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Closing Time: Bullpen does in Sox in 3-2 Opening Day loss to Tigers

04.05.12 at 4:18 pm ET
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DETROIT — A furious Red Sox comeback was spoiled when, after erasing a 2-0 deficit in the top of the ninth inning, the Andrew Bailey-free Red Sox bullpen allowed the Tigers to push across the game-winning run in the bottom of the inning, with the Sox absorbing a 3-2, walkoff defeat in their first game of the season.

Tigers ace and reigning Cy Young/MVP Justin Verlander tossed eight shutout innings, outpitching Jon Lester in the process. But Lester was nearly as good, allowing just one run in seven innings, and even when the Sox bullpen conceded another run in the eighth, the team was still in position for a potential comeback.

The Sox accomplished just that in the ninth against Tigers closer Jose Valverde, who converted all 49 of his save opportunities in 2011. Dustin Pedroia led off with a double and advanced to third on an Adrian Gonzalez single. Pedroia crossed the plate with the first Sox run on a sac fly by David Ortiz. Then, after a Kevin Youkilis strikeout for the second out, outfielder Ryan Sweeney scorched an RBI triple off the wall in right field to tie the game at 2-2.

However, the tie proved short-lived. Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta collected his third hit of the day, a one-out single, in the bottom of the ninth off of Melancon, and then advanced to second on a single by Alex Avila. Manager Bobby Valentine showed a quick hook for Melancon, yanking him in favor of closer Alfredo Aceves.

Aceves promptly hit Ramon Santiago with a curveball to load the bases and then Austin Jackson bounced a ball past the drawn-in Sox infield and down the left-field line for the 3-2 Tigers win.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

– Foremost, that Verlander fellow. Verlander tossed eight shutout innings, allowing just two hits (a second-inning David Ortiz double and a fifth-inning single by Ryan Sweeney) and one walk while striking out seven. His 94-97 mph fastball and paralyzing curveball — impossible for right-handers to swing at, let alone hit — were too much.

– Sweeney had a costly misplay in right that resulted in an insurance run, which ultimately proved the decisive run in the game. The right-fielder got turned around on a Ramon Santiago liner over his head. A potentially catchable ball instead carried over Sweeney’s head for a leadoff triple in the bottom of the eighth inning. Eventually, Santiago scored on a sac fly to push the Tigers ahead, 2-0. Of course, Sweeney atoned for that gaffe in many respects with his game-tying triple.

– Virtually every Red Sox hitter looked uncomfortable at the plate. Of course, that was in no small part a reflection on Verlander.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

– The Sox showed the ability to match up well against an elite starter (Verlander) and then to come back against one of the more successful closers in the game. The comeback was incomplete, but the fact that the Sox became the first team in more than a year against whom Valverde blew a save was noteworthy.

Jon Lester held up his end of the bargain in the pitcher’s duel with Justin Verlander. Despite the fact that he was unable to incorporate an effective curve or changeup, Lester was able to lean on his fastball and an excellent cutter to generate weak contact or swings and misses. In seven innings, he gave up just one run on six hits and walked three while punching out four.

Of particular significance, Lester was able to get double plays in volume, eliciting three groundball twin killings to match a career high for one game. Though the Tigers put at least one runner on in every inning against him, they were 1-for-14 with men on base.

Lester did not have his midseason velocity, but even at mostly 90-92 mph, he was able to leverage the pitch down in the strike zone and get enough movement to keep the ball off the ground.

The outing was particularly impressive when contrasted with Lester’s previous season opener, last season in Texas, when he took a no-decision while allowing five runs in 5 1/3 innings and failing to strike out a single hitter.

Dustin Pedroia had the best day at the dish of any Red Sox player. In his third at-bat against Verlander, he had a smash off the glove of third baseman Miguel Cabrera that was ruled an error (a questionable call) and then, facing closer Jose Valverde in the ninth, he lined a leadoff double to the gap in right-center and eventually came around to score the lone Red Sox run.

David Ortiz had one of the Sox’ two hits against the Tigers’ ace, showing a nice approach in slicing a double to the opposite field, down the left field line. Ortiz now has two doubles and two homers in his career against Verlander.

– The Red Sox infield defense made a few key plays behind Lester. In particular, Mike Aviles had some good glove work and Dustin Pedroia had a fantastic pivot in the first inning on a play when leadoff man Austin Jackson was bearing down on him.

Read More: alex avila, Detroit Tigers, Jon Lester, justin verlander
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