Fenway Park was freezing last night. It was a weeknight in April, the Celtics were playing a huge game, the Bruins are entering the playoffs, and hot chocolates were going for $8.25. Yet Sox fans still showed up to see the beginning of the Chris Sale era, which was cool to see. Most importantly the team got the win despite the weather clearly affecting players from both sides (as well as any opportunities for offense). Not a single run crossed the plate until Sandy Leon's walk of three run homer in the bottom of the 12th. It was the type of night where it would have been easy for the Sox to mail it in. Between the cold weather and not having Mookie there were plenty of built in excuses. Instead the team decided not to waste Sale's fantastic Red Sox debut. Here are my major takeaways from game two of 2017:
--Entering the year I figured it was only a matter of time until Leon lost the starting catcher role to either Christain Vazquez or Blake Swihart. That still might happen - it's only been two games. But early on Sandy is clearly determined to keep his job. After a 3-5 performance last night (including the afformentioned homer and a double) he is 5-8 through two games. It's going to take a couple months of swinging the bat well for him to have any sort of job security, but so far so good for Leon supporters. The walk off last night will put him in the good graces of Boston fans and could provide the type of team/fan bonding that is so valuable in the early going of a long baseball season.
--Leon's heroics took away from the main event of the night, which was Chris "Best Pitcher in the American League" Sale's Boston debut. After just one start it looks like the AL Cy Young race is all but over as Sale was everything we could have hoped for and more. He was able to work around early pitch count trouble to go seven innings while striking out seven, giving up three hits, and walking just one. Sale also lived up the his reputation as a bit of a nut job (in a good way). While many players were wearing long sleeves and hoodies, Sale pitched the entire game in nothing but a tee shirt under his jersey. He's going to fit in with Boston just fine.
--Since Mookie missed the game with the flu Bogaerts was bumped up to the three spot in the batting order. We'll give him (and the rest of the offense) a bit of a pass since the conditions were so poor for hitting but it was still discouraging to see him go 0-5 with two strikeouts. It would be foolish to think he won't eventually turn things around from his horrible second half in 2016, but last night's game reaffirmed my belief that he shouldn't be hitting in the top four of the batting order until he strings together a few good weeks of at bats.
UPDATE: Bogaerts was placed on the bereavement list Thursday, which is used when a player has to leave the team due to a death or illness in the family. Hopefully everything is alright with Xander's family but the Sox will definitely miss him this weekend in Detroit. The move means that Bogaerts is required to miss at least three games, which makes him eligible to return Monday.
--Pablo Sandoval had such a good spring (leading the Grapefruit league in RBIs!!!) that I expected him to come out of the gate hot. Again, it's only been two games, but Sandoval's shaky start has Red Sox fans ready to turn on him again - before they even had a chance to love him. What's more concerning than his 1-8 start at the plate is the fact that he has made a defensive error in both games. The crowd had some fun with this last night as they cheered loudly when he caught a simple infield pop up one batter after making his error. Judging by the ovation he got on Opening Day fans seem eager to welcome him into our good graces but for that to happen he'll need to start playing better.
--I have no way of quantifying this and can't find footage of the plays but Benintendi twice played a ball hit off the monster as perfectly as they could be played. Ideally he'll be doing this for the better part of the next decade.
--Your "What The Fuck" fact of the day: Joe Kelly hasn't lost since August of 2015 and in the process has 13 straight wins, which is the longest active streak in the majors.
--The lineup looked extremely thin with Betts out due to the flu. Comapred to last year the offense was missing David Ortiz and Mookie - our two best hitters from last season. We knew we wouldn't have Papi this year but it wasn't until last night when I realized that this team simply cannot afford a prolonged loss from one of the big bats.
--Today's afternoon game was rained out, which should actually help the Sox after having to use the bullpen for five innings last night. Now the team can rest both the pen and Mookie after a long, cold night. The Sox begin a four game series in Detroit Friday afternoon.