Takeaways from Bronx: Lester 1 W, 0 L

April, 1, 2013
4/01/13
11:12
PM ET
NEW YORK -- Takeaways from the Bronx, where the most fitting metaphor of the day Monday afternoon may have been the fan who was struck in the back of the head by a foul ball as he was headed to the exits. For Yankee fans, Monday’s 8-2 loss to the Red Sox hurt even when they weren’t watching.

(Not to worry. The man rubbed his noggin and went on his way. You have to have a thick skull to be a Yankees fan.)

* Jon Lester didn’t win a game last season until his fifth start, so while his five-inning stint in Monday’s win over the Yankees may have lacked a certain panache, the Red Sox left-hander was more than satisfied with the outcome.

“It was all right,’’ said Lester, who became the first Sox lefty since Gary Peters in 1970 to win an opener. “My fastball command was good. I felt really good with my cutter, but I wasn’t able to throw my off-speed pitches for strikes. I didn’t get a feel for them till about the fifth inning.

“That being said, I was pretty happy how the outing went. Salty [catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia] did a good job, moving back and forth, getting them to swing and put the ball in play.’’

Lester gave up five hits and walked two in his five innings, striking out seven. A 34-pitch fourth inning, when the Yankees scored both of their runs on Francisco Cervelli’s two-run single down the left-field line, led to his early departure, his pitch count having reached 96 by the end of the fifth.

Lester did a nice job escaping further damage after Cervelli’s base hit in the fourth, when Brett Gardner squared up a pitch but lined out to Shane Victorino in right to end the inning.

The inning before, rookie left fielder Jackie Bradley Jr., sprinting back to the left-field fence, made a difficult twisting catch of Robinson Cano’s liner, saving Lester a run.

* Like everyone else in the Sox clubhouse, Lester was impressed by the 22-year-old Bradley in his big-league debut.

“Awesome professional at-bats,’’ Lester said of Bradley drawing three walks, two off CC Sabathia. “Jackie did a great job. You don’t see that too often, a kid on Opening Day in Yankee Stadium working at-bats like that, especially off a guy like CC.

“Drawing that walk [in the second inning], beating that ball to second base [on an attempted force], then making that catch in the third inning, that’s probably a three-run swing. He did a great job today. He didn’t let emotions get to him.’’

* Bradley wasn’t the only Sox player with good at-bats. In addition to their 13 hits, all singles except for Saltalamacchia’s double in the fifth and Jacoby Ellsbury’s triple in the sixth, the Sox drew eight walks. That matched their season high for walks from last season, which they managed twice, against the Indians (May 11) and the Yankees (July 8). Somehow they lost that game to the Bombers, 7-3.

Saltalamacchia also walked three times, matching his career high, in addition to his double, and scored twice. Sabathia walked four, Jonny Gomes intentionally, in five innings, by which time his pitch count had reached 102 pitches.

“A guy like CC, you know he’s going to battle, not throw it over the middle,’’ Saltalamacchia said. “He’s not like a Cliff Lee, who’s going to pound the strike zone; he’s going to work it. You want him to throw as many pitches as you can in five innings. If we got a good pitch to hit, we hit it, but for the most part we let him get behind and go deep in counts.

“It’s not easy to do. Just because that’s the game plan, it’s not always going to go that way. Today we decided to be patient a little more, and it paid off.’’

Sabathia, who pitched with a sore elbow for much of last season, topped out at 91 mph Monday, which suggests that health may continue to be an issue.

* In a poll conducted by SI.com, a majority of staff writers predicted that Victorino would be the most likely free-agent bust. Indeed, the three-year, $39 million contract the Sox gave Victorino was the subject of a good bit of commentary by scouts and other club officials this spring.

Well, on Monday, it was only happy returns for Victorino, who whacked a two-run single in the second and singled home another run in the ninth for a game-high three RBIs.

* Jose Iglesias did not get the ball out of the infield in five trips Monday, and also struck out with the bases loaded and popped out. That’s the bad news. The good news is the shortstop had three hits, including a push-bunt single in the fourth, scored one run and drove in another.

“It was good to see Iglesias use the ‘small’ game,’’ said Farrell, who had made bunting a point of emphasis for Iglesias this spring.

* Seven months, three weeks, one day.

That’s how long it had been since third baseman Will Middlebrooks last played for the Red Sox. His right wrist was fractured when he was hit by a pitch by Cleveland’s Esmil Rogers, bringing a premature end to what had been a terrific rookie season.

“I’ve been waiting for this day since Aug. 10,’’ Middlebrooks said. “I’ve been thinking about it every one of those days.’’

Finally, the day arrived, and Middlebrooks was a wreck, besieged by flu-like symptoms. He played with a 102-degree fever, his temperature dropping only by a single degree after the game.

“The last couple days I felt crappy, and last night I felt really terrible,’’ he said.

Had he thought about not playing?

“I was playing regardless,’’ he said. “I knew I could do something help us to win. I walked, tagged (and advanced on Jonny Gomes’s liner) and scored. I helped.’’

* Ellsbury’s sixth-inning triple off reliever David Phelps gave him one more triple than he had all of last season.

* With hits in his first two at-bats, Dustin Pedroia now has hit safely in every Sox opener since 2007. He’s 11-for-28 in that span, a .393 average. The last Sox player to hit in seven straight openers was Mo Vaughn (1992-98).

* The Sox had lost five in a row to the Bombers, including a three-game sweep on the season’s last weekend in 2012 in which they were outscored, 28-7.

* New first baseman Mike Napoli was the only Sox player not to reach base Monday. He went hitless in five trips, striking out twice.

* The Sox ended the day alone in first place in the AL East. They did not spend a single day in first place in 2012.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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