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Official Unofficial Start of Spring

Thursday, February 26 – City of Palms Park, Ft. Myers

Pirates 3, Red Sox 2

Today marked the first home game of the Grapefruit League season for the Red Sox. They hosted the Pittsburgh Pirates on a warm, sunny afternoon for an official nine-inning major league exhibition. We got to the game early, while the Red Sox were still taking batting practice. (I noticed Ino Guerrero was throwing B.P., so he appears to have recovered nicely from his appearance in yesterday’s Boston College game.) I went down to the area next to the dugout in the hopes of getting a few last autographs, but no one signed when they came off the field from B.P. I had a good spot though, and there would be one more chance when the players came back out to stretch right before the game. We saw Brad Penny and Big Papi signing in that area yesterday, so I thought it was worth a shot. I waited for over an hour in that spot, but didn’t wind up with anything. Lars Anderson, the power-hitting first base prospect, signed a few, but it was further down than where I was standing. Jon Lester handed a baseball to a kid, but since he was starting he didn’t stop to sign. The only one who came close to me was minor leaguer Zach Daeges, but I already had his autograph from one of the workout days.

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Johnny Pesky brought out the lineup card for the Red Sox.

Jon Lester started, and he was good in his two innings of work. He gave up a two-out single to Andy LaRoche in the first, but he got Eric Hinske to ground out to end the inning. Hinske and fellow ‘07 Sox alum Brandon Moss got cheers from the crowd each time they batted. Moss led off the second with a single. But Lester got a fly ball to right for the first out, and then a liner right back to him that he was able to snare and flip to first in time to double off Moss to end the inning.

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Jon Lester throws a pitch in the second inning.

Speaking of players returning to face their old teams, it was too bad Jason Bay wasn’t in the game today to face his old mates. Most of the Red Sox starters – Bay included – had played in the night game at Minnesota yesterday, so they weren’t in this afternoon game. We did get to see Julio Lugo, David Ortiz, and J.D. Drew, all of whom had been in the afternoon game yesterday, plus Dustin Pedroia and Jason Varitek.

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Former PawSox - and Red Sox - teammates Jeff Bailey and Brandon Moss.

In the first inning, Pedroia and Drew walked. Varitek came up with two outs and tried to end the inning with a grounder to short, but the Pirate shortstop bobbled it long enough for Tek to reach and keep the inning alive. Jeff Bailey capitalized, driving a single to right to knock in two runs.

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The Little MVP Who Could takes a big swing.

Thanks to some really good pitching, the Sox held that 2-0 lead through eight innings. Takashi Saito gave up a single but recorded two strikeouts in his inning. Hideki Okajima and Wes Littleton set their batters down 1-2-3. Fernando Cabrera gave up a walk and a hit, but escaped with a scoreless inning. Hunter Jones pitched a perfect seventh.

And then after the supply of major league and Triple A pitchers ran out, they raided the Double A roster. Adam Mills did a good job with a 1-2-3 eighth. Richie Lentz came on for the ninth, trying to protect a 2-0 lead. He struck out the first batter, but then hit a batter and walked a guy, before giving up a run-scoring single. That brought John Farrell out to the mound for a chat, but Lentz plunked the next guy to load the bases. That brought Tito out for the pitching change. It seemed like a longer wait than usual to see who’d be coming in from the pen. We envisioned whoever was left out there saying, “I’m not going out there. You go.” “No, you.” (Either that or they were getting Ino Guerrero warmed up.) Finally, #96, Mike James, emerged. “This #96 guy had better get out of this mess,” I said, “or we’ll have to find a triple-digit number to replace him.” James got a ground ball for the second out, but the tying run came in on the play. The next batter hit a grounder to short, but Argenis Diaz booted it, and the go-ahead run came in.

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The Red Sox and Pirates met in a matinee at City of Palms Park.

In the ninth, the Sox got one last chance to tie it. Chris Carter and Josh Reddick flied out, but Carlos Maldonado, the catcher who had come in for Tek earlier, walked. George Kottaras – another catcher – came in to pinch-run. (”Wow, how slow is Maldonado?” we wondered.) That brought up 21-year-old Lars Anderson, the best power-hitting prospect in the organization. But he struck out looking, ending the game.

Tomorrow it’s on to Port Charlotte, where we check out the Rays’ new stadium and attempt to exact some revenge for last year’s ALCS.

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