The Red Sox could not have asked for a better start to their 2015 campaign, putting together five homers to give a brilliant Clay Buchholz more support than he'd need en route to a 8-0 victory.
As the first pitch drew near, it was not the matchup between Clay Buchholz and Cole Hamels that drew attention, but between Hamels and Boston's young center fielder Mookie Betts. The two had been the center of trade rumors all offseason long, with the Red Sox unwilling to surrender Betts even in return for the ace their rotation so desperately seemed to need. While no one game was going to decide the "winner" of the non-trade, but with the two leading off the game against one another, the connection was impossible to ignore.
The first round went to Hamels, who needed just two pitches to get Betts to pop up to the left side of the infield for the first out. It was a good start to what would quickly become a bad game for Philadelphia's lefty. With Betts down, Dustin Pedroia stepped into the box for his first at bat of the 2015 season, and on the third pitch to Boston's second baseman Hamels made his first mistake, delivering a 94 MPH fastball into Pedroia's wheelhouse. Wasting no time in answering questions about his lost power, Pedroia drove his first home run of the year, just beyond a leaping Ben Revere in left field.
Hamels would escape the first without any more damage, but found himself facing another hard fight in the second. A pair of walks to Shane Victorino and Ryan Hanigan allowed the Red Sox to clear Clay Buchholz, but even that at bat proved problematic for Hamels, who went to 3-0 against Buchholz and only survived the at bat by snagging a sharply-hit comebacker to the mound.
That left the first at bat of the third a rematch between Betts and Hamels, and this time Betts came out on top. Apparently, Pedroia provided the perfect example, as Betts got his own inside fastball, and launched his own solo shot to left field to make it 2-0, Red Sox.
But of course, this lineup was supposed to hit. The question was if the rotation could keep the other team from doing the same. Taking the mound in the bottom of the first, Clay Buchholz was that uncertainty personified. Few pitchers have frustrated Red Sox fans with inconsistency the way Buchholz has from year to year. When healthy, he can be among the best. When not, we get disasters like 2014.
If Opening Day is any indication, Buchholz may well be in the best shape. Through the first six innings, Buchholz was in no-hitter form. His curveball dominated the first inning, with only his own bobbled ground ball forcing him to face four batters to get his three outs. In the second, he introduced his changeup, and the game may as well have been over. Carlos Ruiz and Cody Asche went down on strikes in a 1-2-3 frame, and a steady supply of paint saw him through his first eleven outs without allowing another baserunner, striking out five in the process.
In the end, it was a questionable route from Hanley Ramirez that cost Buchholz his first hit--a Ryan Howard double to left-center on a fastball that was high by design. Carlos Ruiz followed it up by drawing a tough walk on seven pitches, but the danger lasted just two pitches past that point, as Buchholz induced a ground ball off the bat of Grady Sizemore to end the frame.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, had again managed to clear the pitcher in the top half of the fourth, leaving Hamels to face the top of the order again in the fifth. The Philadelphia ace managed to strike out Betts, but once again it was Pedroia lying in wait who hurt the Phillies, taking another inside fastball and hitting it to the same spot in the stands, just a little bit further for his second solo shot. One out later, and Hanley Ramirez made it four, re-introducing himself to Red Sox fans with the loudest shot of the day. At least to that point.
Clay Buchholz finished up his day by working around a pair of one-out singles in the seventh to maintain the shutout while the Red Sox tried to tack on some more runs against the Philadelphia bullpen to lock in the win. Through eight, though, their 12 baserunners had resulted in just the four runs on the four solo shots, leaving the Red Sox to turn to Junichi Tazawa for a scoreless frame and perhaps leaving Edward Mujica on the line for the ninth. Finally, though, the Sox broke through again against Jake Diekman, with Allen Craig, Mookie Betts, and Mike Napoli loading the bases with a single and a pair of walks. That brought Hanley Ramirez to the plate, setting up the exclamation mark for the game. One-upping his homer from the fifth, Ramirez cracked his bat on a huge shot to left, producing a grand slam that would have found its way well into the stands if it hadn't crashed off the foul pole.
It wasn't a completely perfect game, with David Ortiz and Pablo Sandoval struggling at the plate. But throw in some exceptional defense, particularly from Dustin Pedroia, and you've got as good a start to the season as anyone in Boston could ask for. There's 161 games to go, but that's as much of a statement as can be made on Opening Day.