For the second straight season, the Red Sox' season-opening six-game road trip was not smooth sailing. Nothing came easy. From a pair of walk-off losses in Detroit to a sputtering offense in Toronto, the Sox are hoping to get the season on track in the friendly confines of Fenway Park.
The Sox still haven't won two straight games since Aug. 27, when they swept the Oakland A's at Fenway and Hurricane Irene was bearing down on New England. They would win just 8 of 29 games after that, a late-season collapse that still hangs over the team.
That hangover will be felt on Friday when the Sox finally take the field at Fenway Park. The home opener is always a special day, even when a team is 1-5. Last year the Sox arrived at Fenway winless in six games, but a 9-6 win over the Yankees lifted spirits — at least for a day.
The Sox won five of nine games on that first homestand of 2011, a step in the right direction despite a 5-10 record as they went back on the road. Now, the 2012 team is ready for a nine-game homestand of its own.
The Sox didn't help themselves in the final days of last season, and the MLB schedule makers didn't help Boston with the start of this year. The Sox will face the Rays, Rangers, and Yankees on the homestand -– meaning they will have faced all four 2011 AL playoff teams in the first 15 games of the season.
This home opener is unlike most we've seen around here. There is still a lingering residue from the final days of September –- a residue that won't clear until the 2012 Red Sox form a new identity. This is a very different team, with a group of players we don't know that much about. We know Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz, but we don't know much about players like Cody Ross, Ryan Sweeney and Mike Aviles. Two-fifths of the starting rotation has made a combined five Major League starts including two this week in Toronto.
On Tuesday, Daniel Bard showed signs he might just be an effective big-league starter. A day before that Felix Doubront was even better. Both performances were far better than the combined 14 runs in 8 2/3 innings turned in by Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz in Detroit.
Beckett gets the ball for the Opening Day start at Fenway. There's not much doubt he'll hear plenty of boos from the locals. Fans believe he was part of the off-field problem that led to the September collapse last season, and a horrific first start this year didn't help any.
There's only one way to silence any critics who might be calling out Beckett. He needs to pitch well. He needs to win games. He needs to show the world that his thumb is fine and that he’s ready to handle the workload of being a top-of-the-rotation pitcher.
Jon Lester has been outstanding in two starts this year, but is winless. He deserves better. Buchholz went nearly 10 months between starts and will probably need a little time to regain his feel, his control.
The back end of the rotation will get a chance to prove itself. If it doesn't, there are veterans like Ross Ohlendorf and Aaron Cook waiting in the wings in Pawtucket.
In the middle of all this is Beckett. Since arriving in Boston in 2006 he’s been combative and controversial. He has also won 84 of his 131 decisions with the Sox. Until September he was one of the best pitchers in the division, and wound up going 13-7 with a 2.89 ERA.
On Friday, he'll be looking to lower an ERA that stands at 13.50. He'll also be looking to win back a fan base, and show the world that this is a team that can contend for an American League playoff spot. The season's only six games old, but we haven't seen that yet.
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