Maybe Opening Day's performance was just a case of the Mondays. Tonight, there were a few mishaps early, many of them revolving around Manny playing left field like he was blindfolded--but in the end, the Sox finally seemed to stop hitting the snooze button and finally started playing some good baseball.
Twice, the innings unfolded nearly identically in the early going for Josh Beckett--with one out in both the third and fourth, errors in the field unfolded tragically while runners advanced to second and third. The first time, it was an inexplicable two errors in a row from Mike Lowell that put them there; the second time saw Manny loping along toward a rolling ball in left field to set the stage.
Maybe Beckett knew something about the next batter's tendencies, or maybe he got lucky, but in the third, he almost singlehandedly salvaged the inning when he stepped on the gas and got a precious second out with a strikeout (looking) after running up a 3-0 count with two runners in scoring position.
Joshie, as I've taken to calling him, may be my new Derek Lowe. But there were times Derek Lowe threw some beautiful pitches, too, and I never fronted about that. This, too, was beautiful.
When he finally ended the third by inducing a flyout to deep right from the next batter, he bounded off the mound leaping and fist pumping toward the dugout--and it struck me just then that my heart rate was significantly elevated for Game 2 of the season. I realized I'd been sitting forward a little in my seat, so engrossed in what was happening in the game that it was as if the fate of the world depended on that inning.
So maybe it's just that I'm still so unabashedly psyched about baseball being back. I was fairly psyched about it even after a miserable Opening Day game; now that actual positive things are happening for the Red Sox I'm downright giddy.
Either way, by the time Jason Varitek was fouling a ball off the ground and into his own face in the top of the sixth, things had gotten decidedly intense.
On the next pitch, as Emma put it on the SGMB, Tek "went all Chuck Norris" on the ball, slapping it into right field for a sac fly to make it 4-1 Red Sox.
During the early innings of despair, particularly after those unbelievable back to back errors by Lowell, and when Beckett found himself in yet another jam in the bottom of the fourth thanks to more space-cadet behavior from Manny, it seemed like maybe we were still stuck in the doldrums of Opening Day. But after that there were moments, like when Tek smacked the ball right back after it smacked him, that felt like a genuine--if somewhat gruff--awakening.
Credit where credit is due, too, it was all started by an obstinate Beckett in the bottom of the third. I bet Curt is drafting a glowing review in the clubhouse already.
That sense, of an irascible but solid rise to the occasion among the players, was only reinforced by a nifty play by Lowell, who gloved a screaming liner to open the bottom of the seventh and then sent the ball around the horn emphatically as if to say, there, goddamnit.
That's when things started happening in a much more orderly fashion, including some further crisp plays by the Red Sox infield, who are beginning to defy my most valiant attempts to resist rooting for Julio Lugo. Other bright spots: a solid appearance by Kyle Snyder, solid hits by Manny, Lowell, Drew and Papi, and the season's first home run courtesy of Youkilis.
Nagging issues: I still run hot and cold with Beckett. Sometimes his stubborness bugs me the same way Derek's mental meltdowns did, the same way Manny's lollygagging bugs my dad. But there are other times, like the moments just after he ended the fourth inning with a called third strike on a nasty fastball, and he strolled back to the dugout smirking sadistically at boos raining down from the Kansas City crowd. Those are the times I think, well, okay. He can stay.
Lowell's troubles returned for a third time in the bottom of the ninth, when he flubbed what should've been the final out on a relay to first. This is a bit worrisome, though possibly just a fluke. It's decidedly odd to me, meanwhile, that two of 2006's most reliable players, Schilling and Lowell, had have had back-to-back career bad games to open the year.
All's well that ends well, though--the next batter, Tony Pena Jr. (that name makes me feel officially old btw) grounded back to Joel Piniero, who underhanded to Youkilis for the final out, the first win of the year, and hopefully the first step toward getting this show on the road for real.
And so we look to tomorrow. Thursday. Only one day till Friday. And Daisuke's first start in the Major Leagues for the rubber game. Things are looking up.