As it turns out, this year's Opening Day game was representative of something. Looking back, it's actually a perfect encapsulation of the team we would see for the next month.
It really was all there -- a true cross-section of our team's problems, laid bare at the starting gate.
The total team suckiness was so complete it was difficult to point to just one factor in the awfulness of that game, or of the April 2011 Red Sox. And so it's difficult to point to just one thing that started going right -- everything simply started going the way we thought it should.
It's a little easier to pinpoint when things really began to feel like they were turning around for good, though -- the sweep in New York mid-May, which finally put the team at .500. This appeared to be the final mental hurdle for the team to clear before it could commence maximum ass-kicking, and since overcoming it, the Red Sox haven't looked back. They're finishing the month with the best May record in baseball, and since their opening 2-10 stretch have won 27 games while losing 12, close to a .700 winning percentage. All of this is good for sole possession of first place in the ferociously competitive AL East.
This is the team we thought we had before a pitch had been thrown -- the team we first met on paper, rather than the flawed club we first encountered on the field. Adrian Gonzalez has been every bit the dreamboat, in baseball terms, that Sox fans had celebrated pulling into Boston Harbor late last year; Carl Crawford, too, has turned around a ghastly hitting slump. Clay Buchholz, who had a shaky April, appears to have settled, and Jon Lester hasn't lost again in another 10 starts, in which he's collected 7 wins. Josh Beckett hasn't benefited from great run support so far this year, and so has fewer wins, but his ERA to date is a ridiculous 1.69. Jason Varitek is still appearing more often than I think had been the plan when things were drawn up, but what had been the worst kind of catcher controversy has turned into a much more pleasant contest of who is actually hitting better, as opposed to who is hitting at all.
It's not as if we are without problems, of course -- once you get past Buchholz in the rotation, things get pretty scary, with an on-the-DL John Lackey and an AWOL Daisuke Matsuzaka. In fact, things would be downright terrifying if it weren't for the recent performances by spot starters Alfredo Aceves and Tim Wakefield. Bard and the rest of the middle relievers still seem to be finding their way. Dustin Pedroia, screw in foot, is playing as often and as fiercely as he can, but as Peter Gammons pointed out, he may never be right this year given last year's injury (I happen to believe he will continue to play the equally valuable role of Team Spark, and I can see just from watching the dugout footage that Tito's going to have to run him out there on the regular, if only to have a little peace and quiet with which to manage the rest of the team).
Still, even in the middle of the 2-10 doldrums, and the sub-.500 blues, it was hard not to believe, despite what the standings and your own eyes were telling you, that this team was better than this, goddammit. In almost any other year, I might be thinking to myself right now that this has been a brilliant stretch of baseball, but wondering how long it could last. This year, it still feels like this team's birthright to play brilliant baseball, and to continue doing it for a long time yet.
So right now, instead I'm thinking that maybe 2-10 was meant to be, in some weird way. I suppose it's better in any organization to have problems make themselves clear out of the chute, rather than develop slowly. And for the fans, maybe we had to be brought back down to earth a little bit, so we could really appreciate the takeoff.
P.S. Regardless of what the Red Sox do, if the Bruins bring home Lord Stanley's Cup, Boston will be the first city to win all four major championships -- MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL -- in less than a decade (Sadly I must cite a CHB opus for this information). So congrats on winning the Eastern Conference Finals, B's. You know what you need to do next.