Red Sox Home Openers from 1968 to Today

Since 1901, and the inception of the American League, fans of the Boston club have waited excitedly for the opening of the baseball season. Whether as the Red Sox or as the Americans, the devotees of the Boston nine have waited for the arrival of that special day in April (and twice in May) when both the Huntington Avenue Grounds and Fenway Park opened up for the season and the grand game began again. With the 117th Red Sox home opening day this past Monday, we look back at the previous 116 editions of Red Sox home openers for fun facts, diverse digits, and curious chestnuts.

The Numbers

Home Opening Day Record:  71-50

Extra Inning Games: 10 (Record: 2-8)

Double Headers: 5 (1903 / 1910 / 1940 / 1948 / 1953)

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

Earliest Opening Day: 4/1/2002 (vs. Toronto)

Latest Opening Day: 5/8/1901 (vs. Philadelphia)

Most Frequent Opponent: The New York Highlanders/Yankees – 28 times (29 if one includes the Baltimore Orioles of 1902)

Consecutive Wins: 9 (2005-2013)

Consecutive Losses: 5 (1924-28 and 1930-34)

Biggest Wins: 11 runs (2007 vs. Seattle (14-3))

Largest Loss: 7 runs (1968 vs. Detroit (2-9) and 2003 vs. Baltimore (6-13))

The Impossible Return

After beginning on the road in 1968, the defending AL Champions were slated to start their home season on Monday, April 15. However, rain defeated that plan, so a capacity crowd of 32,849 welcomed the Pennant winners on Tuesday, the 16th.

Boston struck first in the second inning as Elston Howard singled in Joe LaHoud, who had singled to start the inning off of Detroit Tigers starter Earl Wilson. Meanwhile, Red Sox starter Ray Culp kept juggling baserunners through the first three innings, giving up three singles, a pair of walks, and a hit by pitch… but no runs.

Culp’s luck changed for the worst in the fourth, however. Bill Freehan started the inning with a single and then Jim Northrup drew a walk. After disposing of shortstop Ray Oyler with an infield popup, Wilson tied the score with a single to right. Dick McAuliffe walked to load the bases for Don Wert, who unloaded the bases with a single to right fielder Joe LaHoud, who misplayed the ball for the first error before Dalton Jones compounded the chaos with an error of his own at third base. Al Kaline flew out for the second out of the inning, but that was the last out Culp would garner. Willie Horton doubled in Wert. A Norm Cash walk and an infield single by Freehan reloaded the bases for Northrup, who picked up an RBI with his second walk of the frame. Culp was replaced by Lee Strange to face Ray Oyler. However, the anemic batsman drove a single into centerfield, scoring two more and putting the Tigers up 8-1. Wilson would ground out to end the inning, but the damage was done.

Both teams put an additional run on the board, but the defending champions would go down to their worse home opening defeat, 9-2.

An Extra-Inning Walk-Off

After beginning the season with three losses in their first five games in Chicago and Cleveland – two via walk-offs – the 1978 Red Sox returned to Fenway against the Texas Rangers and turned their fortunes around. The Rangers, after picking up single runs against Red Sox starter Dennis Eckersley in the second, third, seventh, and eighth innings, led Boston 4-2 entering the bottom of the eighth.

However, with one out, Butch Hobson drove a Len Barker pitch out of the Fens to put the game within one. Jerry Remy hustled his way on base with an infield single, went to second on a passed ball, and scurried to third on a ground out by Rick Burleson. Barker then faced Jim Rice, who slapped a sharp single into centerfield to tie the game. Carl Yastrzemski would lift a fly ball to end the inning, but the damage had been done.

The Rangers and Sox each put a pair of runners on base in the ninth, but were unable to procure a run. Texas put two more on base in the top of the 10th against the tiring Eckersley, who was pulled for Dick Drago with two outs. Drago threw a wild pitch – moving the runners to second and third – before dismissing Toby Harrah with a strikeout to end the inning.

Hobson led off the bottom of the 10th with a single to centerfield, and was sacrificed to second by Remy. Hobson would move to third on a Burleson ground out… and the eighth-inning scenario was again at hand for Ranger’s manager Billy Hunter. With two outs and the now-game-winning runner at third, should Len Barker face Rice or walk him to get to Yaz? Hunter opted for the same decision as the eighth, and Rice came up with his second consecutive RBI single and the home team was victorious.

Bruce Almighty

The 1987 Red Sox started their pennant defense by being swept by the Brew Crew in Milwaukee. Staggering home with an 0-3 record, the defending AL Champions hoped that the friendly confines of Fenway would bring home the first victory of the year on Friday, April 10.

