BOSTON -- The Boston Red Sox do home openers better than anyone these days. That’s not opinion; that’s fact, at least when it comes to the outcome.
The Sox have now won eight home openers in a row, the longest streak in club history and longer than anybody currently playing, after beating the Tampa Bay Rays, 12-2, before a crowd of 37,032 on a picture-postcard day at Fenway Park.
The Sox also have scored five or more runs in each of their past 15 home openers since losing to the Mariners, 5-3, in 1997. They’re averaging 8 ½ runs per game in those openers.
But for all the scripted pageantry -- first-ball pitches by Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield, the Pops and Tanglewood chorus nailing the anthem, flyover by the Green Mountain Boys and an appearance by 92-year-old Johnny Pesky -- and well-choreographed pitching by Josh Beckett, the day was overshadowed by one ominous unplanned moment.
Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury left the game with an injured right shoulder after Rays shortstop Reid Brignac fell on him while completing a double play in the fourth inning. Ellsbury’s extended shoulder appeared to take the full brunt of Brignac’s weight as he was upended by Ellsbury’s slide.
The Sox announced during the game that Ellsbury would undergo further evaluation. Ellsbury, the MVP runner-up last season, was injured almost two years ago to the day when he collided with Adrian Beltre on April 11, 2010, and fractured several ribs, missing all but 18 games that season.
The Red Sox began the season with nine players on the disabled list; Ellsbury could potentially become the 10th.
If the Red Sox need an outfielder, their options are relatively limited. Jason Repko was one of the team’s final cuts in spring training as he tried to make the club as a nonroster player, while Taiwanese native Che-Hsuan Lin may be the best defensive outfielder in the organization but is limited offensively.
All three other Sox outfielders on the major league roster can play center field, with Cody Ross probably the best of the three. Ross went into center and Ryan Sweeney went into the game in right after Ellsbury was hurt.
Carl Crawford was in town for the pregame hoo-hah, but is returning to Florida to continue rehabbing his surgically repaired left wrist. He also was diagnosed with a minor elbow strain.
"I'm just waiting to get back on the field," Crawford said before the game. “I had to come up here to get my elbow checked and I think it was best to be here with the doctors for the next few days. I'm not sure when I'm going back to Fort Myers, but I should be heading back pretty soon."
Beckett, who heard an undercurrent of boos during pregame introductions while warming up, received a standing ovation after holding the Rays to five hits and a run in eight innings. Bobby Valentine appeared to be toying with the idea of letting Beckett, who had only thrown 94 pitches, finish the game, but when the Sox batted around for eighth runs in the eighth, he went to his bullpen instead.
The dozen runs scored by the Sox eclipsed by two the number of runs they scored in three games in Toronto.
The Sox sent 11 batters to the plate in the eighth before making an out, and that was on a sacrifice fly by Ross that carried to the warning track in center.
Beckett’s only complete game last season also came against the Rays, a one-hit shutout in Tropicana Field last June 15.
That represented a vast improvement for Beckett, who had been bombarded with five home runs in Detroit in his first start.
Beckett was helped by diving catches by Cody Ross in right in the fourth and left-fielder Desmond Jennings in the eighth. His velocity rarely strayed over 91 mph, but he had much better command than he displayed last Saturday against the Tigers, when he left too many cutters over the middle of the plate.
Former Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach did a number on his former team with three hits, including two doubles, scoring three times. He started one rally by turning his shoulder into a 96 mph fastball from Rays starter David Price, and he also was credited with his first career stolen base on an epically inelegant effort, popping up after a mistimed slide that left him short of the bag, but somehow pirouetting away from the tag.
Sox fans might recall that in his first incarnation with the Red Sox, back in 2005 when he made a cameo appearance as a September call-up, Shoppach went hitless in 15 trips. Price had reminded him of that with a text message this past winter when Shoppach was signed again by the Sox, this time as a free agent.
Ellsbury had doubled and singled and scored a run before leaving the game. Every Sox player except Ross had at least one hit, with Adrian Gonzalez joining Shoppach as players with three hits.