BOSTON — Given the exhaustive roster of Chicago Cubs personnel that once either played or worked for the Boston Red Sox, Theo Epstein dubbed Friday night’s series opener at Fenway Park “a family reunion.”
By the time it was over, though, Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez had another way of describing it.
“It was like a World Series game,” he said.
Indeed, if you didn’t know it was only April 28, the sight of flame-throwing Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel facing Cubs sluggers Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo in the ninth inning and the sound of 37,054 strong on its feet offered a distinctly late-October vibe.
Here’s the rub: The Red Sox and the Cubs — both 12-10 and muddling through the season’s first month — must play better before they can even fantasize about that.
The Red Sox, in particular, are still adjusting to life without retired franchise icon David Ortiz. Entering Friday night, they had scored 78 runs, tied with the Toronto Blue Jays for the second-fewest in the league. Over the previous seven games, they scored only 13 runs and were shut out three times, including Thursday night on a 97-pitch gem from New York Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka.
Surely, then, sending 10 batters to the plate, notching six hits (three for extra bases) and putting up a five-spot in the first inning against Cubs co-ace Jake Arrieta qualified as catharsis, even though the Sox didn’t score again and held on for a 5-4 victory thanks to ace relief work from Fernando Abad in the eighth inning and Kimbrel in the ninth.
“Scoring runs in general, it’s only a matter of time,” center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. said. “Struggle is only temporary. We’ll stay consistent with our approaches and put some good swings on some pitches and see what happens.”
In an attempt to shock the offense back to life, manager John Farrell shuffled the batting order Friday, moving shortstop Xander Bogaerts into the leadoff spot and dropping Dustin Pedroia to the No. 6 hole. It marked the first time in 1,416 career major league games that Pedroia batted sixth.
For a span of eight batters, at least, it seemed to work. Andrew Benintendi belted a one-out solo homer before Mookie Betts, Hanley Ramirez and Mitch Moreland strung together hits. Pedroia drew a walk, Bradley and Vazquez lined back-to-back singles, and all of a sudden, the Red Sox had scored more runs in one inning than they did in the previous 26 innings combined.
Farrell chalked it up to better discipline at the plate, swinging only at pitches in the strike zone rather than chasing bad pitches.
“Guys had some rhythm,” Pedroia said. “We found some holes, had some good at-bats in a row. So, it was nice.”
Said Ramirez: “We know we have to score some runs. We haven’t been able to do that lately. But it’s coming along.”
It came and went, as the Cubs held the Red Sox to seven hits for the rest of the game. After the first inning, the highlight for Sox fans was the sight of former favorites Jon Lester, John Lackey and Koji Uehara on the center-field video screen. Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer, vice president Jason McLeod, coaches Eric Hinske and Darnell McDonald, hitting consultant Kevin Youkilis and former farmhand Rizzo are the other members of the Cubs’ traveling party with Red Sox ties.
Never mind all that, though. The fast start was a good sign for a Red Sox lineup that will cling to anything positive it can find in order to avoid pressing any further. One night after Bogaerts pined for Ortiz, Pedroia shrugged off being moved down in the batting order by going 2-for-3.
And if Farrell decides to stay with this alignment for a while?
“It doesn’t matter,” Pedroia said. “Just add 6-hole to the list. I’ll rake in that spot, too.”
Reunion week continues with a 4:05 p.m. ET first pitch Saturday and an 8:05 p.m. ET game Sunday on ESPN. In between, Epstein will get on stage with Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder in a concert to benefit the Foundation To Be Named Later charity that the Cubs president co-founded when he was GM of the Red Sox.
After that? Well, Vazquez knows when he would like to see the Cubs again.
“They have a great team and great hitters, good players. We do, too,” he said. “Hope to see them in the World Series.”