BOSTON (CBS) — Spring training storylines are typically just that — storylines. They keep a conversation going throughout February and March, but they’re usually manufactured and they don’t often come to fruition once the regular season actually begins.
This year in Red Sox camp, you heard a lot about how the new lineup was supposed to be a force, how 22-year-old Mookie Betts is going to have a huge year, how a healthy Dustin Pedroia will reharness his lost power, how Hanley Ramirez will provide David Ortiz with some much-needed protection.
Though only one game has been played, those storylines quickly became realities on Monday.
Pedroia belted a homer in the first inning and then launched a nearly identical shot in the fifth. Betts hit a moonshot into the left-field seats in the third inning. Ramirez cranked his first homer in a Boston uniform in the fifth inning, too, before putting the nail in Philadelphia’s coffin with a grand slam in the top of the ninth inning.
Yes, this Red Sox lineup can hit. Even when David Ortiz and Pablo Sandoval go a combined 0-for-9 with six strikeouts and when Mike Napoli doesn’t enter the game until the bottom of the seventh inning.
“Everybody put a lot of work in in spring training. A lot of hard work,” Pedroia said after his 3-for-5, two-homer day. “So now’s the time for it to show and let it pay off.”
For as much as the offense lived up to the hype, the starting pitcher exceeded many expectations — at least those of Curt Schilling. Buchholz still has much to prove, but he put his best foot forward with an ace-like start: seven innings pitched, three hits, one walk, nine strikeouts and zero runs.
“I worked hard on that,” Buchholz said of his off-speed pitches. “I think preparation’s a lot of it. I prepared as well as I think I could to come out and help the team win today. And I felt comfortable out there doing it.”
Any time a team wins on Opening Day, there’s going to be optimism in the hometown. But in two areas specifically — Pedroia’s power and Buchholz’s effectiveness — that feeling should be ramped up in Boston.
Considering that broken fingers and banged up hands resulted in Pedroia hitting just 16 home runs over his past 311 games — regular season and postseason combined — and considering that Pedroia didn’t hit homer No. 2 last year until May 11, he’s clearly setting himself up for a year with more pop. While it’s rather unlikely that Pedroia will maintain his current pace for 324 home runs (Pedroia will tell you otherwise), the fact that he was able to put his power on display so soon this season is an indication that he may be able to once again reach the 20-homer mark.
“Sometimes you get hurt and try to find a way to play through it. But sometimes you get healthy, too. So that’s the way I look at it,” Pedroia said. “I grinded a lot last year and the last couple of years, but I’m back to being who I am.”
In typical Pedroia fashion, the second baseman also made a pair of spectacular defensive plays, but those remained commonplace for him even amidst the injuries.
“I’m just trying to get outs,” Pedroia nonchalantly explained.
And on Buchholz, we’ve certainly seen this before, as the right-hander dazzled throughout the first half of 2013. While one start does not a season make, on Monday he looked as sharp as he has since that Cy Young-caliber half-season two years ago.
“He looked great. That’s midseason form,” Pedroia said of the starting pitcher. “What’d he go, seven innings and strike out nine? That’s as good as it gets. He looked great.”
Though Hanley, like Pedroia, won’t hit hundreds of homers this season, his two-dinger, five-RBI afternoon provided evidence that all nine batters need not dominate every single game in order to score runs. On days like Monday, Ramirez will provide the boom. Other days, it will be Ortiz. Or Sandoval. Or Napoli.
And if all of those heavy hitters are clicking on the same day? That’s a frightening proposition.
By law, all stories written on Opening Day must include the required disclaimers. It’s just one game. One-hundred-and-sixty-one games remain on the schedule. There’s still snow on the ground in Boston. They won’t score 1,300 runs. Buchholz won’t win the Cy Young. Hanley won’t drive in 800 runs. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. That much is obvious, and no grand proclamations should be made about the Red Sox season on this day or even this month. They would be exceptionally premature.
Yet after a very long 2014, and after losing three of their last four Opening Days, the Red Sox’ 2015 season is off to as good a start as possible — and that’s no fabricated storyline. That one is in the books.