Jim Rice would put the first run on the board in the bottom of the second, leading off the frame with a bomb off of Toronto’s Dave Stieb into the centerfield bleachers. Marc Sullivan would blast one over the Monster leading off the third inning making the score 2-0. In the fifth, Wade Boggs would double and was brought in for the third, and final run by Bill Buckner.

But, the story of the day was on the mound, where Bruce Hurst baffled the Blue Jays. Jesse Barfield reached base in the second on a Spike Owens error. Garth Iorg singled in the third, but was erased on a forceout by Tony Fernandez, who was himself caught stealing. Hurst would run through the Toronto lineup in order until facing Fernandez in the sixth, as he picked up a single. Two innings later, Willie Upshaw walked to begin the eighth, but was erased on a double play inducing ground out by Matt Stark. And, that was all Hurst gave up. Over nine full, Hurst gave up two singles and a walk while striking out six and not allowing a single Torontonian to reach second base. Red Sox put up their first victory of the season with a 3-0 whitewash of the Blue Jays.

A Walk-Off For the Ages

The Red Sox stumbled home on April 10, 1998 to face Seattle, having lost three straight, and five of eight in their beginning road trip of Oakland, Seattle, and Anaheim. Boston was able to garner the first runs of the game in the fourth inning off of Randy Johnson, with Jim Leyritz getting plunked and Damon Buford improbably connecting to drive a Johnson pitch over the Green Monster. However, that was all the Boston batters could muster against Johnson, who went eight strong innings.

Seattle would tie the game in the sixth inning, as Joey Cora earned a walk off of starter Brian Rose, Alex Rodriguez would move him to second with an infield single, and then – after a Ken Griffey Jr. strikeout – Edgar Martinez would double them both in. That was the final pitch for Rose, who would give way to Jim Corsi, who induced a grounder by David Segui to third baseman John Valentin, who misplayed it into the third run of the inning.

Seattle would score two runs in the eighth (off of Steve Avery and Dennis Eckersley) and two more in the ninth (against Tom Gordon) – heading into the bottom of the final frame with a comfortable five run advantage.

Randy Johnson would give way to Heathcliff Slocumb, who allowed a single to Damon Buford, a walk to Mark Lemke, and a Darren Bragg double, scoring Buford. Maneuvering from both managers led to Tony Fossas pitching to Mike Benjamin, who took a walk to load the bases. Mike Timlin replaced Fossas, but like Fossas and Slocumb, had no luck with these never-say-die Red Sox. Nomar Garciaparra singled in Lemke and then John Valentin was plunked, scoring Bragg. With the bases loaded and still no outs, the Red Sox were within two runs of the Mariners. Manager Lou Piniella would call to the pen for the fourth time in the inning, calling forth Paul Spoljaric to face Mo Vaughn. Vaughn did not dilly-dally in ending the comeback, parking a Spoljaric pitch into the right field bleachers for the walk-off grand slam. Seven men came up to the plate in the bottom of the ninth, and all seven came in to score.

The Red Sox would go on to win 13 of their next 14 contests, with four more walk-off wins.

The Earliest Game

After six consecutive seasons beginning their season on the road, the Red Sox opened the 2002 season on April 1 at Fenway Park against the Toronto Blue Jays. Four and a quarter hours after it began, 23 runs and 27 hits had been put on the board.

The Red Sox faithful had reason to be hopeful with Pedro Martinez strutting to the mound, but the Cy Young award winner did not have it this day. A walk, a hit by pitch, and a pair of doubles saw three runs score in the first. A double, an error, and four consecutive singles saw the Blue Jays put a four spot on the board in the second, before Pedro settled down to strike out the next three batters. A triple and a sacrifice fly saw the Torontonians pick up an eighth run against Martinez in the third inning, and after putting the first two Blue Jays on base in the fourth, Martinez was mercifully pulled.

However, Blue Jays starter Chris Carpenter was no more successful. Jose Offerman rocketed a ball over the right centerfield wall in the first inning. Trot Nixon and Jason Varitek would put two runs on the board with solo bombs in the second. In the third inning, it was Tony Clark who knocked in Manny Ramirez and Nomar Garciaparra with his three-run blast off of Carpenter. In the bottom of the fourth, the Red Sox took the lead for the only time in the game, parlaying two walks, four singles, and a sacrifice fly into five runs off of reliever Scott Eyre.

