In some ways, the 2011 Red Sox season begins Monday. The Sox face the Tampa Bay Rays, a team that has been dealing with its own problems since the start of the MLB season. It’s the first 7 p.m. start of the year at Fenway Park, the first taste of “normalcy” for the home team.
Or, at least, as close to normal as Fenway Park ever gets.
Gone are the New York Yankees. Gone is the awful six-game winless streak to start the season. Gone are the Opening Day ceremonies. Gone are the national networks (for now) and the 8 p.m. start time for ESPN.
The Sox managed to stop the early-season bleeding by taking two of three from the Yankees over the weekend. Starting the second full week of the season 2-7 isn’t what we expected of this team, but it sounds pretty damn good after being swept out of Texas and Cleveland.
Now, the Sox can settle into the routine of their baseball season. Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford can start to feel what it’s like to play a regular-season game and not take the field feeling like it’s Game 7 of the World Series.
The Sox spent the first six games of the season trying to reclaim the role of underdog, pitching poorly and struggling at the plate. Once home, they hit well on Friday and got a gem from Josh Beckett on Sunday and managed to win their first series of the season.
There are still plenty of questions to answer as Joe Maddon‘s crew comes to Boston for the first time this season. The Red Sox starting rotation has turned in just two quality starts on the season, and the vaunted offense continues to struggle in the clutch. Marco Scutaro‘s seventh-inning hit drove in two runs Sunday night and was the first true “late and clutch” hit of the season.
A turning point? Perhaps. Mostly, it was a statement for a team that desperately needed a statement win. The Sox might be five games under .500, but they have a winning record at home.
The Red Sox started the season with serious pitching questions. Once through the rotation, the Sox had the highest ERA in the game and had given up 11 home runs in three games in Texas.
For all the additions to the lineup and bullpen, the Sox had not made any changes to a starting rotation that was inconsistent in 2010. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz combined for 36 wins, but Beckett and John Lackey underachieved. There was cause for concern that the starting pitching wouldn’t be good enough for this team to live up to its 2011 expectations.
Then came Lester’s seven innings of nine-strikeout, shutout baseball in a 1-0 loss at Cleveland and Beckett’s eight innings of 10-strikeout shutout ball against the Yankees.
Scutaro’s hit may have been the clutch moment we were waiting for, but Dustin Pedroia‘s weekend was the type that can lead a team out of the doldrums. The Sox second baseman went 9-for-13 with four extra base hits and five RBI against the Yankees.
After performances like that, Red Sox Nation can exhale. And now, with the 1-8 Rays in town (and Manny Ramirez gone), the Sox can start to feel a little bit of a routine. The lights and the scrutiny are gone for the most part. Now, hopefully for the Sox, the wins will start to come.
The next day of the rest of your season is Monday. First pitch against the Rays is at 7:05 p.m.
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