Lords of the rings: Sox cruise past Yanks
After celebrating 2004, Boston opens Fenway with a win
BOSTON -- The emotion of the pregame ring presentation and banner raising could have left the Red Sox in serious letdown mode once Monday's Fenway opener against the Yankees finally commenced. But the one thing that prevented such a thing from ever taking place was the knuckleball of Tim Wakefield, which was masterful.
Wakefield made it seem as if the Yankees were swatting at flies instead of baseballs.
As offensively imposing as they can be, the Bronx Bombers were rendered fairly harmless, hitting soft outs for the majority of the day. The Red Sox rode Wakefield, their veteran of the last 11 seasons, to a 8-1 victory over their rivals. It was the first home opener the Sox have won since 2001.
Clearly, this was no ordinary day at the 93-year-old yard in Boston's Back Bay.
"We're playing the Yankees, we've got a ring ceremony," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "All of a sudden, you look up and [Derek] Jeter's in the batter's box. It was going quick. But Wakefield kind of took care of the rest of that for us. He was fantastic."
Which is saying a lot. Nobody had to multi-task more during the pregame hours than Wakefield. He obviously wasn't going to miss out on the crowning all of New England has been anticipating ever since Oct. 27, 2004, when the Red Sox won the World Series.
So Wakefield soaked it all in, taking special pride in Red Sox lifer Johnny Pesky being the last to collect his ring, eliciting thunderous applause from the packed Fenway crowd of 33,702.
But then Wakefield turned off his emotional switch and flicked on his game-face. It was time to journey out to the bullpen in right-center field and get things ironed out with Doug Mirabelli, his regular catcher of the last three seasons.
"I didn't know how I was going to handle my emotions today," Wakefield said. "It's a tough situation. You go out there and you have all the ceremonies going on, we get our rings and the banner. I was fortunate enough to get off to a good start in the first and second inning."
And once he did, the Yankees felt like an all too familiar script was unfolding. The last couple of years, Wakefield's knuckleball has repeatedly spelled all kinds of trouble for the Yankees. He posted a 1.89 ERA against them a year ago, and has been even stingier (1.32) in his first two outings against the Yankees this season.
"Wakefield is Wakefield," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. "He goes out there and throws strikes, and that ball jumps all over the place, and we just couldn't get a handle on him. He's been very stingy with us over the last few years."
While Wakefield wasn't sure how he'd handle the emotion of the day, Mirabelli had a pretty good idea.
"Tim's a professional," Mirabelli said. "He gets ready the same way he gets ready for every game and he knew what he needed to do. He threw an unbelievable game."
In twirling seven strong and seemingly effortless innings, Wakefield scattered five hits, struck out five and allowed just one run, which wasn't earned. Of his 110 pitches, 70 were for strikes.
"Wake did his thing out there," said Sox right fielder Trot Nixon. "He threw the ball extremely well. He had that knuckleball dancing out there. And when you apply the elements, the ball wasn't taking off very well with that knuckleball. His ball, just looking at a few highlights on TV, was dancing around. He had that definitely going on and just kept those guys off-balanced."
Then there was Mike Mussina, who looked off-balanced himself. The veteran right-hander gave up seven hits and seven runs (three of which were unearned) over his five innings.
|Doug Mirabelli / C|
Weight: 225 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
Mirabelli got things rolling for the Sox by belting a two-run homer over the Green Monster in the bottom of the second.
"I was just trying to be aggressive in that situation," said Mirabelli, who has underrated power. "Mussina's got so many pitches, it's hard to wait and try to work the count with him. From a team standpoint, it helped us out a lot."
The Boston offense seemed to liven up after that. The lead was pushed to 4-0 in the third, thanks to a two-run single up the middle by Kevin Millar.
Alex Rodriguez opened up an opportunity for the Sox in the fourth, committing an error on Johnny Damon's grounder. That set up a two-on, two-out situation for Nixon, who ripped a two-run double that Gary Sheffield lost in the sun. Manny Ramirez followed by raking an RBI single to left.
Just like that, the Sox held a commanding 7-1 lead. Wakefield was not about to let that slip away.
"He was great," said Francona. "He was smart enough to enjoy the ceremonies and get the heck out of there and go do what he had to do. [Pitching coach Dave Wallace] and Mirabelli went with him, and he got on track to pitch his game, and he pitched a wonderful game."
Capping off what was indeed a most memorable day in Red Sox-land.
"It's nice to get our rings, get everything over with," said Millar. "We have a chance to do something special this year. We have a lot of hard work and a lot of games ahead of us. It was nice to enjoy today."
Raising the enjoyment factor quite a few notches was Wakefield.
"I think it's important that we got the win today on Opening Day, the day we got our rings," Wakefield said. "I was fortunate enough to get some good run support and get the win today. We were able to celebrate 2004 and now we can put that to bed and get on with 2005. I think once the game started, it was time to move on with our goals for 2005."
The Yankees' goal of solving Wakefield's knuckleball was squashed from the outset.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.