Clay Buchholz

10 memorable individual performances in Red Sox home openers

10 memorable individual performances in Red Sox home openers

Today should've been the 108th opener at Fenway Park for the Boston Red Sox as they were to host the Chicago White Sox to begin their home schedule.

But as we all know, the coronavirus pandemic has changed that as well as the rest of the world. 

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There's still hope that they'll be baseball at Fenway in 2020, but on the day the gates were supposed to open and signal the unofficial start of spring in Boston, let's look back at a few of the Red Sox's most memorable individual performances with some Opening Day Dreaming Delivered by Coors Light.

April 20, 1912

The Red Sox christened Fenway Park by beating their rivals from New York, then known as the Highlanders, 7-6 in 11 innings before 24,000, including Mayor John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, grandfather of future president John F. Kennedy, and the Royal Rooters.

Tris Speaker (pictured, 3-for-6, two RBI, game-winning single) and Steve Yerkes (5-for-7) were your hitting heroes for a team that would go on to win the World Series. 

April 12, 1916

A left-hander named Babe Ruth held the Philadelphia A's to one unearned run on four hits and strikes out six in 8 1/3 innings. He went 0-for-2 batting ninth, proving he didn't have much of a future as a hitter. The '16 Sox would go on to win the World Series. 

April 6, 1973

On a day that featured the debut of the designated hitter in the American League, catcher Carlton Fisk, coming off his rookie of the year season, got his second year off to a booming start with three hits, including a two-run homer of Yankees ace Mel Stottlemyre, and six RBI as the Sox spotted their archrivals a three-run lead and roll, 15-5.

(Now, if we could just forget Fisk's three-run, eighth-inning homer for the White Sox in a 5-3 Red Sox loss in the Fenway opener in '81 after Boston let him switch Sox as a free agent that winter.) 

April 10, 1998

Mo Vaughn hit a walk-off grand slam to cap the Red Sox' rally from a five-run deficit off a Mariners bullpen that featured ex-Sox relievers Tony Fossas and Heathcliff Slocumb and future Sox reliever Mike Timlin.

Those that stuck around Fenway when it was 7-2 to start the ninth headed home happy after an 8-7 win on Opening Day. The Sox would go on to make the playoffs at 92-70 but were eliminated in the ALDS by the Cleveland Indians. 

April 1, 2002

Tony Clark, the future head of the MLB Players Association, was a Red Sox first baseman for 90 games in 2002. In the first of those, he went 3-for-5 with a home run and drove in three runs.

The Sox needed all of them in a wild 12-11 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays. Clark would help the Sox out even more two years later when, as a Yankee, his ground-rule double in the ninth kept Ruben Sierra from scoring from first and ending ALCS Game 5 and with it, the Sox' World Series hopes.

April 11, 2005 

In addition to being memorable for the pregame ring ceremony and banner raising that was 86 years in the making (and for Yankees closer Mariano Rivera being cheered and Alex Rodriguez, pictured, jeered by the Fenway fans for their roles in the Sox' 2004 pennant), the Sox got a strong pitching performance from Tim Wakefield in an 8-1 thumping of the Yankees.

Veterans of '04 Wakefield (7 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 5 SOs), Trot Nixon (2-for-3, two RBI) and Doug Mirabelli (two-run homer) started '05 off right.

April 8, 2008

The Sox home opener in 2008 was another banner-raising day that included a tearful Bill Buckner emerging from the Green Monster to a standing ovation to throw out the first pitch.

After the pregame festivities, the Sox rolled to a 5-0 shutout over the Detroit Tigers. Kevin Youkilis went 3-for-3 with two RBI and Daisuke Matsuzaka allowed four hits and struck out seven in 6 2/3 innings. 

April 7, 2009

Josh Beckett held the Tampa Bay Rays to one run on two hits and struck out 10 as the Red Sox beat the Tampa Bay Rays, 5-3.

Beckett would go on to win 17 games and the Sox racked up 95 victories that season before being swept by the Angels in the ALDS.

April 8, 2013

Clay Buchholz got another championship season off to a great start as he shut out the Baltimore Orioles for seven innings on three hits.

Daniel Nava's three-run homer provided the offense in a 3-1 victory.

April 13, 2015

Mookie Betts showed off his future MVP form early in the 2015 season with a 2-for-4, four-RBI day that included a three-run homer in the second inning and two stolen bases in the first.

All of that came after he robbed Bryce Harper of a home run in the first with a leaping grab in front of the bullpen fence in right. The Sox went on to a 9-4 win over the Washington Nationals but it didn't portend to good things as they finished 78-84 and last in the AL East. 

