BOSTON -- This first bit of stress relief from what proved to be a therapeutic Monday night at Fenway Park came early, and it rocked off Franchy Cordero’s bat. The lefty slugger’s 100.5-mph drive plunked atop the scoreboard of the Green Monster.
By that fairly simple act of an RBI double -- one that will likely become routine as the spring and summer evolve at Fenway Park -- the Red Sox had this thing called a lead.
It was the first one of 2021 after a frustrating first three games in which they were swept at home by the rebuilding Orioles.
Cordero put the first log on the fire, and the Sox played with enthusiasm en route to an 11-2 victory over the defending American League champion Rays.
“I think as an offense, we weren't doing as much in the last couple games, but I think him giving us that first RBI, I think that was one that we definitely needed to score first,” Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts said. “I really believe that that RBI that he got us was key for us just to get that momentum going on our side and just getting everything going in a positive direction. So huge props by him, and I feel like everyone fed off of that and continued to contribute.”
Nobody fed off it more than Bogaerts, the team leader, who had a 4-for-5 night that included a fifth-inning double in which he got to roar all the way around the bases, advancing to third on a throw home and to home himself on a throwing error to third base.
There were other moments to remember, such as when J.D. Martinez -- already looking like a top candidate for the American League Comeback Player of the Year Award -- smashed a three-run homer down the line in right.
After three joyless days in which the offense sputtered, sputtered and sputtered some more, the bats were timely, situationally effective and well-balanced.
Quite simply, this was needed. The Red Sox got off to sluggish and prolonged bad starts in each of the previous two seasons, and they can’t afford to do so again. By winning the opener against the Rays, Boston avoided losing its first four games for the first time since 2011.
You might have heard this, but the masses tend to panic in a place like Boston.
External panic can lead to internal pressing. And the Red Sox were able to avoid letting the snowball build too much. Bogaerts, the sage veteran leader of this team at just 28 years old, urged his team to stay in the moment.
“You know, there's 159 games left before today, and you’ve just got to take it one day at a time,” Bogaerts said. “Sometimes it's the same as hitting. You want five hits in one at-bat. It's not going to happen. You might get five hits in one day, but not five hits in one at-bat, you know, and sometimes you want to make up for those losses that we got all at once.”
This was an evening when the Red Sox were able to calm people down and get manager Alex Cora his first win since 2019.
“I don’t want to say there was a different vibe, but night game, it was a different schedule,” Cora said. “Obviously, the schedule is going to ask for us to make adjustments. But it felt like today the routine was normal, whatever that is. It just felt good. They were running the bases well. They played good defense. It was good.”
If the rejuvenation of the offense was the biggest development of the night, the well-balanced formula of the victory was equally nice.
A day after starting pitcher Garrett Richards gave the Sox just six outs, Nick Pivetta steadied things early with five shutout innings, minimizing the damage despite four walks. He became the first winning pitcher for Boston in 2021.
“You’ve just gotta keep it level the whole entire time,” Pivetta said. “You can’t be worried about what happened the day before that or the day before that. It’s 162 games, right? You still have 158 to go now. So it’s just going out there with the same energy, same attitude every single day, keeping a level head and really just going out there and competing.”
Sure, it is just one game. But it needed to start somewhere.
“Pressure? To be honest with you, there’s no pressure,” Cora said. “This is a game, and we’re playing baseball in the middle of a pandemic. Of course we have a job to do, and we have our goals, but whoever feels pressure should think about that because there’s more [to life]. And I understand where you’re coming from but at the same time ... you just play a game to entertain people and in the middle of a pandemic. You’re blessed.”