ARLINGTON, Texas -- Take the Boston Red Sox pitching staff, line them up against a wall (no blindfolds, please), then pick the two most reliable arms out of the bunch.
But on Friday afternoon, it was the Most Reliables, not the Red Sox newcomers, who composed the decisive story line in Boston's 9-5 Opening Day loss to the Texas Rangers.
You've heard of "three yards and a cloud of dust," the old football strategy? The Rangers used "three go yard and a cloud of chalk" to beat Lester and Bard in a Texas win on the first day of the season that eliminated any chance of the Red Sox going wire-to-wire to win the American League pennant. That might come as a surprise to those who have cast the Sox as so formidable they merely needed to show up to run away from the field.
Instead, the Rangers were the ones hoisting their first flag Friday, raising the 2010 pennant in a pregame ceremony celebrating the team's 40th anniversary on Texas soil. The Red Sox, meanwhile, were the ones left to explain the convergence of two most improbable events Friday. Lester gave up three home runs in four innings after never giving up more than two home runs in any of his previous 123 starts. Then Bard, who entered after David Ortiz tied the score in the top of the eighth with -- another shocker -- a home run off a lefty, was tagged for four runs in the bottom of the eighth, the big hit a two-run double by pinch hitter David Murphy that kicked up chalk on the left-field foul line. Even Murphy called it lucky.
Bard had never given up more than two runs in 111 appearances dating back to mid-June in 2009, his rookie season.
"I think everyone pretty much feels the same way -- it happened, now get over it, and we got tomorrow to go,'' said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who last Opening Day was a Ranger being mobbed by his teammates for his walk-off hit, but ended this day in a much more subdued fashion.
"This is a great ballclub,'' he said. "No way are we doubting ourselves after one game.''
That would be grounds for temporary insanity, of course, if they did. Lester has been down this road before, in mystifying fashion. No matter how good the left-hander looks in spring training, the regular season is as welcoming as a hard slap to the face. In April, Lester has a 4.95 ERA (57 ER in 103 2/3 innings); starting in May, he's 58-19 with a 3.37 ERA.
"Didn't go the way I wanted to, obviously,'' Lester said.
Lester gave up a home run to Ian Kinsler on his second pitch of the season. Nelson Cruz took him deep in the second, and Mike Napoli, who used to wreak havoc on the Red Sox when he was with Anaheim, bought himself some love here with a three-run home run off Lester in the fourth that gave the Rangers a 5-4 lead. The three RBIs produced by Adrian Gonzalez in his Sox debut with base hits in his first two at-bats against left-hander C.J. Wilson, and the first-inning run knocked in by Youkilis' double, now added up to nothing but a deficit.
Napoli hit a pitch that Lester said he threw where he wanted, a breaking ball down and in.
"Looked at it on film,'' he said. "Thought it was a good pitch.''
One out into the sixth, Lester was gone, leaving without a single strikeout, another first for him.
"For whatever reason we couldn't get many swings and misses today,'' he said. "For the most part, we got a lot of weak-hit ground balls and weak-hit fly balls, with the exception of the home runs.''
Ortiz's home run off Rangers lefty Darren Oliver, Francona said, "changed the whole feeling in the dugout. We were thrilled to get to Bard.''
It turned out to be a cheap thrill, Bard inviting trouble when he issued a full-count walk to Napoli with one out. Yorvit Torrealba followed with a base hit and Rangers manager Ron Washington replaced Julio Borbon with Murphy, the one-time Sox outfielder who went to Texas in the disastrous Eric Gagne deal. That trade came back to hurt the Sox yet again when Murphy reached out and sliced a ball that Kevin Youkilis, playing third base, was certain was headed foul.
Instead, it landed on the line, Napoli and Torrealba both scoring. Elvis Andrus and Josh Hamilton followed with RBI doubles, and when the chalk had settled, there was one team on the field that looked like world-beaters for a day, and it wasn't Boston.
"I thought I made a lot of quality pitches,'' Bard said. "The only one I'd take back is the 3-2 slider to Napoli, an unaggressive pitch, and that's what got the ball rolling for them.''
The pitch to Murphy?
"I made exactly the pitch I wanted to make,'' he said. "We were going sinker down and away. It was on the knees, outer black, he just barely got the bat to it, and three inches to the left it's a foul ball and we're having a different conversation.''
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.