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Clay Buchholz, anyone? For Red Sox, Chris Sale replacement options aren't pretty

Clay Buchholz, anyone? For Red Sox, Chris Sale replacement options aren't pretty

It will be at least another day before we hear more news on Chris Sale, but it's not too soon for the Red Sox to consider Plan Bs.

Chaim Bloom and Co. were already assessing their options to bolster a starting rotation horrifically lacking in depth even before Sale came out of Sunday's live BP with a sore elbow that necessitated an MRI and a call to Dr. James Andrews.

Now there's even more urgency to find pitching, since Sale will be sidelined for more than just the two starts he was supposed to miss because of pneumonia; as he awaits a third opinion, season-ending surgery remains on the table.

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But now is about the worst possible time to be searching for pitching, since teams are locking down their own depth options and the trade market typically isn't robust.

So what might the Red Sox do? Here are some options, none of them pretty.

1. The internal candidates

The Red Sox currently have 30 pitchers in camp, including 11 non-roster invitees. In all likelihood, initial solutions will come from this group, with manager Ron Roenicke repeatedly insisting that he hopes a full-time starting candidate emerges.

Roenicke is high on Ryan Weber, a soft-throwing right-hander who's a throwback to an era when command and movement mattered as much as velocity. He posted a 5.09 ERA in 18 appearances last season while barely breaking 90 mph. He throws strikes (1.7 BB/9 lifetime), but he doesn't miss bats. If nothing else, he's in the opener mix.

Then there's Chris Mazza, the rare late bloomer who opened his minor league career as a reliever in 2012 before becoming a full-time starter in his late 20s. He made his big league debut with the Mets at age 29 last year and assumed he'd be battling for a bullpen spot when he joined the Red Sox in December, before they traded David Price to the Dodgers. Now one of the final two spots in the rotation is up for grabs.

"I definitely feel like I'm in the mix," Mazza told reporters recently. "At the end of the day, the best guy is going to get the job, and that's how it should be."

Prospect-wise, right-hander Tanner Houck mildly resembles Bronson Arroyo, with a lanky frame, long hair, and a wipeout slider from a low three-quarters arm slot. He wears a number in the 60s, too.

A first-round pick in 2017, Houck projects as a reliever, even though he has almost exclusively started in the minors. His best pitch is a sinker, which is bad timing in an era when everyone values the ability to pitch up in the zone and avoid the launching pad down low. The Red Sox tried making Houck a four-seam guy above the belt, but that's just a secondary offering now.

Then there's left-hander Kyle Hart, a 19th round pick in 2016 out of Indiana who has quietly forced himself onto the 40-man roster by posting a 3.13 ERA over four seasons in the minors. The 6-foot-5 southpaw generally works in the 88-90 mph range, which makes him another pitcher who must hit his spots.

"He's going to have to be a command guy," Roenicke told reporters recently. "He's not going to throw 95 and throw by people. So just hit spots. Corner to corner at 90 mph is very hard to hit."

Among the non-roster invitees, old friend Brian Johnson will get a look, though he's coming off a disappointing 2019 that cost him his spot on the 40-man.

The highest-upside arms belong to prospect Bryan Mata and left-handed reliever Darwinzon Hernandez.

The former throws in the upper-90s but has yet to pitch above Double-A. The latter was a starter in the minors, but the team wants to keep him in the bullpen, where his overpowering stuff plays better in short bursts.

2. The free agents

These pitchers have sat unclaimed all winter for a reason, and shouldn't be viewed as anything more than warm bodies.

The most recognizable name is Clay Buchholz, who won a pair of World Series rings here while serving as something of a punching bag despite throwing a no-hitter and earning a pair of All-Star nods. Shoulder problems limited him to 12 starts and a 6.56 ERA with Toronto last season.

Red Sox fans likely got their fill of Andrew Cashner last season after he arrived from the Orioles and promptly pitched himself right out of the rotation. Other veteran free agents include Marco Estrada — who will likely be sidelined by a chronic bad back until June — Jeremy Hellickson, Collin McHugh, and Danny Salazar.

The most intriguing name on that list is Salazar, a 2016 All-Star with the Indians who has made just one start over the last two years because of shoulder and groin injuries. The Dominican right-hander just turned 30 and could be a worthwhile reclamation project if he can regain the power arsenal that helped him strike out more than 10 batters per nine innings.

3. The trade candidates

The first name that pops to mind is Cal Quantrill, the right-hander the Red Sox hoped to buy in a Wil Myers deal with the Padres. The No. 8 pick in the 2016 draft, Quantrill went 6-8 with a 5.16 ERA in San Diego last year. If the two sides could resurrect Myers talks, perhaps Quantrill can be acquired.

Two teams with an abundance of starting depth are the Braves and Twins.

