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  • Fans cheer as A-10's from Selfridge Air National Guard base fly over Comerica Park as the Detroit Tigers faced the Boston Red Sox during a MLB game in Detroit, Michigan, Thursday, April 5, 2012. (Andre J. Jackson/Detroit Free Press/MCT)
  • Former Tigers great Al Kaline throws out the first pitch prior to the start of the Detroit's Opening Day game against the Boston Red Sox, Thursday, April 5, 2012, at Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan. Tigers won, 3-2. (Kirthmon F. Dozier/Detroit Free Press/MCT)
Friday, April 6, 2012

1 opener down, 2 to go for Red Sox

Alan Greenwood

Thursday marked Opening Day I for the Red Sox. Particularly rabid purists would make the completely legitimate case that it was the one and only real Opening Day for 2012, despite the pomp created by the circumstance of the home opener on April 13 (the beginning of its 101st season) and the celebration of Fenway Park’s 100th birthday (the opening of its 101st year) on April 20.

So, let’s agree, however briefly, that Thursday belonged to the curmudgeons. Insufferable as we will be for the ensuing 161 games, please let us grumble, unfettered by what now passes for baseball logic, just this once:

The Red Sox now have a 13-man pitching staff and Mark Melancon was the best man Bobby Valentine could haul out there for the ninth inning of a tie game in his debut as Boston’s manager?

Not all that long ago – at least for those of us beyond age 50 – it was considered silly for a team to carry more than 10 pitchers.

And for those who doubt it, even after Thursday’s ninth-inning implosion, quantity does necessarily ensure quality.

So, the 2012 Red Sox began their journey with a 3-2 loss to the Tigers. They rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the top of the ninth against Detroit closer Jose Valverde (credited with his first unearned win of the season) after struggling mightily against reigning Cy Young Award pitcher Justin Verlander.

Then came Melancon, who loosened the lugnuts on the Red Sox’ wheels, followed by Alfredo Aceves, who hit Ramon Santiago in the foot with a pitch, then served up Austin Jackson’s bases-loaded single to end it.

It was, in every sense, a miserable opening for Aceves’ career as Red Sox closer, however long it lasts. He started 2012 in the shadow of Jonathan Papelbon’s 2011 swan song, and couldn’t escape it.

But Aceves was called in only because of Melancon’s pratfall. On the road, managers routinely stay away from their closer in tie games until his club breaks the tie. That nugget of prevailing wisdom may pre-date Connie Mack’s managerial career.

At age 27, Melancon is in his third organization – he began with the Yankees, who traded him to the Astros, who traded him to the Red Sox for Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland. He has achieved his status as a journeyman reliever with impressive speed.

Before completely digressing into a time-honored rant over the way pitchers are used thanks to Tony La Russa’s trail blazing, we’ll return to Red Sox Opening Day I. Even before the Red Sox’ rally in the ninth, it was a classic opener featuring two honest-to-goodness aces in an old-fashioned duel.

Jon Lester looked like the man who was 15-6 on Sept. 6, 2011, not the one who contributed significantly to the Red Sox’ September swoon. He left after seven innings, trailing 1-0, having thrown 107 pitches.

Verlander went one more inning and allowed one less run. It would seem he has nurtured last summer’s karma and has cleared space in his den for another Cy Young Award.

Pitchers’ duels are common on opening days – the real opening days, that is. Every team is using its ace and, hitters say, cold weather benefits pitchers (a judgment that Pedro Martinez used to dismiss with one, earthy expletive).

The importance of Thursday’s game is bloated beyond reason by it being the season’s first. Unfortunately, talk-show callers have two days to brood over it.

To everyone else, don’t over-think it.

And remember, the Red Sox could still go 2 for 3 in 2012 openers.

Alan Greenwood can be reached at 594-6427 or agreenwood@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Greenwood on Twitter (@Telegraph_AlanG).