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Scintillating win in opener gives Red Sox first laugh at critics

Well, well, well. That was actually … dare I say … fun?

Huh.

We killed them all winter, bemoaned their lack of talent relative to the rest of the division, and prepared ourselves for another worthless summer. And then the Red Sox opened the 2024 season with exactly the kind of performance that might actually win us back.

Opening Day was made for overreactions, but every once in a while, the themes of Game 1 carry right through 162. No one expected anything of the 2013 Red Sox, and then Jonny Gomes scored from second on an infield single to finish a blowout of the Yankees. Seven months later, he placed the World Series trophy at the Marathon finish line to complete that inspiring, improbable Boston Strong journey.

No one’s booking preemptive October lodging in Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Arizona just yet, but the Red Sox opened their season with a brand of baseball that manager Alex Cora hinted at all spring – aggressive, dynamic, athletic, and most importantly, entertaining.

They were the better team virtually from start to finish in a 6-4 victory over the Mariners that gave anyone who stayed up plenty of motivation to tune back in for another late one on Friday night.

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So widely tabbed for last place that I’m not sure even a single analyst predicted they’d reach the playoffs, the Red Sox seemingly took aim squarely at their critics: You may not think the season’s worth playing, but we do.

If you wanted excitement, they provided it. To wit:

  • Tyler O’Neill entered the game hoping to break a tie with three Hall of Famers for the most consecutive openers with at a home run. The bat barely left his shoulder in his first three plate appearances, but he finally unloaded in the eighth inning, lining a homer to right-center that gave the Red Sox breathing room and O’Neill a record fifth straight opening-day bomb. The Gold Glover also made a pair of above-average catches in right field.

  • Rafael Devers carried a torrid spring into the games that count, giving the Red Sox a 2-0 lead by absolutely mauling a home run to left-center. After displaying opposite-field power throughout the Grapefruit League, Devers had little trouble turning around a 95 mph fastball from Mariners ace Luis Castillo. Devers may have produced another 30-100 season last year, but he’d be the first to admit it was mostly empty calories. This was more like it.

  • The Red Sox wreaked havoc on the bases, whether it was rookie Ceddanne Rafaela turning a clear double to left into a hustle triple, veteran Trevor Story beating out a routine grounder to third in the ninth, or Jarren Duran nearly stealing home before calling it off at the last second. (He would’ve made it). The Red Sox also stole three bases and manufactured runs on grounders by Rafaela and Casas, both while behind in the count.

  • Fresh off a six-year, $55 million extension, right-hander Brayan Bello pared down his arsenal to sinker-slider-changeup and made just one mistake that Mitch Haniger blasted for a two-run homer. He otherwise delivered five effective innings to outduel his All-Star counterpart and claim the win.

  • Other than a shaky appearance from left-hander Joely Rodriguez, the bullpen made the lead stand, with closer Kenley Jansen doing his best Lee Smith impersonation by lumbering into the game after an injured-riddled spring and then doing what he does best, striking out two during a scoreless ninth to save the 421st game of his career. He could be fourth on the all-time list by the All-Star break.

There was so much to like, it’s hard to believe it all happened in the opener.

“It’s the best,” O’Neill told NESN. “The boys, we showed up today.”

They’ve got miles to go to win back a fan base that has been relentlessly alienated by ownership’s indifference, the loss of multiple homegrown stars, and three last-place finishes in four years. But if you’re drawing up step one of the redemption tour, you could hardly conceive of a better start.

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