A Historical Look at Boston Red Sox Opening Days

Since the inception of the American League in 1901, fans of the Boston club have waited excitedly for the opening of the baseball season. The devotees of the Boston nine (whether called the Americans or the Red Sox) have waited for the arrival of that special day in April (and very occasionally March) when the diamond was dusted off and the grand game began again. With the 117th Red Sox Opening Day upon us, we look back at the previous 116 editions of Red Sox opening day for fun facts, diverse digits, and curious chestnuts.

The Numbers

Opening Day Record:  57-61-1

Home Openers: 40

Most Consecutive Home Openers: Two! (1902-03 / 1913-14 / 1941-42 / 1947-48 / 1961-62 / 1966-67 / 1994-95 / 2009-10)

Road Openers: 76

Most Consecutive Road Openers: 7 (1927-33)

Second Most Consecutive Road Openers: 6 (1996-2001 / 2003-08 / 2011-16)

Extra Inning Games: 12 (Record: 3-9)

Double Headers: 3 (1903 / 1948 / 1982)

Longest Game: 13 innings (4/12/66 vs. Baltimore)

Earliest Opening Day: 3/25/08 (@ Oakland in Tokyo)

Earliest Opening Day (Non-Japan): 3/31 (2003 @ Tampa Bay and 2014 @ Baltimore)

Latest Opening Day: 4/26 (1901 @ Baltimore and 1995 vs. Minnesota)

Most Frequent Opponent: The New York Highlanders/Yankees – 29 times (31 if one includes the Baltimore Orioles of 1901 and 1902)

Most Consecutive Wins: 6 (1916-21)

Most Consecutive Losses: 6 (1922-27 and 1958-63)

Biggest Wins: 10 runs (1919 @ Yankees (10-0) / 1973 vs. Yankees (15-5))

Largest Loss: 9 runs (1960 @ Senators (1-10))

Last Year

One year ago – give or take a few days – the Red Sox began the 2016 season in Cleveland, Ohio, facing off against Terry Francona’s Indians. The Red Sox placed newly-acquired ace David Price against 2014 Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber. However, both aces had some difficulty on this day.

The Red Sox started off the scoring in the third inning. Jackie Bradley Jr. led off the inning with a line drive single before Mookie Betts drove both of them in with a line drive over the left-center field wall – his second consecutive Opening Day with a home run. The Indians would get both of those runs back in the fourth, as Price gave up singles to Francisco Lindor, Carlos Santana, and Yan Gomes to get one run back; and then a fly ball to Marlon Byrd, which would plate Santana. However, those would be the only runs that the Indians would garner off Price and the Red Sox bullpen of Junichi Tazawa, Koji Uehara, and Craig Kimbrel.

The Red Sox would regain the lead for good in the sixth inning, as Kluber gave up consecutive singles by Hanley Ramirez, Travis Shaw, and Brock Holt, to put the Bostonians up 3-2. A Blake Swihart ground out placed Shaw at third, whence he would come in to score on a Kluber wild pitch.

The Red Sox would score their final two runs in the ninth inning against Trevor Bauer. Dustin Pedroia would walk to lead off the inning, and after Xander Bogaerts struck out, David Ortiz began his farewell season on a high note, lifting a Bauer pitch over the right field wall for his first bomb of the season and the final runs in a 6-2 Boston victory.

Ye Olde Yarns of Yesteryear

First Game, First Win, First Doubleheader

The wealth of information that has become common in the age of the internet was not so common in the age before airplanes. However, we do know that Boston, in their first game as a franchise in the newly formed American League, played at Orioles Park on 4/26/1901 against the Baltimore Orioles. The Americans, led into battle by manager Jimmy Collins, were soundly defeated by the John McGraw-led Baltimore crew, 10-6.

The same two sides would meet again in 1902 to begin the season, this time in the home court of the Americans, the Huntington Avenue Baseball Grounds. The Bostonians would win their first opening day game in a squeaker, 7-6.

The next season, the Americans would once again start their season in front of the home crowd, playing the Philadelphia Athletics in a pair of games on April 20. The boys of Boston would win the first game 9-4, before being set down to defeat by the Connie Mack-led A’s in game two, 10-7.

