|This Jacoby Ellsbury injury overshadows the Red Sox's big victory in the home opener. (Getty Images)|
BOSTON -- Red Sox starter Josh Beckett shook off the worry about his thumb and a miserable five-homer performance in his 2012 debut to shut down the tough Rays and lead new Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine to say, "That's just what the doctor ordered."
But now, the Red Sox are awaiting word from another doctor after their best player in 2011, Jacoby Ellsbury, suffered what by all accounts was a very painful shoulder injury and was sent immediately to the hospital.
Even on a great day -- and by most measures with a 12-2 victory in the home opener, it surely was that -- there is always something to worry about in Red Sox Nation, it seems. Right now it's Ellsbury, their multi-talented star who's been a bit star-crossed during his short career.
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The left-handed thrower was holding his right arm as he walked off the field after Rays shortstop Reid Brignac fell on it following a force play at second base. Red Sox Nation collectively held its breath.
Meantime, there was finally something to celebrate here on Friday the 13th. The $180-million team took baseball's worst record, at 1-5, into its home opener, the very first one of the already interesting Valentine regime, and understood the failures couldn't continue much longer.
The historic Boston Marathon is Monday, and if baseball is supposed to be a marathon and not a sprint, it often doesn't feel that way here, when folks live and die on every play or misplay.
Beckett quelled the usual angst around here with a methodical (yes, he still takes his sweet time) and efficient performance, limiting the pesky Rays to five hits and one walk through eight innings and showing no ill effects from the thumb injury that caused him to see two specialists just before the season's start. The performance was worth two thumbs up even if the strikeout artist only fanned one Ray, tying his all-time low.
"We were wondering and hoping and he removed all doubt," said Valentine of Beckett.
If the doubts persist about a Red Sox team that has questions in its rotation and 'pen, this was at least one to enjoy, and the folks here did just that. So did the guys in the clubhouse, who had a hearty laugh over the first career stolen base by Kelly Shoppach. The backup catcher was used on a hunch by Valentine against his former team and then ran to second in a delayed attempt to steal a run. But while the run didn't come immediately, Shoppach employed a wild slide to secure his first career steal.
"My first ever bag, my first ever attempt ... it's pretty exciting," Shoppach said.
Being a catcher, though, he knew to throw some sympathy toward Rays backstop Jose Molina for the indignity of being victimized by such a slow-footed player (him).
"I apologized to him," Shoppach said.
Valentine called that steal one for the highlight reel. Really, the whole game was. Boston's famed patience caused Rays star starter David Price to hit the showers (and presumably his nemesis, the towel) early, after just three innings and 83 pitches.
By contrast, Beckett took 94 pitches to go eight. He actually would have come out for the ninth, according to Valentine, if not for an interminable bottom of the eighth when Boston scored eight runs and secured its eighth straight victory in a home opener.
The Red Sox victimized struggling Rays relievers Joel Peralta and Josh Lueke in that inning, and the pair now totes ERAs of 37.80 and 27.00, with Lueke being jettisoned to Triple-A following the game.
"We've been mentioning it's a very good offense, and it came out of its shell today," Valentine said.
Nobody expected anything different from the star-studded lineup. The real question going in regarded Beckett, who understandably came out of his debut in Detroit a bit shell-shocked after the Tigers' five-homer performance in giant Comerica Park. Beckett didn't exactly overwhelm the Rays, and in fact, nearly had zero strikeouts (Carlos Pena whiffed in the eighth to keep the strikeout streak alive at 281 games, the longest currently in the majors).
Beckett may have been inspired by the appearance of his personal catcher Jason Varitek, who in a nice touch came out to catch the first pitch by Tim Wakefield, who like Varitek retired in spring training. Beckett actually pitched under duress through the eighth, as it was a close game until Boston put up the eight-spot in the eighth, with the first seven runs coming with none out and the final one on Cody Ross's sacrifice fly to deep center field.
A laugher is what was prescribed.
"We needed that, geez, we really needed that," Ross said.
But now they need Ellsbury to heal quickly. He was said by a friend to be feeling a bit better by the time he got to the hospital after Valentine reported Ellsbury being in obvious pain right after the worrisome play.
Still, Valentine indicated he thought there'd be a replacement on the way Saturday, and that's a reasonable assumption for anyone who saw Ellsbury holding his arm as he walked off the field.
All in all, the struggling Sox felt quite a bit better today. But their mood might change, depending on the Ellsbury diagnosis.