This was not the start the Red Sox were looking for, as they did not come out of the gate firing. The good news is they got a really good outing from Nathan Eovaldi, who looked crisp almost all day. He went 5 1⁄3 in which he allowed one run (which was a runner he left behind coming in to score) on four hits (all singles) and one walk with four strikeouts. Some had an issue with pulling him after throwing only 89 pitches, but early in the year, with health such an issue on this staff, I was fine with it. I was less fine with using Matt Andriese as the first reliever, and he’d give up the first runs of the day. The defense was also sloppy, with mistakes from Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts and Enrique Hernández.
All that said, the offense, or lack thereof, was the story. The Red Sox were shut out in their first game of the year for the first time since 1976 (per the NESN broadcast). And to be clear, they did not have a great day, missing some hittable pitches. At the same time, Orioles starter John Means deserves a ton of credit. He was money all day, particularly with a devastating changeup, and it seemed to me at least this was more a case of the pitcher being awesome than the lineup being bad.
Whatever the case, it was not the start to 2021 Boston was searching for.
Eovaldi was put into a spot that wasn’t expected of him, taking over on Opening Day while Eduardo Rodriguez takes a few extra days to get ready for the season. It was Eovaldi’s second straight Opening Day start, and his second straight against the Orioles. He kept up the streak of second straights, pitching very well just as he did last year. There were a couple of minor lapses in control here and there on Friday, but for the most part he was in control with his stuff working well. In particular, his fastball up above the zone was money, as was his breaking ball. (I’m not sure what we’re calling this. I know it’s always been known as a curveball but it sure looks more like a slow slider to me.)
He started the season exactly as you would think: With the heat. Eovaldi threw a 99 mph fastball right down the plate, and we were off. The Orioles did get their first man on thanks to a weak, check swing single down to third base with Devers shifted in the hole. But, a double play, started by Devers, got Eovaldi through a three-batter inning anyway.
The first real trouble for the Red Sox starter in this one was in the second, though it wasn’t entirely on him. Rio Ruiz got on with a one-out walk, though Eovaldi was squeezed a bit on ball four that sure looked like strike three. After coming back with his first strikeout of 2021, the righty got a ground ball over to the left side. It looked to me like it should have been Bogaerts’s ball, but Devers cut in front trying to make a barehanded play. He couldn’t get a handle on it. Even if he had just used the glove, he had plenty of time with Maikel Franco running. Instead, there were two on, but Eovaldi did get out of it with a fly out to keep the Orioles off the board.
After that inning, he went into cruise control. There was another single in the third, this one on a ground ball against the shift, but another double play made it another quick inning for Eovaldi. He then came out in the fourth and fifth, retiring all six batters he faced.
Unfortunately, the Red Sox offense gave their starter nothing in the way of support. They always seem to have issues against command-oriented lefties, and today was no different against John Means. The start to the day was good, with Kiké Hernández leading things off with a base hit. (That was the first time the Red Sox had their first batter of the season get a hit since 2008.) Everything went downhill quickly from there. With one out, Hernández was picked off on first base on a very ticky tack replay. To be clear, it was the right call — his foot slipped off the bag and Trey Mancini swiped the oven mitt on Hernández’s hand — but these kinds of replays stink. They’d only send three to the plate in the inning as a result.
They got their leadoff man on in the second as well, this time with Bogaerts benefitting from an error on the part of Franco on third base. He wouldn’t move beyond first base, and then the Red Sox put up nothing for the next few innings. After the error, Means retired 12 straight batters to keep the game scoreless heading into the sixth.
Eovaldi came back out to start this inning, but the left side of the infield let him down again. This time, Devers let a ball go by to Bogaerts, but the latter didn’t appear to be expecting that. His throw to first sailed a bit and Pedro Severino had an infield single. After getting a strikeout, Eovaldi’s day was done after 5 1⁄3 very strong innings, but he had a runner left on and was leaving things up to the bullpen.
The first man up would be new Red Sox pitcher Matt Andriese. He started his Red Sox career with a walk to Mancini on another borderline pitch, and then the defense struck yet again. This time we moved over to the right side of the infield, where Hernández made a rare miscue. On what looked like a tailor-made double play ball, he got eaten up and couldn’t get any outs. Suddenly, the bases were full with just one out. Ryan Mountcastle came through for Baltimore, clearing out an inside pitch (one pitch after being robbed of a walk) and putting it off the Monster, bringing two home to give Baltimore the first lead for either side on the day.
Andriese got a strikeout and a fly ball to limit the damage, but the Red Sox offense needed to wake up. The sixth inning was not the time for them to do so, as Means had another perfect frame to make it 15 in a row for the southpaw.
After Andriese came back strong for a perfect second inning of work, the lineup had just nine more outs to work with to get some momentum going for the first time on the day. The good news is they had the heart of the order coming up. Alex Verdugo looked to have a single to start off the inning, but Rio Ruiz — who had a couple of nice plays early in this game going back into the outfield on pop ups — stole it with a diving stop. Means would then get a strikeout and a fly out, and it was up to 18 in a row to end his afternoon.
With the score still 2-0 in Baltimore’s favor, Josh Taylor came on for Boston to start the eighth. Things did not go well for the southpaw, who is looking to come back from a mostly lost 2020 season. He issued a leadoff walk before a base hit from Mancini. The single was fortunate for Boston, too, because it was shot down the third base line but caromed off the wall to keep it to just one base. Anthony Santander followed that up with a base hit of his own, this one cleanly through the left side, allowing another run to cross. They did get one out on some weird base running, but there was still a runner at second with only one out, and Austin Brice came in for Taylor.
The righty came out and retired two in a row, keeping the score at 3-0 with the offense coming back up, now with Means out of the game for Baltimore. In his place was Tanner Scott. Things got off to a good start with a Devers walk, giving Boston their first baserunner since the second inning. After a couple more outs, Christian Vázquez drew a walk of his own to bring Bobby Dalbec up representing the tying run. He couldn’t come through, going down looking to keep the deficit at three.
Hirokazu Sawamura came out for his MLB debut in the ninth, and while he did give up a double he looked great otherwise, with his splitter in particular impressing. That meant there was one more chance for the Red Sox with the top of their order coming up against César Valdez. After two quick outs, they finally got their second hit of the day on a J.D. Martinez double, and then he moved over to third on a passed ball. He’d be stranded there, though, as Bogaerts flew out to right field to end the 3-0, season-opening loss.
The Red Sox turn right back around tomorrow looking for their first victory of the year. They send Tanner Houck to the mound to take on Matt Harvey, with first pitch coming at 1:10 PM ET.