The Red Sox fell to the Orioles 2-1 on Opening Day, failing to find that one big hit that could've made the difference.
These are the losses that are both the most difficult to stomach, and the most encouraging early in the season. Because, while the Red Sox ended the day with one fewer run than the Orioles, they very much seemed the better team throughout the day. It just ended up being one of those games where most of what could go wrong did.
Take the battle of the starting pitchers, for instance. After five innings, each man had allowed one run. But while Chris Tillman had surrendered a number of near-homers and been worked for 104 pitches, Jon Lester was mostly cruising, staying on the ground and erasing what baserunners he did allow with double plays.
To that point, the damage had been done by Nelson Cruz coming in the back door when Delmon Young grounded into one of those double plays. Meanwhile, the Red Sox had been putting up threat after threat, stranding seven runners in the first five innings. The second inning in particular stands out, with Mike Carp and Grady Sizemore reaching base to start the inning and Tillman only managing to pick up his first two outs with near-bombs from Xander Bogaerts and A.J. Pierzynski before striking out Will MIddlebrooks for the third. It was the sort of pitching performance that easily could have yielded four runs, but instead netted them zero.
The one time the Red Sox did get those extra few feet? The fourth inning, when Grady Sizemore took Tillman off the top of the scoreboard in right. But while the Red Sox put runners on all game long, this was the one time the bases were empty, leaving Sizemore's exciting homer just a game-tying solo shot. Nelson Cruz would answer that four innings later, however, taking Lester deep to give the Orioles the second run they needed.
In the end, the Red Sox had stranded an incredible 12 baserunners. Two of them in the eighth, when John Farrell provided us with our first mystifying managerial decision of the year, leaving A.J. Pierzynski (.261/.291/.384 career vs. LHP) in to face southpaw Brian Matusz while Jonny Gomes (.277/.377/.502 career vs. LHP) waited on the bench. Pierzynski grounded out, leaving Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts stuck at second and first respectively.
Even the ninth inning provided opportunities, with Tommy Hunter plunking Will Middlebrooks and allowing a single to Dustin Pedroia. But David Ortiz' fly ball hung up short of the track, and Jackie Bradley Jr. (having pinch run for Mike Napoli) watched strike three hit the top of the zone.
With the wind in their favor, or the weather warmer, the Red Sox probably win this game. In fact, it's probably not even close. But today, on March 31st, it was not to be. Hopefully tomorrow they'll string some of those hits together rather than spacing them out.