Red Sox rally against Pirates' Gerrit Cole to take season opener, 5-3
April 3, 2017 5:13 PM
Elise Amendola/Associated Press
The Red Sox's Andrew Benintendi, right, celebrates his three-run homer with teammate Sandy Leon in the fifth inning Monday at Fenway Park.
Steven Senne/Associated Press
Pirates starting pitcher Gerrit Cole delivers in the fifth inning against the Boston Red Sox on opening day at Fenway Park.
By Stephen J. Nesbitt / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
BOSTON — Francisco Cervelli draped his right arm over Gerrit Cole’s shoulders and walked with him to the dugout steps at Fenway Park. The Pirates’ opening-day battery looked defeated, drained by the frustrating fifth inning Monday in which the Boston Red Sox constructed a two-out rally and busted open a scoreless game, scoring five runs in a span of five batters.
The coda to an inning that snowballed in part because of infield shifts was provided by 22-year-old rookie Andrew Benintendi. His three-run home run, blasted into the Pirates’ bullpen beyond the right-field wall, gave the Red Sox the distance they needed for a 5-3 win in the 2017 opener.
“They just hit them where we weren’t,” Cole said.
The Pirates struggled to do the same against Boston right-hander Rick Porcello, the reigning American League Cy Young award winner. Their Nos. 2-3-4 hitters — Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco — combined for 12 at-bats and contributed only one hit. McCutchen, coming off the worst season of his career, began this one by going 0 for 4 with three strikeouts.
Cole was in control for four innings, allowing only one hit — the runner was erased on a double play — and a walk. His fastball touched 99.4 mph. For Cole, who was fourth in National League Cy Young voting in 2015 but was injured four times last year, the early signs were encouraging.
The first 14 outs came easily. The 15th did not. Boston sent nine batters to the plate in the fifth.
After two were out, Jackie Bradley Jr. tripled off the wall behind McCutchen in right. Pablo Sandoval rolled a grounder to the right of shortstop Jordy Mercer, shifted toward second, for a go-ahead single. Sandy Leon, the No. 9 hitter, bunted against the shift. The inning continued.
Later, Cole said he wasn’t irked by the bunt. He and Cervelli seemed more bothered by the infield alignment. They got the intended result — weak contact — but no out. Cervelli said Cole played the situation “perfect,” and added, “It's just, you know, the way baseball is now.”
Two years ago, Benintendi was at the University of Arkansas. A year ago, he was at Class High-A Salem — he jumped directly from Class AA to the majors later in the season. On opening day, with two on and two outs in the fifth, he was waiting on Cole’s 2-2 offering. Cole had gotten ahead with back-to-back changeups and a fastball, then evened the count by burying a curveball in the dirt. Reading the way Benintendi “froze” on the first fastball, Cole said, it was worth another try.
“Obviously, he was not going to let that one get by him again,” Cole remarked.
Benintendi, betting on a fastball, whipped the barrel of his bat around to meet Cole’s 97.8 mph elevated four-seamer. Cole kicked at the dirt. On the day Benintendi became the Red Sox’s youngest opening day starter in left field since Carl Yastrzemski in 1962, he was the difference.
Cole allowed five runs on seven hits, walking one and striking out two. His counterpart, Porcello, was charged with six hits and three runs in 6⅓ innings. He walked one and struck out five.
The Pirates sliced into the Red Sox’s lead by scoring three runs in the seventh. Cervelli responded to back-to-back inside fastballs that sent him to dirt by knocking a double off the Green Monster. Josh Harrison drove in lead runner David Freese, chasing Porcello, and Jordy Mercer scored Cervelli. Marte made a bid for extra bases but settled for a sacrifice fly on a hard liner Benintendi caught running toward the warning track in left-center field.
After the game, Cole said he felt healthy and strong, which were the top priorities, and he won’t beat himself up too badly over the five-run fifth. Experiencing opening day at Fenway Park was “special,” he said, particularly with his parents and his wife, Amy, in the sold-out stadium. Cole was in the bullpen pregame when, during a salute to the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, Tom Brady raised his recovered jersey to the crowd, and Rob Gronkowski ran off with it.
“It was pretty hard not to notice something going on,” Cole said. “Tom Brady is on the field, and he's tackling Gronk. You're trying to warm up, and the crowd is going nuts. It was a really special environment. It lived up to its hype.
“It was something I'll always remember, but I’ll probably forget everything that happened after the fourth.”
Stephen J. Nesbitt: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.
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