Exactly five months after clinching their ninth World Series title in franchise history, the Red Sox set out on the journey to defend that crown, starting with an Opening Day showdown against the Seattle Mariners at the newly-minted T-Mobile Park out in the Pacific Northwest.
Getting the start for Boston in this one, as announced last week, was none other than ace left-hander Chris Sale.
The new $145 million man, who also recorded the last out of that 2018 World Series against the Dodgers, did not have himself an Opening Day to remember in this one.
Working just the first three innings on Thursday, Sale surrendered seven earned runs on six hits, two walks, and one HBP to go along with four strikeouts on the night. Three of those Mariners hits were home runs, with a pair coming from infielder Tim Beckham and the other coming from Edwin Encarnacion.
Control was clearly an issue for Sale in his first meaningful start of 2019, and according to Statcast, the 29-year-old failed to induce one swing and miss when throwing his four-seam fastball, which he went to 25 times.
Also using Statcast, Sale’s fastball topped out at 94.5 MPH in the first inning. His average fastball velocity on the night was 92.3 MPH, which incrementally decreased from inning to inning.
Finishing with a final pitch count of 76 (45 strikes), Sale’s next start should come against the Oakland Athletics next Wednesday. Perhaps with some more innings under his belt after a fairly light spring, we’ll see a more improved Sale in his next time out.
In relief of Sale, Hector Velazquez. Heath Hembree, Tyler Thornburg, and Brian Johnson combined to give up five more runs, four of which were earned, on six hits, two walks, one HBP, and five strikeouts over the final five frames on Thursday.
Velazquez, who figures to take on a long-relief/spot start role this season, was responsible for three of those runs, with one of them coming on a Ryon Healy fifth inning solo homer.
After loading the bases with one out in the sixth, Heath Hembree would enter his first contest of 2019 to try and escape the jam, but would give up an additional pair of runs on a bases-loaded walk and Eduardo Nunez fielding error. Both runs (one earned) were charged to Velazquez.
From there, Tyler Thornburg’s 2019 debut didn’t go quite as planned, as the ex-Brewer allowed two more Mariners runs to score while serving up Seattle’s fifth home run of the evening courtesy of Domingo Santana.
And finally, Brian Johnson, who should be starting Tuesday in Oakland if the Red Sox remain committed to a six-man rotation, had the best outing of any Boston reliever, limiting Seattle to just one base runner in a scoreless eighth inning of work.
On the other side of things, the Red Sox lineup was matched up against Mariners left-hander Marco Gonzales to start things out in Seattle’s home opener.
Entering Thursday having already made an official start last week in Tokyo, Gonzales looked fairly shaky early against the defending World Series champions.
In fact, three straight one out first inning hits from Mookie Betts, Rafael Devers, and JD Martinez resulted in Boston’s first run of the season to cross the plate on an RBI single from Martinez.
Just an inning later, a Mariners E3 that allowed Eduardo Nunez to reach first to leadoff the second allowed another Red Sox run to score, this one coming after Nunez had advanced to third and Andrew Benintendi had driven him in with an RBI sacrifice fly to shallow left field.
So, with an early 2-0 lead, things were looking pretty good for the Red Sox, until they weren’t, because Gonzales got into a bit of a groove from the beginning of the third inning up until the sixth.
There, Nunez was at it again, this time leading the inning off with a line drive double.
After a Jackie Bradley Jr. strikeout and an apparent balk committed by Gonzales, Christian Vazquez came through with his first RBI of 2019 by pulling a double to left field, allowing Nunez to score.
That run-scoring two-bagger would mark the end of the night for Gonzales, who was replaced in favor of fellow southpaw and ex-Red Sox hurler Roenis Elias.
Matched up against Benintendi in his first action of the game, Benintendi won the lefty-on-lefty matchup, pulling an RBI single to right to drive in Vazquez.
At the time, that cut Seattle’s lead to four runs, but as the final score of 12-4 indicates, the Mariners would go on a little run of their own to put this one out of reach for the Red Sox in their first loss of the 2019 season.
Some notes from this loss:
The seven runs given up by Chris Sale are tied for the most he has given up in a Red Sox uniform.
Per WEEI’s Evan Drellich, “the 2018 Red Sox allowed 12 runs or more only three times. The season high for runs allowed was 13.”
From the Boston Globe’s Alex Speier, when speaking with Red Sox manager Alex Cora:
An ugly loss to be sure, but let’s not forget how Opening Day last year went with that blown lead in Tampa Bay.
Compared to other teams, this Red Sox club had an atypical spring coming off a 2018 in which they played deep into October. It could take some time until we see this team at their full capacity. That’s what I’m trying to say.
Anyway, next up for the Red Sox, it will be a starting pitching matchup featuring right-hander Nathan Eovaldi and rookie left-hander Yusei Kikuchi on Friday
Eovaldi, entering his first full season with Boston, has only pitched at T-Mobile Field once before in his seven-year career.
For Seattle, Kikuchi allowed two runs (one earned) over 4 2/3 innings in his first career start against the Oakland Athletics last week in Tokyo.
First pitch Friday is scheduled for 10:10 PM EDT on NESN. Time to put that first win on the board.