The Tie

Before the age of artificial illumination came upon Major League Baseball in 1935 (when bright bulbs lit up Crosley Field in Cincinnati), games were often ended prematurely due to encroaching darkness. It certainly appears that must have been the case in 1910, as the Red Sox and the New York Highlanders ended their Opening Day match at Hilltop Park in a 4-4 draw. The Red Sox would get the better of New Yorkers the next day, winning a tight battle 3-2.

The Win Streak

After winning their third world championship in 1915, the Red Sox began a streak of six consecutive Opening Day wins, defeating the Philadelphia Athletics at Fenway Park by a score of 2-1 on 4/12/1916. The win streak would continue with a 10-3 whooping of the Yankees at the Polo Grounds in 1917, another home victory against the A’s in 1918 (7-1), another shellacking of the Yanks in 1919 (10-0), and consecutive defeats of the Washington Senators – a 7-6 squeaker at Fenway in 1920 and a 6-3 win at Griffith Stadium in 1921.

The Losing Streak (the first)

After a period of supremacy – with four World Championships in the 1910s – the Red Sox fell upon hard times in the 20s and early 30s, finishing at the bottom of the American League nine times between 1922 and 1933. Unsurprisingly for the often-lost Sox, their losing ways began on Opening Day, when they lost six consecutive between 1922 and 1927. Three of the defeats came at the hands of the team that Boston built: the 1923, 1924, and 1926 New York Yankees. The Bostonians also lost to the Athletics twice (1922 and 1925) and the 1927 Washington Senators. To add insult to injury, four of the defeats came by the scant margin of one run.

The First Extra Inning Game

Within the six-game losing streak and the one-run defeats, the Red Sox played their first Opening Day one-game marathon. On 4/14/1925, the Lee Fohl-led Red Sox put up a six-run advantage on Connie Mack’s men at Shibe Park. Starting pitcher Alex Ferguson held the A’s at bay through the first six, before giving up a pair in the bottom of the seventh. The Red Sox scored another run in the top of the eighth which put them up 7-2, but Ferguson would not get an out in the bottom of the eighth, allowing three runs before being relieved by Buster Ross, who would only get two outs (allowing a fourth run) before Ted Wingfield was able to end the slaughter. The Red Sox would again score a singleton in the top of the ninth, putting Boston up 8-6. Alas, Wingfield would only get one out (and be charged with two unearned runs) before giving way to Rudy Kallio, who got out of the ninth with the score tied. Unfortunately, the Bostonians would not be able to put up a run in the tenth, and the A’s would score one against Kallio in the bottom of the frame, making the denizens of Shibe Park happy on opening day.

A Pause in Frequency

The Reader may be noticing a pattern in the opposition in the early years… and it is not your imagination. Between 1901 and 1961, the Red Sox faced only four franchises on Opening Day: The Baltimore Orioles (the originals of 1901-02 and the former St. Louis Browns in 1955-57), The New York Highlanders/Yankees (whose story begins with the 1901-02 Orioles), the Washington Senators (who would relocate to Minnesota), and the Philadelphia/Kansas City Athletics .

The first time the Red Sox faced a team other than the aforementioned four franchises was in 1962, when the Cleveland Indians traveled to Fenway Park and vanquished the home squad, 4-0.

The Walk-Off of 41

Going into the 1941 home opening matchup, the Red Sox had won five of their previous six games to start the season. However, with the Bostonians down 6-4 entering the bottom of the 9th, it certainly seemed as if the Fenway Faithful would go home with frowns.

Facing off against Washington Senator’s starter Sid Hudson to start the final frame, catcher Frankie Pytlak doubled to the left-centerfield gap. With the pitcher’s spot due up, manager (and shortstop) Joe Cronin opted for a pinch-hitter, who singled to centerfield scoring Pytlak from second. Of course, given that the pinch-hitter was Ted Williams, the result was certainly not unexpected. Williams was replaced by pinch-runner Tom Carey, who was sacrificed to second base by Dom DiMaggio. Right fielder Lou Finney quickly tied the score with a single to centerfield, which sent Hudson to the showers.

Reliever Danny MacFayden could not keep the Red Sox from scoring the winning run. After giving up a single to left fielder Pete Fox (which put Finney at third), Washington manager Bucky Harris opted to intentionally walk first baseman Jimmie Foxx to set up the double play/out at all bases. But, as often seems to be the case after an intentional walk, MacFayden stayed wild, walking in the winning run as Cronin took ball four.