At least five pitchers are vying for the final two spots in Atlanta's rotation, including former Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez. The Twins, meanwhile, have four pitchers competing for the fifth spot, led by Red Sox castoff Jhoulys Chacin. Injured starters Michael Pineda and Rich Hill are also waiting in the wings, which could push an arm like left-hander Lewis Thorpe further down the depth chart.

Best of the Decade: Red Sox All-Interview Team

Best of the Decade: Red Sox All-Interview Team

Since we're Top Ten-ing everything else related to the decade, allow me one small measure of self-indulgence -- my All-Interview Team.

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Not everyone on this list was/is a great quote, per se, but they're guys I liked talking to for various reasons, and who doesn't enjoy the occasional peek behind the curtain? Also, No. 1 on my list is 1,000 percent real, I swear.

1. J.D. Drew

I know what you're thinking, but I'm telling you, no player had a better handle on baseball's relative insignificance. Drew played because it made him rich (he's notoriously cheap) and he was really good at it, but he never wanted it to define him. A folksy conversationalist, he was also sneaky funny, like the time he hopped up the dugout steps to boos during BP in Philly, proclaimed, "This is MY house," and then went 4-for-5 with a three-run homer.

2. David Ortiz

Big Papi will end up topping a lot of best-of lists in the next couple of weeks, and for good reason. But beyond providing countless moments of drama, he was a hell of a colorful interview, speaking unfiltered and from the heart, even when it might've behooved him to go the diplomatic route. He'd get ripped for bitching about his contract or a lost RBI, but what reporter would complain about that? He made great copy, and when he held court, his blue streak would make Lenny Bruce blush.

3. Jonny Gomes

Critics ripped him for being a self-promoter, and while I wouldn't totally absolve him of that charge, his impact on the 2013 clubhouse was real. The most impressive part of talking to Gomes was just how closely he paid attention to the rest of baseball. Some guys can't tell you what's happening outside their clubhouse door, but Gomes knew everything about everyone in the AL and NL, and he'd talk baseball with anybody.

4. Xander Bogaerts

For someone who won his first World Series just a couple of weeks after turning 21 and recently signed a nine-figure contract, Bogaerts has remained remarkably humble and grounded. He spent his early seasons in the background, ceding state-of-the-team responsibilities to veterans Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz. But now that he's entering his eighth (!?!) season, he recognizes the need to be a spokesman, especially when things are going poorly, and he's as accountable as they get.

5. Daniel Bard

When Bard's career went south in 2012 following a failed move to the rotation, no one was secretly more disappointed than the beat writers. Bard was always a thoughtful quote, with a keen intelligence befitting his lineage -- his grandfather coached at MIT for years -- and a willingness to offer insight. Some believe that intelligence worked against him, causing him to overanalyze his mental woes, and we'll never know how his career would've turned out if he had remained in the bullpen.

6. Carl Crawford

While there's no question Crawford disappointed on the field, it wasn't for lack of effort, and those of us who were around him every day could see the toll all that failure took on him personally. Extremely popular among teammates -- most of whom he greeted with, "Wassup, big man?" -- Crawford was honest to a fault with the media, even when the questions were relentlessly negative. He may not have been worth $142 million, but he was no villain.

7. Clay Buchholz

A truth about reporters: sometimes we only reluctantly ask the toughest questions, because we know our subjects will get their backs up and then we have to steel for a fight. Then there's Buchholz. You could ask him the most pointed question about why he was terrible and everyone hated him, and he'd answer without rancor because it's just how he's wired. He just shrugged and took nothing personally, which is a gift.

8. Jackie Bradley Jr.

After the birth of his first child, Bradley was leaving Fenway Park when a couple of reporters held the door for him and wished him a Happy Father's Day. Bradley turned around, confirmed they had kids as well, and said, "then Happy Father's Day to you, too." In an industry where narcissism is practically required, Bradley manages to treat people with respect instead of contempt.

9. Burke Badenhop

Here's to the nerds! Badenhop was unapologetically wonky and one of the first players to embrace advanced analytics in pursuit of self-improvement. A business major at Bowling Green, he had landed a coveted job at pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline in 2005 before baseball came calling. The son of an English professor and contributor to a book on finance for young college grads, he considered writing for "Saturday Night Live" his dream job.

10. Kevin Youkilis

Youkilis could be confrontational. He constantly railed against negativity. He once yelled at me for calling him the Greek God of Walks, because, "you know I hate that name." Despite all that, I enjoyed interacting with him, because deep down, he was still just the kid from Cincinnati rooting on the Bengals from the nosebleeds, and even after he signed a $40 million contract, that everyman regular guy remained a part of him.