The last time I'd been to a game at Fenway before attending Opening Day this year, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis both had been on the disabled list for quite some time. Their absence was palpable to me then, and throughout the offseason.
Then, yesterday, they were two of the first players I saw -- and for someone with a cravin' for a Laser Show, especially, the game turned out to be an all-you-can-eat-buffet of awesomeness.
It was a curious, if welcome move, how the Red Sox first showed themselves. There had been some talk about the fans booing the team before they'd even seen a pitch, because of the poor performance on the road; Pedroia himself seems to have caught wind of some animosity, as he had this message for Boston fans as the Sox left Cleveland: “You’re either two feet in now or you’re two feet out. Let us know now because we’re coming.”
Maybe it was just coincidence -- but when those three guys came out first yesterday, to me, it was almost as if they were saying, "you wouldn't boo these guys, would you?"
And no, the Fenway crowd did not boo. In fact, the loudest boos I heard were for Joba Chamberlain and A-Rod during formal introductions (which is as it should be). But the moment Youk, Papi and Pedroia jogged grimly (and, it seemed, a tad apprehensively) out onto the field, the section closest to the dugout erupted, and then so did the rest of the park, as the trio stretched and duck-walked and went through the motions of warming up.
Not a pitch had been thrown, and already, Pedroia had helped to set the tone.
Between the lines, he'd duplicate this with a first-inning homer into the front row of Monster seats, just barely inside the Fisk pole. It wasn't exactly hit to the Pike, but it was out, and was a massive relief after John Lackey had laid a two-run egg in the top of the frame.
As Pedroia rounded the bases, I stood up, energized by the atmosphere and near-delirious with joy just at seeing one of my favorite (quickly becoming THE favorite) Red Sox out on the field again, let alone hitting homers, and yelled, a la Will Ferrell in Old School, "That's my boy! That is my BOY!!"
Of course, he's everybody's boy, isn't he? Having a onetime ROY and MVP as a favorite isn't exactly an esoteric choice. But I can tell he's becoming my favorite among favorites (though I'll always have a weakness for Josh) because of that persistent, if irrational, sense of territorial ownership -- that no, you in the next loge box do not love that gritty, witty little man like I do.
Almost all of the best moments from yesterday's game involved him, too. For example, I had a perfect vantage point from a seat just behind the home on-deck circle of Pedroia's signature double-clap and holler of "F-yeah!!" after his one-run single stretched to a two-run double on a throwing error from Curtis Granderson as the Sox rallied in the bottom of the second.
And then, there was my favorite part of the whole game: Pedroia TEARING ASS around third, after Adrian Gonzalez singled to left field, and diving, sliding, safe at home. Through my telephoto, though the sight lines of my seat made it difficult to capture every one of these moments, I could clearly see his bared teeth as he ran, his textbook slide around the tag of Yankees catcher Russell Martin, his holler of primal joy as he popped up after the slide, and his stinging high-five afterward with Kevin Youkilis, who was waiting for him at the plate.
I'll tell you, that alone might've made my day, but their eventual win was sorely needed, and at times, in doubt. I still may never understand why John Lackey came out to give up a homer to A-Rod that tied the score in the top of the fifth, and I am NOT OKAY with the fact that this meant he vultured a win.But this did give the beleaguered Jarrod Saltalamacchia (who came into the game batting .071) a chance to be the hero, when he hit an RBI double that scored the go-ahead run in the bottom of the inning, a lovely sight to see.
The Sox would rally again in the seventh, on a two-run single after one hell of an obstinately patient at-bat by JD Drew facing Bartolo Colon; the relief pitching trio of Bobby Jenks, Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon worked as it should; and finally, "Dirty Water" was heard.
I'll admit some unfairness to poor old JD here -- it could also have been him to whom I dedicated this post, as it was he who scored the tying run in the bottom of the second, and his hit that tacked on the insurance runs for the bullpen later on.
But let's be real. It's not the stone-faced Drew I've been pining for all winter. And when I close my eyes, what I can still see immediately is my boy Pedroia, gritting his teeth, rounding third.
More photos from Opening Day to follow, as soon as I can get my bajillion raw shots processed into some sort of presentable form...