yeah,'' he said. "I'm not used to that this early. Opening Day, I'm always amped up, but against those guys it's times 100. After this series, it's kind of, take a deep breath and get the season going.''
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.