Dave D'Onofrio's Sox Beat: Despite loss, home opener will be remembered for its poignance
BOSTON -- Only moments earlier, a tied game had slipped away from them, things dissolving when Edward Mujica surrendered three ninth-inning runs before recording an out on his first day in the home whites, and ultimately resulting in a 6-2 defeat to the Milwaukee Brewers on the first day of Fenway Park's 103rd season.
But standing in front of reporters soon after, a smile came to the face of starting pitcher Jake Peavy. Same for the mug of third baseman Will Middlebrooks. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts. Catcher David Ross. And even competitive-as-they-come second baseman Dustin Pedroia.
None of the aforementioned much likes to lose, and there are plenty of others like that in a clubhouse featuring new carpet this spring — in part because of the champagne-slinging party staged in that room last October. Neither that, nor the 108 wins it took to get to that point, would've been possible if losing was well tolerated by the inhabitants of Yawkey Way.
But the smiles on the faces of those competitors expressed an understanding that in the long run what will be remembered from Friday afternoon at Fenway won't be an early April loss to a team from the other league, the likes of which would've been forgotten by morning had it occurred in mid-May.
Instead, the lasting memories will be of the signature, special moments of a pitch-perfect pre-game ceremony that appropriately celebrated the 2013 champs while remaining respectful and sensitive as it took the opportunity to once more recognize those people most affected by their city's two biggest tragedies of the past 12 months.
The memories will be of seeing the families of those victimized by last April's bombing at the Boston Marathon, plus others who played hero as the response was unfolding, walking out from the left-field corner to deliver a collection of championship rings that each featured almost eight carats — comprised of 126 diamonds, 16 sapphires, and nine rubies around a white gold band.
The memories will be of Pedroia and Jon Lester, two homegrown starters, being the first of the players to be presented with their bling. Of a flu-ridden Shane Victorino joining his teammates for the ceremony, but offering his elbow instead of a handshake when acknowledging them. Of the semi-retired Ryan Dempster, who threw batting practice to his dad at Fenway in the early morning hours after he became a champion last October, taking the moment to another generation by bringing his son onto the field with him when he was given his reward.
The memories will be of David Ortiz giving out, literally, hundreds of hugs — be they to team staffers, to those affected by the bombing, or to the firefighters from Engine 33 and Ladder 15, who were honored after losing two of their own while fighting a blaze in Boston's Back Bay neighborhood last week.
And maybe the most poignant memory will be of when those firefighters came on to the field and lowered the newly raised American flag and 2013 pennant to half-staff in honor of their fallen brothers.
The memories won't be of the game, because it was mostly unmemorable. Peavy turned in six gritty innings over which he scattered six hits plus a couple of walks, and left with the game tied at 2-apiece thanks to Middlebrooks' first homer of the season.
Maybe Friday will later be remembered as the first sign of trouble for Mujica, the ex-Cardinal, but he's got enough of a track record to think this might well just be a hiccup he'll forget along with the rest of us.
"I'm not going to think about the loss," Middlebrooks said. "It's a fun time. A lot of guys play baseball for many years and never get to experience that."
"It was pretty special," Pedroia added, speaking about the day as a whole. "All of it was awesome."
The one player who might remember the game is Brewer first baseman Lyle Overbay — who went through spring training as a member of the 2013 Red Sox, but was released in late March after losing a roster battle to Mike Carp. Coincidentally, after watching those he could've called teammates collect their rings, it was he who ripped the two-run, tie-breaking double that gave Milwaukee the lead it wouldn't relinquish.
But at the end of the day, the Sox could live with Overbay having his moment — and still smile about how the day played out.
Dave D'Onofrio covers the Red Sox for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.