April 2, 2013

Tom Caron: ‘Decent’ will do as a good start

There were still patches of snow on the ground in much of New England as the baseball season began in New York. That was only fitting after the coldest baseball off-season in decades.

If fans are going to warm up to this Red Sox team it's going to take a decent start from the club to build a little enthusiasm in a Nation that's been teetering on the edge of mutiny.

That's why Boston's four-run second inning at Yankee Stadium was a sight for sore eyes. The Sox worked the count against New York ace C.C. Sabathia, making him throw 34 pitches as they sent nine batters to the plate in a game they went on to win 8-2.

This is what the Red Sox are going to have to be in 2013 – a team that is patient at the plate and can move runners along with good at-bats.

David Ortiz wasn't in the starting lineup on Opening Day for the first time since 2003.

In his absence, the Sox need to use some small ball against top pitchers. It's notable that the rally began with a seven-pitch walk for Jackie Bradley Jr. and featured an RBI single from Jose Iglesias that traveled about 80 feet.

It all led to the first multi-run inning of the season. And the first dose of optimism for fans who haven't been upbeat in quite a while.

The Sox don't have to be great in April. Just decent.

Like last year, Boston begins the season on a six-game road trip. The Sox are hoping that's where the similarity ends.

Under Bobby Valentine, the 2012 Sox lost five of those six games in Detroit and Toronto. They were 4-10 after 14 games.

That was eerily similar to 2011, when Boston started 0-6 after they were swept in Texas and Cleveland. Then they were 3-10 after 13 games.

That was just a little worse than the 2010 team that was 4-9 after its first 13 games.

Incredibly, the Red Sox have spent just one day in April above .500 over the past three seasons. They were 1-0 on April 7, 2010.

Brutal starts have become the norm, and each of those seasons quickly spiraled into long, ugly marathons that led to the team missing the playoffs.

Take 2011 as an example. Everyone looks at that 7-20 September as the reason the team did not make the postseason.

Yet if Terry Francona had been able to squeeze one more win out of this team – four wins in the first 13 games instead of three – it would have played on after the collapse in Baltimore.

It's difficult to contend when you have to spend the first weeks and months of the year trying to get back to .500.

For this team, falling too far behind early could be fatal.

When the Red Sox are introduced at Fenway Park before this year's home opener, plenty of fans will have an opinion about this collection of players. Those opinions won't be very high if the Sox are 1-5 or 2-4.

Make no mistake, one inning doesn't make a team a contender. Neither does one game, or even one road trip.

But it was a decent start for the Red Sox, and after last season decent is a great beginning for this team.

Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.

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