With Boston up 11-8, it was time for the Blue Jays to come back, which they immediately did with three runs in the top of the fifth. Like Boston in the bottom of the fourth, Toronto parlayed four singles, a hit by pitch, and a sacrifice fly off of Darren Oliver into a tie game at 11. And, then the middle relief found a rhythm. Rolando Arrojo, Casey Fossum, and Rich Garces kept Toronto off the board in the sixth, seventh, and eighth. Scott Cassidy, Felix Heredia, Dan Plesac, and Kelvim Escobar kept the Sox scoreless from the fifth through the eighth.

Manager Grady Little brought closer Ugueth Urbina out for the ninth inning, and after getting Eric Hinske to fly out, he walked Raul Mondesi and gave up a single to Carlos Delgado. After a double steal put runners at second and third, Little ordered Urbina to intentionally walk Jose Cruz to put a force out at all bases. But, Urbina could not induce a grounder, instead Darrin Fletcher lifted a ball to centerfielder Johnny Damon, and Mondesi trotted home for the lead. Urbina struck out Wells to end the frame, but the Red Sox got only a single from Tony Clark against Escobar in the bottom of the ninth, and went down to defeat 12-11.

The Biggest Victory

The Red Sox began the 2007 season on the road in Kansas City and Texas, coming home with a 3-3 record on April 10 to face the Seattle Mariners. And, the offense put a hurting on the M’s early.

After Josh Beckett dismissed Ichiro Suzuki, Adrian Beltre, and Jose Vidro in the top of the first, the offense went to work against Jeff Weaver. Julio Lugo drew a walk, which was followed by three consecutive singles by Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, and Manny Ramirez – which put the first run on the board. J.D. Drew would sacrifice home Youkilis before Jason Varitek earned a walk to reload the bases. Coco Crisp would put the final two runs on the board with an automatic double, before Dustin Pedroia ended the inning on a deep fly out.

The Red Sox would score three more in the second inning, with Lugo and Youkilis each doubling, and Drew picking up his second and third RBI of the game with a blast to centerfield. Each side would score a single run in the third to make the score 8-1. The Red Sox would put up another crooked number in the fourth inning, with a walk (to Manny Ramirez) and an error by Yunieski Betancourt (Drew reaching) setting up an RBI double by Mike Lowell and a two-run single by Jason Varitek.  The Sox would score another two in the fifth as David Ortiz and Eric Hinske each walked and Wily Mo Pena was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Mike Lowell would drive Ortiz in on a double-play grounder, while Hinske would score on a Varitek double. The Red Sox would score their 14th and final run in the bottom of the seventh, before Mike Timlin allowed a pair of meaningless runs to Seattle in the top of the ninth. After three hours and 14 hits, the Red Sox had an 11-run win.

The National League Joins the Fray

For the 2014 home opener, the Red Sox played host to a familiar foe from the National League. The Milwaukee Brewers would join the world champions in opening up Fenway Park for the season – their second time facing Boston in the Fenway home opener. The first time, in 1975, the Brewers were a member of the American League. But, in this engagement, they carried the hopes of the National League as they looked to end the Red Sox nine-game home-opener winning streak.

The Brewers struck first as Jonathan Lucroy led off the second inning with a long homer over the Monster against Jake Peavy. Later in the inning, Carlos Gomez would single in Khris Davis for the second run of the game. In the bottom of the frame, the Red Sox would claim one run back. Mike Napoli started the inning with a walk, and after Mike Carp popped out, Grady Sizemore singled into right field. Logan Schafer’s throw to third baseman Aramis Ramirez went awry, with Napoli able to scamper home for the first Boston run. The next inning, Will Middlebrooks would tie the game by knocking a Marco Estrada pitch over the Monster.

Peavy and Burke Badenhop would keep the Brewers off the board through eight innings, while Estrada, Will Smith, and Brandon Kintzler would do the same with Boston’s offense. In the top of the ninth, John Farrell would opt to bring on reliever Edward Mujica. Mujica would give up a double to Khris Davis and then allowed Scooter Gennett to reach first on the sacrifice bunt attempt, as Davis motored into third safely. Lyle Overbay would bring both runners home and break the tie with a double down the first base line. He would score one batter later as Carlos Gomez singled him in. Two outs later, Aramis Ramirez would single in Jean Segura for the fourth run of the inning and end Mujica’s day. Andrew Miller would end the inning with a strikeout of Davis, but not before reloading the bases on back-to-back walks.

The Red Sox trio of Jonny Gomes, Grady Sizemore, and Xander Bogaerts went down meekly in the bottom of the ninth against Francisco Rodriguez, and the warm glow of the championship celebration was doused with the Red Sox first home opening loss in a decade.

Click here for a recap of Opening Day from 2017, and you can read part one of the series herepart two here, and part three here.


Follow Brandon on Twitter @cuzittt

Featured image courtesy of Hanscom Air Force Base.

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