For Red Sox, a less important Opening Day

USA TODAY Sports

In recent years, Opening Day has been more important than any one game has a right to be. Why is 2014 different?

Today, the Red Sox will play the Orioles, and it will actually count. In less than 10 hours (one would hope) the game will be in the books, but for the first time in a few years, it's not that important whether the end of the day sees the Red Sox at 1-0, or 0-1.

Don't get me wrong, winning is kind of a big deal in baseball, and this isn't about wins in September being worth more than wins in April (it turns out they both count the same in the standings). Instead, it's about circumstances. In 2014, perhaps for the first time since 2009, the Red Sox have the benefit of entering the season with no great need to prove themselves. 2010 was coming on the heels of a one-sided ALDS sweep by the Angels. 2011 saw the Sox named paper champions. 2012 has...obvious issues. And 2013, coming so close on 2012's heels, was always at risk of backslide until they managed to pull away in the division.

These 2014 Red Sox, however, don't have to prove themselves. They are defending World Series Champions. Remember 2011, when the Red Sox started not just 0-1, but 0-6? Remember how important that made the first win seem in 2012? Remember how, after going 0-3 (and subsequently 1-5) to start that particular disaster, the win on Opening Day in 2013 was such a relief?

I'm not going to say that the 2013 Red Sox would have fallen short of the World Series had they started their campaign 0-1 rather than 2-0. But if they'd started 0-2? How many losses does it take before a team falls into the identity of its predecessor, no matter how many pieces have been changed. How long can that clubhouse culture survive when it's had so little time to establish itself?

If winning a few games has the chance to set the tone for a season, however, large-scale winning--like we saw in 2013--has the chance to change the nature of the game. If the Red Sox start 0-6, sure, we'll all be freaking out as though they'll retroactively declare the Cardinals World Series champions. But 0-1? 0-2? Even 0-3? Nobody is going to be saying "same old Red Sox" or looking back at 2011 and 2012 and lamenting another terrible Red Sox start. After all, that's not the identity of this team anymore. 2013 offers a clear divide between past and present, and this Red Sox team is not going to forget what they are and what they achieved based on a few early losses.

Of course, all else being equal, the Sox should go out there and sweep the Orioles, because wins in April do count the same in the end. But for the first time in a while there is no specter looming over the team that needs to be dispelled. For that, as for so many other things, we can thank the 2013 team.

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