By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Boston Red Sox are 1-0.
Ultimately, on Opening Day, that is what matters most — getting the victory and starting the season on the right foot. The end result of the game may prove inconsequential within a week or two, but after the long, boring grind of spring training, you can bet that every player loves the feeling that accompanies an Opening Day victory.
For the Red Sox, it came in what was a rather entertaining game. The Red Sox and Pirates were scoreless through four-and-a-half innings, as Gerrit Cole and Rick Porcello were gamely dueling. But a two-out rally sparked a five-run fifth for the Red Sox, and the Boston bullpen was able to make it hold for the victory.
As with any game, there were ups … and there were downs. Here they are.
Andrew Benintendi’s Dinger
The Red Sox scraped a couple of runs across the plate in a scoreless game in the bottom of the fifth, but rookie Andrew Benintendi blew the game wide open with a bomb into the visitors’ bullpen in right field.
The young outfielder entered the game with many people questioning whether it’s smart to put the pressures of batting second on his shoulders in his first full season in the bigs. So far, so good on that one.
Andrew Benintendi’s Leather
The kid also showed some defensive prowess too, in what was a much more underrated play in the top of the seventh.
It came with the bases loaded and the Pirates climbing back into the game. With the score at 5-2, Starling Marte sent a sharply hit line drive headed toward the Monster. It looked like trouble, but Benintendi made a great break on the ball, and he managed to make the catch with his arm extended over his head while in full stride running back toward the track.
Earlier that inning, Benintendi looked like a veteran when he pretended to camp out under a flyball which ended up scraping the Monster about 15 feet high. It didn’t end up preventing the runner on first from making it to third on the double, but it shows the level of confidence Benintendi has in his ability to play balls off the 37-foot high wall.
Jackie Bradley’s Defense
Benintendi’s catch was nice, but it wasn’t the defensive play of the day for Boston. That honor belongs to Jackie Bradley, who tracked a Francisco Cervelli deep fly to right center field and made an impressive catch while running full speed at the angled bullpen wall in the triangle.
It was vintage Bradley, whose defense has never been a question mark. Bradley also had a two-out triple on a ball he smashed into right field, the first hit in an inning that ended with the Sox scoring five times.
Pablo Sandoval’s RBI Infield Single
You don’t often see the big fella rack up the infield hits, but he had a rather important one in this game.
Following the Bradley triple, Sandoval (batting left-handed) took a pitch up and in but maintained his approach and sent a grounder to the left side of the infield. Pittsburgh shortstop Jordy Mercer made a backhand stab and attempted a leaping throw to first base, but Sandoval was able to beat it out, and the game’s first run crossed the plate in the process.
After a disastrous 2016, the RBI offered at least something for Sandoval to feel good about to begin his 2017 campaign.
Rick Porcello’s Stuff
There’s no doubt that Rick Porcello ran out of gas in the seventh inning. Such things tend to happen to starting pitchers early in the season.
But prior to that Porcello was on. Through six innings, he allowed just three hits and one walk while striking out five.
He allowed a run and then Matt Barnes allowed two inherited runners to score, so the three earned runs over 6.1 doesn’t look spectacular. But Porcello had his full arsenal working for much of the day, providing a positive first step after his Cy Young season.
Matt Barnes’ Relief Outing
If not for the aforementioned outstanding Benintendi catch, this may have been the story of the day.
Barnes entered with one out in the seventh and runners on the corners. He promptly surrendered an RBI single and then walked Adam Frazier to load the bases. Marte then smoked a 96 mph fastball into the left field, but Benintendi was able to make the play, limiting the damage to just a sacrifice fly.
Barnes did battle back to get Andrew McCutchen to chase a curveball in the dirt for strike three to end the inning, but that outing from Barnes did not inspire confidence for the setup job that was left vacant by the injured Tyler Thornburg.
Pablo Sandoval’s Throwing Error
It was a generally positive day for Sandoval, but it was a throwback to 2015 when he began the sixth inning with a throwing error to first base.
The error came just after the Sox put five runs on the board and were eager to get back to the plate. Porcello was able to pitch around it, but if the Pirates had put together a rally after that error, it would absolutely be in focus a bit more after the game.
Sandoval made 15 errors — the second-highest total of his career — in 2015 despite playing just 123 games. So he’s still got questions to answer regarding his defense in what he and the Red Sox hope to be his comeback season.
Mitch Moreland’s Lackluster Debut
He recorded the final out by making a play on a foul popup in the ninth, but overall Moreland didn’t dazzle in his Red Sox debut.
At the plate, he went 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts. And in the field, he couldn’t scoop two separate throws that skipped in. They were by no means routine plays, even for an MLB first baseman, but the idea in signing Moreland was that there’d be a real upgrade defensively over Hanley Ramirez. And the Red Sox would probably like to see the reigning Gold Glove winner make one of those plays.
In fairness, Moreland is likely still recovering from a flu bug that hit him last week, so he’s probably not yet operating at 100 percent.
Craig Kimbrel’s Drama
The closer recorded the save … but he made it interesting.
To start the ninth inning, Josh Bell sent a 97 mph offering deep to left field. The ball looked to hit the Monster about six inches short of the top of the wall, and Bell trotted into second with a leadoff double.
After that, Kimbrel seemed to have established some dominance. He gassed a 98 mph heater past Josh Harrison for out No. 1. He did the same to Jordy Mercer for the second out. And he was ready to do it once more to Frazier, but he elected to throw a breaking ball on an 0-2 count, a pitch that got away from Kimbrel and hit Frazier in the thigh.
With the tying run on first base, Marte stepped to the plate. Kimbrel got the center fielder to send a popup to foul ground behind first base to record the final out. But that save was not without its tense moments.
Tom Brady’s First Pitch
A lob, Tom? A lob? Some of us were hoping to see what kind of heater was left in that soon-to-be-40-year-old arm.