The NFL season technically begins on the first or second Thursday in September, depending on when exactly Labor Day hits. Since the Thursday game was implemented, it has almost always featured the defending champs against a rival, and in virtually every case the defending champs stomp a mudhole in their opponents, as if the game itself was an extension of the victory parade. The Chiefs did it last year, the Bucs will do it this year, and the Pats did it what seems like a hundred times.
It is just a thing that happens. The season, for all intents and purposes, begins on Sunday. That’s when new storylines develop, the Colts lose to the Jaguars and such, there’s more grist for the content mills, and everyone’s happy (outside of Indianapolis). I mention all this because the first Red Sox series of 2021 was so straight out of the nightmare that was 2020 to have effectively been the same de facto extension of it. The Sox played so differently against the Rays than they did versus the Orioles that it hardly looked like the same sport.
For all these reasons, I’m willing to totally scrap the first series of the year as a final sacrifice to the Mookie Betts trade spirits, angry that they didn’t get a full 2020’s worth of vengeance. The debt now settled, we can now safely stay in the happier present day, which sees J.D. Martinez looking to start the year with an extra base hit in seven straight games (We are keeping the few good parts of the Orioles series, of course) and the Sox looking to go above .500 for the second time since Mookie patrolled the Fenway outfield, and the first time since the first day of last season.
It is hard to express how relieving it is to finally turn the page on all that garbage. For Martinez, specifically, it’s as if his swing is the canary in the coal mine, the single sign of life that enables the Sox to keep plugging away toward their potential. For Boston’s offense as a whole, the return of Alex Cora, along with the naturally convalescent passage of time, seems to have sparked the team back to life.
This is all I ever wanted, and as many have written, there’s something deeply compelling about this team, especially if the pitchers can keep up their end of the bargain. Martinez worries aside, we knew the hitters would hit. We didn’t know that the rotation of misfit starters would work; six games in, and I’m not sure I expected to see this many strong performances in a short time all season, with Garrett Richards’s Sunday blowup the major exception, though it was mitigated by Garrett Whitlock’s wonderful relief appearance.
Eduardo Rodriguez makes his first start today, a day after his birthday, and if he can shake off the lingering effects of a dead arm, there’s suddenly and perhaps temporarily some real reasons to be optimistic about this year’s rotation. Tanner Houck is temporarily back at the Alternate Site but looks as good as anyone not named Nathan Eovaldi; for his part, Eovaldi looks like the most complete pitcher he’s ever been, finally working offspeed pitches in the mix with his effortless 99 mph fastballs to make batters look clueless. You love to see it.
Admittedly, this is written in a euphoria. I cannot remember being this happy about a single series sweep that wasn’t in October or against the Yankees. It is unlikely to last a full month, leastwise a full season, like it did in 2013. But not all moments need to be sustained to be profound. We finally made it back, not to the promised land but to the place where baseball is fun, and what’s happening on the field is on center stage, rather than what some executive said when trying to sell tickets. We have a team that sells itself now, and I’m buying in. Take my money!