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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Opening Day at Fenway--What a Difference Seven Months Makes

The energy has been infectious early on.

From the moment one turned off Brookline Avenue and onto Yawkey Way on Monday afternoon, the change was apparent.

As the sun shone down and hawkers handed out "K" cards reading "NEW TEAM-OCTOBER DREAM," fans approached Gate A at Fenway Park for Opening Day displaying vastly different emotions from the somber crowd that departed the ballpark last Sept. 26. Whereas that dismal home finale served as just one of the eight straight losses that capped the worst Red Sox season in a half-century, those entering the ballpark seven months later had good reason to be smiling and laughing.

By winning two of three in both New York and Toronto to start the 2013 campaign, Boston was 4-2 and in first place as it readied to take on the Baltimore Orioles. New manager John Farrell had the club playing with an energy that was sorely lacking last year, and numerous newcomers like outfielders Shane Victorino and Jackie Bradley Jr., shortstop Jose Iglesias, and first baseman Mike Napoli were making their presence felt in the lineup and in the field. Pitching, a big problem in 2012, also appeared to be solidified with excellent starting performances and a lights-out bullpen during the first week.
Buchholz kept "K" card holders busy.

Well before right-hander Clay Buchholz took the mound in this contest, Fenway was awash with positive vibes. The Red Sox honored their 60-year partnership with Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and its Jimmy Fund charity during pregame ceremonies, which featured a stirring rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" by current and former cancer patients, family members, and Dana-Farber staffers. Cancer survivors from each of the last seven decades paired up with past Sox players in a simultaneous first pitch, and young patients and their siblings yelled "Play Ball!" with help from former Boston ace Pedro Martinez.

Once Martinez and Co. were done, Buchholz and Orioles lefty Wei-Yin Chen did their best Pedro impersonations in a game that was scoreless through six. There were not many baserunners for either side, but fans didn't seem to mind the lack of offense. There were great fielding plays by both sides, a slew of strikeouts by Buchholz, and (thank you Larry Lucchino) two-for-one Fenway Franks and $5.00 beers.
Inspiration from the Jimmy Fund Chorus

After another scoreless frame for Buchholz -- punctuated by a strikeout of Steve Pearce on his 113th and final pitch -- the Jimmy Fund Chorus came back out during the seventh inning stretch to offer renditions of "God Bless America" and "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." Fans joined in with fervor that matched anything heard at Wrigley Field during the Harry Carray years, and perhaps the feel-good moment woke up the Sox bats. After two men reached against Chen in the bottom of the frame, Daniel Nava smashed a pitch across Lansdowne Street for a 3-0 lead.

The only blemish on the day was a shaky ninth inning from Joel Hanrahan, who allowed a home run to Adam Jones and put the tying runs on base before finishing up the 3-1 win. But even when Hanrahan struggled, the boo-birds did not emerge. This was too much of a feel-good crowd to resort to its familiar habit of bashing closers for not being Jon Papelbon. 

Now its up to yet another newcomer -- tonight's starter Ryan Dempster -- to keep the good times rolling. And even if he's bombed, he can always lead the crowd in "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." The guy does a killer Harry Caray imitation.

Big League Brian and fans all had a ball.

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