Monday's Patriots' Day game had a unique atmosphere in the wake of last year's tragedy. (Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox honored the victims of last year's Boston Marathon bombings before Sunday night's nationally televised game at Fenway Park, and the one-year anniversary of the bombings was last Tuesday, April 15. However, it wasn't until the running of the marathon and the traditional 11 a.m. start at Fenway Park on Patriots' Day that Boston seemed to come full circle from last year's tragedy.
The Red Sox took the field on Monday, a beautiful sunny day in Boston, wearing the home "Boston" jerseys that they debuted in their first post-bombing home game last April 20 with "B Strong" patches on the upper left chest. Otherwise, the focus of the day was the game at hand, one that would end nine innings later with the tying run on third base and the Orioles celebrating a 7-6 victory.
Baltimore scored six of those seven runs in the third inning, bouncing Boston starter Clay Buchholz from the game with a barrage of singles. The O's singled five times in a row to open the inning for three runs, then tacked on an RBI groundout, a double by backup catcher Steve Clevenger and an RBI single by Sunday night's goat Jonathan Schoop to make it 6-0 and prompt the departure of Buchholz, who struggled with his velocity throughout his abbreviated outing.
VERDUCCI: Return to normalcy for Boston, Red Sox and Patriots Day
Buchholz, who threw 55 pitches in what was his worst start since 2012 per game score, topped out at 91 miles per hour and was sitting in the upper 80s; he averaged 92.5 mph two starts ago and is usually around 93 mph when healthy. Anticipating the early start, Buchholz slept at Fenway Park on Sunday night following the team's late game against the Orioles, taking advantage of the team's new sleep room. It's possible that the unusual sleeping arrangements had an impact on his performance, but given the fact that Buchholz's velocity has been an issue going back to last season, it seems more likely that there's something of greter significant at work here.
According to the Pitch f/x data at BrooksBaseball.net, Buchholz's average fastball velocity has declined steadily since 2010, when it peaked at 94.3 mph, and the righthander averaged just 89.3 mph with the pitch in his lone World Series start in October. Prior to Monday's start, Buchholz had averaged 91.2 mph through his first three starts of the season, the first of which also saw him give up six runs on 13 hits over 4 1/3 innings.
Put in that early hole, the Red Sox spent the rest of the game trying to dig out, something 3 2/3 scoreless innings of relief from Burke Badenhop nearly made possible. Boston scored three off Orioles starter Wei-Yin Chen in the fifth and added solo home runs from catcher David Ross off O's lefty Zach Britton in the seventh and first baseman Mike Napoli off righty sidearmer Darren O'Day in the eighth, but Baltimore scratched out an insurance run against lefty Craig Breslow in the top of the eighth that proved to be the difference.
Trailing 7-5 with one out in the bottom of the ninth, third baseman Brock Holt reached on an infield single and was doubled to third by Dustin Pedroia on a hit high off the Green Monster that resembled his reviewed double from Sunday night. That brought up David Ortiz as the winning run with the tying runs in scoring position, but a potentially great piece of baseball theater was dashed by Baltimore manager Buck Showalter's willingness to put the tying run on base so as not to have to face Ortiz in that situation. The move worked. Though Orioles closer Tommy Hunter fell behind Mike Napoli 3-1 (with the one strike being a clearly blown call by home plate umpire Will Little), Hunter got both Napoli and leftfielder Mike Carp to ground out, allowing just one more run to score and handing the Orioles a 7-6 win.
As the Red Sox and Orioles played through the morning, the Boston Marathon went off without a hitch. American Meb Keflezighi, a 38-year-old born in Eritrea, was the first man across the finish line, becoming the first American man to win it since 1983 and the oldest man to do so since 40-year-old Ohio native Clarence deMar in 1930. The women's winner, Rita Jeptoo, who also won last year, set a record time for a female runner at 2:18:57.
In other sartorial news, the NESN broadcasters and crew all wore running shoes in solidarity with the marathoners, and the Red Sox plan to make their "Boston" jerseys their standard Patriots' Day uniform going forward. In the latter case, here's hoping they'll add a blue outline to the letters, replicating the design of their standard home and road uniforms, as well as the numbers on the back of the Boston jerseys, and preventing the honorary uniform from looking like a cheap replica. That nitpick of the Boston jersey may seem trivial, but the significance of this Patriots' Day is the ability to return our focus to trivial things. The Red Sox may have lost, and Buchholz may be a going concern for the team, but Monday was nonetheless a victory for Boston, a welcome return to normalcy on one of the city's most valued holidays.