Opening Day: It's summer again up in Boston
Jim Bouton once wrote, "It's opening day. Or Opening Day. Depending on how you feel about it."
In these parts it's always been Opening Day (though, truth be told, the Red Sox' stranglehold on the local sports scene has loosened considerably in recent years), and we're on the verge of another. The Sox may have played their first game over a week ago in Seattle, but the home opener is always something special. On Tuesday at 2:05 p.m., regardless of the actual weather, it's summer again up in Boston.
This will be the 119th home opener for the Red Sox. And there are lots of memories -- good and bad -- from the first 118 . . .
APRIL 10, 1998: GRAND ENDING FROM MO
The outlook wasn't brilliant for the Boston nine that day; the score stood seven to two with but one inning left to play. So, figuring the game was safely in hand, the Mariners lifted Hall of Famer Randy Johnson and replaced him with -- wait for it -- Heathcliff Slocumb.
The Heater. If you don't remember his dreadful 1996-97 stint as Red Sox closer, consider yourself lucky. A single, a walk and a double later, the Mariners came to their senses. Trouble was, their entire bullpen had been infected with Slocumb Disease. Before you knew it, three runs were in, the bases were loaded, there was still no one out, and up stepped Mo Vaughn.
And he blasted one into the lower boxes in deep right field. A game-winning grand slam in the bottom of the ninth on Opening Day.
That, folks, is as good as it gets.
APRIL 7, 1977 -- Big offseason bullpen acquisition Bill Campbell (first Sox big-money free-agent signee), comes on in ninth to protect 4-2 lead. Gives up two-run homer to Buddy Bell in the ninth, and game-winning run in 11th. Sox lose, 5-4. Fan with 'SELL CAMPBELL, BRING BACK $1.50 BLEACHER TICKETS' sign becomes local hero.
APRIL 4, 1988 -- Big offseason bullpen acquisition Lee Smith replaces Roger Clemens in 10th inning of 3-3 game. Surrenders two-run homer to Alan Trammell. Sox lose, 5-3.
APRIL 11, 2016 -- Big offseason bullpen acquisition Craig Kimbrel called upon in ninth inning of 6-6 game. Allows three-run homer to Chris Davis. Sox lose, 9-7.
Sense a pattern?
Hard to believe -- no, impossible to believe -- the Red Sox wouldn't do everything in their power to keep New England icon Carlton Fisk in Boston forever. Instead, to quote John Belushi . . .
The story, difficult enough to understand as it was unfolding, is all but incomprehensible now. But to bottom line it: Fisk's new team, the White Sox, opens the season at Fenway. Red Sox lead, 2-0, in the eighth. Fisk comes to bat against former batterymate Bob Stanley with two on and one out. And -- of course -- he blasts a three-run homer that puts Chicago ahead to stay en route to a 5-3 victory. In honor of Haywood Sullivan and Buddy LeRoux, the co-owners who forced him out, he wore a 'HAYWOOD AND BUDDY SUCK' T-shirt under his uniform whenever he played the Red Sox.
So how old do you have to be to remember the last time the Yankees won on Opening Day at Fenway Park? Well, older than me. And I'll be 64 pretty soon.
It last happened in 1960, which also happened to be Ted Williams' last Opening Day. (Ted homered and the Sox lost, which pretty much symbolized the last half of his career.) The Yanks have been here for seven openers since then -- 1970, 1971, 1973, 1985, 2005, 2010 and 2011 -- and the Red Sox won them all. Overall, they're 15-13 against the Yankees in Fenway openers.
And how are they in New York openers, you ask? Well, don't. (Oh, all right. They're 10-17 in Yankee home openers at the various sites -- Hilltop Park, the Polo Grounds, the old Yankee Stadium, the new Yankee Stadium -- the Yanks have called home.)
THE FIRST SWINGS
One of those Yankee openers we just talked about was memorable for more than just a 15-5 Red Sox victory: It was the first game in which a designated hitter came to the plate.
That's right. The DH rule (American League only, of course) was passed in the 1972-73 offseason and Sox-Yanks happened to be first A.L. game played that season. The Yankee DH, Ron Blomberg, came to the plate against Luis Tiant with the bases loaded and two outs in the top of the first and he walked, driving in the game's opening run. He wound up going 1-for-3. Orlando Cepeda, who filled the role for Boston, was less successful: He went 0-for-6. Still, the Red Sox won by 10. And Cepeda, who would go on to hit .289 with 20 homers with 86 RBI for the Red Sox that year, arguably filled the role better than Blomberg (.329, 12 homers, 57 RBI).
THE LAST BLOWS
Rings, we knew about. But no one thought about banners being draped over the left-field wall in honor of World Series championships that were so elusive for 86 long years.
Have to admit, they're pretty cool.
The first one came down on April 11, 2005. The second on April 8, 2008. The third on April 4, 2014. Only once -- a 6-2 loss to the Brewers in 2014 -- did the Sox fail to continue the party with a victory. And you can count on there being another gigantic flag unfurled on Tuesday afternoon.
THE START OF HISTORY
There's a lot of numbers on the right-field facade at Fenway Park, many more than we're showing here. It's the Red Sox' way of honoring the best of their best, the players who most distinguished themselves in Boston.
Funny thing is, not a lot of them distinguished themselves in their first Fenway Park openers.
Three of them -- No. 14 Jim Rice (whose first Fenway Park opener was in 1975), No. 26 Wade Boggs (1982) and No. 27 Carlton Fisk (1972) -- didn't even play the first time they were on the roster for an Opening Day at Fenway Park. (Nor did No. 45 Pedro Martinez in 1998, but he had pitched twice in the eight-game West Coast road trip that started the season.) And as for the rest . . .
NO. 1 BOBBY DOERR -- 2-for-6 in 1937
NO. 4 JOE CRONIN -- 1-for-5 in 1935
NO. 6 JOHNNY PESKY -- 2-for-4 in 1942
NO. 8 CARL YASTRZEMSKI -- 1-for-5 in 1961
NO. 9 TED WILLIAMS -- 1-for-5 in 1939
NO. 34 DAVID ORTIZ -- 1-for-4 in 2003
THE MAKER OF HISTORY
Sorry. Couldn't resist.
Hasn't lost much over the years, has he?
(And if you're wondering why there are only four pictures here, it's because in 2005 -- months after the Pats' 2004 Super Bowl triumph over the Eagles -- the Red Sox spent Opening Day celebrating their own championship.)
However, Brady is not expected to be at Fenway Park on Tuesday.