The Red Sox’ first exhibition game of 2020 started off like a 2018 game and ended like a 2019 game.
The Red Sox got the first hit, the first run scored, the first home run. They were ahead until the 9th inning. This game, which doesn’t count for anything, was theirs to lose.
And lose it they did, when Ryan Brasier was given the ball for the 9th inning for some reason, and immediately put runners on the corners and gave up a go-ahead home run before getting a single out. The Red Sox went from winning 4-0 to losing 8-6.
This game doesn’t put the Red Sox at 0-1 on the season. Games don’t start to count until Friday. But they counts in other ways. Like setting the tone for the season. Proving they aren’t the joke they’ve become in the media over the last year. It just would have been nice to start off with success, with momentum, with positivity. With a sign that this season would be different.
I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about watching a Red Sox game at home during a global pandemic, with men in masks, no fans in the stands, and weird ambient faux-fan noise that didn’t quite align with the actual play on the field being pumped in to the ballpark speakers. But the minute Mitch Moreland hit that home run in the bottom of the 1st, I was hooked like Al Pacino in Godfather 3, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!” A second home run by JD Martinez in the 5th only solidified that I was sold; sold on what I know to be a faulty product that drives me absolutely bananas. I bought in anyway, because you don’t really have much of a choice when you’re a Red Sox fan.
But then the Red Sox didn’t score again. They had ample opportunities, including leaving the bases loaded. Mookie’s absence loomed large in that moment, made even more prominent thanks to the numerous mentions of him by the NESN broadcasters. I hope that only happens in exhibition games, too.
But unlike Las Vegas, what happens in these exhibition games probably won’t just stay in them. That’s why it was frustrating to see decisions from 2019 being recycled in 2020, even in a game that doesn’t count, because the new Red Sox manager still chose to operate in a way that didn’t work when tried repeatedly last year. Andrew Benintendi is not a leadoff hitter. He’s statistically the worst leadoff man in the last two decades of Red Sox leadoff hitters, and he has even said that it’s not his forte. We saw it for months last year, but Cora was too stubborn to revert back to Mookie until early June, and it cost them dearly. They don’t have that much time to waste when there’s only 60 games to play. Maybe there’s no other viable option, but why not use these games that don’t count to experiment with someone else before the season begins? Roenicke has said that he’s open to trying newcomers Verdugo and Pillar in the leadoff spot, so why didn’t he? On the other hand, maybe he was trying Benintendi tonight for the same reason, though at this point it seems pretty clear that having him bat first does not work. I’m not we needed this encore appearance.
Ryan Brasier closing the game instead of Brandon Workman was a laughable choice as well. With the new 3-batter minimum rule in effect, Brasier is even more of a risk than he was last year, because once Roenicke puts him in, he’s stuck with him for three batters, and we saw the impact of the rule from the jump tonight. In 2019, Ryan Brasier proved to be more effective in 6th and 7th innings, posting a 0.00 ERA and 2.00 ERA, respectively in said innings cumulatively throughout the season. However in the 8th and 9th innings of last season, his ERA skyrocketed to 7.89 and 5.40. Meanwhile, Workman also posted extremely low 6th and 7th inning ERAs last season, but unlike Brasier, he can hold his own late in games as well. His 8th inning ERA last season was 3.00, and closing out games in the 9th, he posted a marvelous 1.91 ERA. Overall, he also held opponents to the lowest batting average in MLB and only allowed 1 home run the entire season.
Exhibition games don’t count. I still care. Some people say this weird, shortened season won’t count. I will still care. No matter how much we decry them when our team drives us crazy, Red Sox fans are incapable of apathy or detachment; anything less than diehard is not in our loud, passionate, borderline insane DNA. I would like for my favorite team, which still has an abundance of talent, particularly on the offensive side, to fight. They gave up so many times last season, and it’s incredibly frustrating to watch years of incredible talent go to waste. I just want the Red Sox to move on from their mistakes last season by not repeating them. Given the fact that they know what has proven successful and what hasn’t in the past, it doesn’t seem like a huge ask. It seems like logic.
New season starts Friday, and thanks to these throwaway exhibition games, the Red Sox will get a rare second chance to make a first impression. Let’s have 2019 fade away in the rearview mirror and never look back.
Photo: Getty Images