BOSTON (CBS) — Opening day is just one three-hour window into a season that will take many months to complete, yet there is a reason it is held in such high regard among sports fans.
Opening day represents a new beginning, and while that sounds like the cliche to end all cliches, one need only to look at last year’s Red Sox team to see why we say such things every year.
The Red Sox opened last year coming off one of the most embarrassing seasons in the franchise’s long history. The front office went to work to try to eliminate the stench of that 93-loss season by firing Bobby Valentine and replacing him with John Farrell, as well as adding clubhouse guys like Jonny Gomes, David Ross and Mike Napoli. They were positive steps, sure, but not many sane human beings believed the Red Sox would be champions by the end of October.
Yet on opening day, the team offered just a glimpse of its character, in one moment showing that the 2013 squad was vastly different than that 2012 abomination.
The Sox were leading 5-2 in Yankee Stadium in the ninth inning. They were probably going to come away with a win even if they didn’t tack on any insurance runs, but they made sure to not even take that chance.
With the bases loaded and two outs, Jacoby Ellsbury strode to the plate to face Joba Chamberlain. Ellsbury swung at the first pitch of the at-bat and hit a roller between first and second base. Robinson Cano ran to his left to field the ball, but he twice bobbled it, allowing Jarrod Saltalamacchia to score easily from third.
The play looked to be over, as Cano realized he had no play. Yet Cano looked up and saw Jonny Gomes hustling hard toward the plate. Gomes had been on second base but never stopped at third on his way home.
Cano threw to the plate and his throw got there in time to beat Gomes, but Gomes artfully maneuvered his body around the tag of Francisco Cervelli and stuck out his right toe to touch the plate to score the Sox’ seventh run.
Gomes hopped to his feet and let out a fist pump and a roar, as Dustin Pedroia nearly jumped out of his shoes while hopping out of the dugout to offer his new teammate a high five.
Shane Victorino followed up Gomes’ base-running play with an RBI single, widening the gap even more as the Sox went on to win 8-2.
It was just one moment, one extra ounce of effort, but it was impossible to forget. With that one burst, Gomes showed that the 2013 Red Sox were a different breed, and it was the type of play that became the norm as the year went on.
The Red Sox obviously didn’t win the World Series that day in the Bronx, but they did lay the groundwork for what made it possible to do so by the end of the season.