Monday, April 5, 2010

What a Great Game!

Patience a virtue to calmer Youkilis
First baseman comes up clutch with three extra-base hits

BOSTON -- Pedro Martinez took the ball, wound up and fired a high pitch toward the plate.

It was a scene that could repeat itself many times this summer.

Martinez, one of the most successful Red Sox pitchers of all time, threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Fenway Park on Sunday in front of an appreciative and adoring partisan crowd. Dressed in his old No. 45 Red Sox jersey and a pair of gray dress pants, Martinez returned to the site of some of his greatest triumphs.
Martinez, in a ceremony that the Red Sox did not announce prior to the game, saluted the crowd and received a standing ovation as he walked from the Green Monster to the mound. Chants of "PED-RO! PED-RO!" rocked Fenway Park as he warmed up his right arm, went into his windup and delivered a pitch to his longtime catcher, Jason Varitek.

After the pitch, Martinez jogged over to Johnny Pesky, shaking Pesky's hand and spending several moments speaking with the Red Sox legend.

In a similar sentimental gesture last month, the Red Sox signed former All-Star shortstop Nomar Garciaparra to a one-day contract, allowing him to retire with the team.

Unlike Garciaparra, however, Martinez may not be done with baseball. Last season, he did not sign with the Phillies until July, making just nine regular-season starts and posting a 5-1 record. He pitched seven shutout innings against the Dodgers in the National League Division Series, before losing Games 2 and 6 of the World Series to the Yankees.

Later that month, Martinez's agent, Fernando Cuza, said that his client "absolutely" wanted to pitch again in 2010. Martinez did not speak to the media following his Fenway Park appearance, but it is certainly possible that he may sign with a big league team in the coming months.

To the game ...

The Yankees would take a lead and the Red Sox would peck away. That was how it kept going on Sunday night, and the most constant thing about that theme was Kevin Youkilis.

Boston's cleanup man produced a big hit all three times the Red Sox needed it. And each time, it was for extra bases. Just like that, Youkilis became the first Boston player since Carlton Fisk in 1973 to rope three extra-base hits in a season opener. This, on a night the Red Sox beat the Yankees, 9-7.

"He swung the bat so well tonight," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "At least we chipped away early so it gave us a chance, and when we do put up a three-spot, it means something."

It started with the Red Sox in a 2-0 hole on back-to-back homers by Jorge Posada and Curtis Granderson in the second. But it was Youkilis who started Boston's half of the second with a double off the Green Monster in left-center. It was the only hit the Sox had against CC Sabathia in the first four innings, and Youkilis wound up scoring on a sacrifice fly by Adrian Beltre.

With the Sox down, 5-2, in the bottom of the sixth, Youkilis brought life back to Fenway by smashing a line drive over the head of Yankees right fielder Nick Swisher for a two-run triple.

"I got the count to 3-0 and I had the green light to swing 3-0, but I just wanted to make sure to see [Sabathia] throw another pitch," Youkilis said. "I was telling myself to lay off some stuff inside, because my last at-bat, he threw me a pretty good pitch -- a cutter in. He threw a pitch out over the plate and I just tried to drive it the other way. I was just fortunate to get it by Swisher."

The Red Sox tied it later that inning, then fell behind by two runs in the top of the seventh.

Youk da man!

But they knotted it back up again on Dustin Pedroia's two-run rocket to left in the seventh. And Youkilis had one more big hit up his sleeve later in that inning, a two-out double that put him in position to move to third on a wild pitch and score on a passed ball for the go-ahead run.

"I felt good," Youkilis said. "I just tried to capitalize on pitches. I was very fortunate I wasn't behind in the count. That always helps. I just tried to calm myself down. I've been trying to do that a lot more. I'm still trying to learn a lot more from hitting. One thing I keep trying to work on is not being satisfied with any at-bats and trying to learn my swing and my approach and trying to calm myself down at the plate."

The simple fact was that the Yankees had no answers for Youkilis, and it likely cost them the game.