In 116 opening days, the 1941 walk-off is the only one the Red Sox have mustered.

The Losing Streak (Part 2)

While the perpetrators of the Red Sox first six-game Opening Day losing streak were bad teams, the teams that sank six straight in 1958-63 were merely mediocre. Alas, six consecutive losses came their way, the first three away from Fenway at the hands of the Senators (2-5), Yankees (2-3), and Senators again (1-10), followed by two defeats at home: a loss to  the Athletics (now of Kansas City) by the score of 2-5 and then a shutout by the Cleveland Indians (0-4). The final defeat was administered by the California Angels, in their first start of the season on the Left Coast.

The First Pacific Opener

In fact, the 1963 season marked the first time the Boston Red Sox exited the greater Northeast corridor (specifically, Washington D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and, of course, Boston) to begin a season. They began in the second temporary home of the California Angels, Dodger Stadium.

In a breezy two-hour affair, the Angels scored four runs off of Bill Monbouquette in the fifth inning, which was all the runs they would get, but also all the runs they would need, as California starter Ken McBride made a single mistake – allowing a solo bomb by Carl Yastrzemski in the seventh inning – in an otherwise sterling complete game outing.

The Red Sox would not start the season on the West Coast again until 1984 (losing to the Angels in a 2-1 walk-off loss). They would begin on the Left Coast in three of four seasons in the late 90s/early 2000s (wins against the Angels in 1997, the Athletics in 1998, and Mariners in 2000). The last time the Red Sox started out west was in 2008, when they started the season against Oakland… in Tokyo.

The Longest Opener

April 12, 1966 saw the Boston nine open the season at Fenway against the high-flying Orioles of Baltimore. It was a tight affair throughout: the Orioles struck first with a two-run bomb by Brooks Robinson in the first, but the Sox retaliated with three in bottom of the third (on four singles and two walks). Frank Robinson tied it up at three in the top of the fifth with his first dinger of the season, and the game would remain tied until the bottom of the eighth, when Mike Ryan doubled in George Scott with two outs after Scott had led off the inning with an improbable triple. However, the potential fifth run was cut down at the plate on the play.

Not to be outdone, the Orioles worked three singles and a walk off of four different Red Sox pitchers (starter Earl Wilson, Dick Radatz, Guido Grilli, and Dan Osinski)… but they too had their potential fifth run cut down at the plate for the out to end the inning.

In the bottom of the ninth, Stu Miller started his four-inning scoreless stint, giving up an 11th-inning walk and a 12th-inning single; neither runner was able to reach home plate. Jim Lonborg came in for the Red Sox in the 10th, pitching a perfect 10th before giving up a walk in each of the next two innings – but facing the minimum three men in each inning after inducing double plays.

But the 13th inning – Lonborg’s fourth – was to prove the Red Sox undoing. A single by Bob Johnson started the inning; he was sacrificed to second and went to third on a long fly out to centerfield. Lonborg then intentionally walked Vic Roznovsky to set up the force at second, and subsequently unintentionally walked Jerry Adair to load the bases. And then, he balked home the Orioles’ fifth run with Johnson walking in from third base. A ground out followed to end the inning… but the Red Sox went down 1-2-3 against Eddie Watt in the bottom of the frame, and left Fenway with a 5-4 defeat.

Click here for part two of the Opening Day series.


Follow Brandon on Twitter @cuzittt

Featured image courtesy of Amanda Swinhart/Boston Red Sox.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Interesting that the Red Sox never played Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, or St. Louis on Opening Day in the eight-team era. Was that a general policy, that the four East Coast teams and the four Midwest teams were always kept apart for the first series of the year, almost like informal divisions? Did Detroit (for example) only play the other three Midwest teams on Opening Day?

  2. I just looked at who Detroit opened their season with… from 1901 to 1953, they opened with either the Browns, White Sox, Indians or Brewers (1901). In 1954, they began with the Baltimore Orioles… who were the Browns. In 55, they opened with the A’s, now of Kansas City.

    Like Boston, the first time they truly ventured outside of the midwest quartet was 1962, when they went to Washington.

    More research would need to be done to say with absolute certainty that this was general policy… but it certainly appears to be.

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