By Matt Straub
They say a baseball fan should never worry too much about what happens in April. You’re certainly not supposed to be concerned over a two or three-day stretch at any point in the year other than late-September or October.
Fans of the area’s professional baseball teams, however, have never been good at following those rules. In New York and Boston, every game is dissected as though it were a playoff contest. Consecutive losses feel like the end of the world, and wins can seem to be season-changers.
Even on April 11.
I’m usually the kind of fan who follows the rules. I often say it doesn’t really feel like baseball season until after the NBA Finals in June. Tuesday night, however, changed the rules for the Boston Red Sox. The box score shows a relatively ho-hum, blowout victory over the Baltimore Orioles, who few expect to contend for anything but the second wild card this year, while Boston is on most people’s list of possible World Series winners. If any team needed a solid performance, however, it was Boston.
This is a team which has had trainers using surgical masks in the clubhouse. This is the organization which had its clubhouse fumigated upon its departure from Detroit Monday. Flu bugs have torn through teams before, and probably your office at your real job. What happened to the Red Sox, however, may be unprecedented.
Boston went into a big series in Detroit without Mookie Betts and Hanley Ramirez, two of the biggest bats on the team, both of whom were sick. Brock Holt, the utility man who can fill in for just about anyone, missed time with the flu. Andrew Benintendi became ill during a game in Detroit, but stayed in because he’s still young enough to do crazy things like that and Boston was running out of replacements. Xander Bogaerts was away from the team due to a death in the family, then couldn’t get a flight to Detroit and missed an extra game, and reliever Matt Barnes also took personal leave for a few days. Reliever Robbie Ross Jr. missed time during the first series of the year with the Red Sox plague (which even forced the television play-by-play man to leave in the middle of a game) and fellow bullpen arms Carson Smith and Tyler Thornburg are down with more typical baseball ailments. Centerfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is on the DL with a knee injury, and David Price is out until at least May.
And that was the first week of the year.
The illnesses and bereavement leaves are short-term in nature, which is good for the big picture, but also troublesome because the sick players weren’t out long enough to be put on the DL (except for Ross). This means Boston couldn’t replace very many of the walking wounded, and instead played short-handed. Of the 14 position players who have been on the big club so far, only four have played all seven possible games. Ramirez and Bogaerts have missed more games than they’ve played.
On the field, things weren’t terribly rosy, either. Boston dropped a big early season matchup to the Tigers which saw Chris Sale pitch brilliantly, but lose to Justin Verlander. When your star acquisition works into the eighth inning and gives up just two runs, losing one game feels like a crushing blow.
Things couldn’t have felt much worse on April 11, even though Boston somehow left Detroit at 3-3 for the year. Then came Tuesday night in Boston. Drew Pomeranz, who had pitched poorly in spring training and has been fighting arm trouble, was good for six innings and the beleaguered bullpen got nine outs without much of the trouble it has gone through early. Boston’s offense, now only missing Bradley, scored eight runs on 15 hits. For three hours and 15 minutes, the Red Sox were relatively healthy and looking like the team many predicted to run away with the AL East. They are now also on a streak of three days without anyone new getting ill, providing hope we can soon hear a story about the 2017 Red Sox which doesn’t involve a bathroom or a bucket. If some pitchers get good news on their arms soon, Boston could have its whole team in place by the time basketball ends and the meat of the baseball calendar arrives.
If the Red Sox can start to put some wins together, we may look back at April 11 as the night Boston turned its season around. Some good news couldn’t have come fast enough. The last week was certainly cause for concern, even in April, which has been enough to make any fan sick.