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In Like a Lion

Friday, March 1, 2013 – JetBlue Park, Ft. Myers

Red Sox 5, Pirates 2

On the first day of March, the Red Sox were back home in Ft. Myers for a game against the Pirates.  It would have been a nice day for an afternoon game, but a cold front had come through, meaning that my normal shorts and sandals attire wasn’t going to cut it for a night game.  It was disappointing to put on socks and sneakers, long pants, and an actual coat for a spring training game, but I kept reminding myself that Fenway won’t be this warm until June.

Our seats were behind home plate, almost all the way back.  That meant we were a few rows in front of the broadcast booth, and with tonight’s game on NESN, we noticed Jerry Remy in the booth when we first got there.  When we saw another fan asking him for an autograph, we did too.  The trick is to know which window is his, see him in there, call out to ask him, and then stretch from the back row to pass the item up to him.  With that, I was done with my autographs for the week.  I was happy with the amount I had gotten at the workout the day before, so there was no sense waiting down by the field; in order to get a good spot I’d have to stand down there for two hours until just before the game started, and then it might turn out that the players who came over to sign were ones I already had.

Jon Lester's wife and son were in the stands to watch him pitch.

Jon Lester's wife and son were in the stands to watch him pitch.

Sitting in front of the broadcast booth meant we were also right behind the section where players’ families and friends sit to watch the game.  We soon spotted Jon Lester’s wife and their 2-year-old son, Hudson, who was wearing a #31 jersey.  They were joined a little while later by Clay Buchholz’s wife and daughter, Colbie, who’s the same age.  (That threw me off a little at first, because Clay wasn’t pitching in the game tonight, but it makes sense that their families would be friends – and if each wife only went to the game when her husband was pitching, they’d never get to sit together.)

Jon Lester had a good, efficient start.  It was his second outing of the spring, so he went three innings, and he allowed only a walk in the second inning and a single in the third.  (Between innings, I saw his wife checking her phone and joked that she was getting a text: “OK, let’s go,” but I was impressed that they actually stayed outside for most of the game, despite the cold.)  The Red Sox had taken the lead in the first.  With runners at first and second, Mike Napoli had his first at-bat of the spring, and he made it count, grounding it back off the pitcher for an RBI single.  Stephen Drew followed with a double, knocking in another run.  Napoli then scored on a wild pitch (despite not being allowed to slide yet, as he was easing into things after being diagnosed with a degenerative hip condition) to score the Sox’ third run.

Rubby De La Rosa was impressive in his two scoreless innings of work.

Rubby De La Rosa was impressive in his two scoreless innings of work.

After Lester was finished, Rubby De La Rosa was next to take the mound.  He’s one of the prospects who came over in last summer’s big trade with the Dodgers, and I get a kick out of the fact that his grandmother was once a nanny to Pedro Martinez and his siblings.  While Rubby is probably still a year away from the majors as he comes back from Tommy John surgery, I was looking forward to seeing him pitch.  He breezed through two scoreless innings with just one hit and two strikeouts.  Meanwhile, Dustin Pedroia hit a two-run single, giving the Sox a more comfortable 5-0 lead.

Next on a night of fun-to-watch pitching came Steven Wright, the knuckleballer acquired in a different trade last year.  There had been a lot of hype about his last start, when he had faced off against fellow knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, with Tim Wakefield in attendance that day and in camp to mentor him earlier this week.  He too looked strong in his first two innings, allowing only one hit and striking out two.  (We looked around to see if we could see Wake somewhere while Wright was pitching, but he wasn’t in the family section, nor was he in John W. Henry’s suite behind us – which we had noticed a few innings earlier when a foul ball landed in the front of the box just as the owner had opened the door to come sit outside; it would have been funny if he had caught it.)  JetBlue Park has a nice new scoreboard this year that gives the pitcher’s name (most spring training parks don’t) and type of pitch, but it’s too bad they don’t show the pitch speed too, because I heard Wright threw harder than Wake, and I would have liked to compare them better.

A lot of good pitching was on display at JetBlue Park tonight.

A lot of good pitching was on display at JetBlue Park tonight.

But as we Red Sox fans know all too well, a knuckleball pitcher can lose it quickly too.  Wright came back in the eighth for his third inning of work and suddenly struggled.  He walked three and gave up two hits.  Two runs scored, and only a diving catch by Jeremy Hazelbaker in left prevented it from being worse.  The last batter he faced (walking him to load the bases) was Jeremy Farrell, the third baseman the Pirates had brought up from minor league camp for the game because he’s the son of the Red Sox manager.  (I joked that John Farrell left Wright in as long as he did so his son could face a struggling pitcher rather than a fresh arm from the bullpen, but I’m sure they were really just trying to give Wright the chance to pitch his way out of it.)

Alex Wilson, who pitched in Triple A for the Sox last year, was summoned in with one out and the bases loaded.  The first batter he faced lined it back to the mound, where Wilson caught it and then fired to first to double off the runner and end the inning.  Then after giving up two hits in the ninth, Wilson induced another double play to end the fun game on a high note.

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