BOSTON -- The Red Sox own the best record in baseball. They have a bunch of good ol' boys who play hard for a business-first manager. They were at the heart of the city's recovery from recent tragic events. In a nutshell, April has been a feel-good month at Fenway Park.
That's what made it so strange to hear a significant amount of boos from fans at Fenway just minutes into Saturday night's meeting with the Houston Astros. But that was the result of an ugly first inning in which Felix Doubront could not throw strikes.
Doubront walked three, including one to force in a run, and had a wild pitch and a hit batter in an extremely erratic frame that took 31 pitches to finish. However, an outing that had the look of a disaster eventually became a stepping stone on Doubront's path to maturity. He rallied to go 6 2/3 innings and leave with a 5-3 lead and a heavy dose of confidence going forward.
"Overall after the first inning I was really focused, wasn't thinking of my mechanics at all," he said. "Just throw the ball and get quick outs to get deep in the game. I'm so proud that I did that."
Doubront has now made 36 career starts and has finished seven innings just three times. He came within an out of making it four. While he and the Sox hope there will be a day when Doubront has it in him to go deeper into games, the fact that he spared the bullpen was notable. John Lackey is starting Sunday in his return from the disabled list and is not expected to last much more than four innings, maybe five. Had Doubront been unable to harness his command, Sunday's series finale could have become a tricky one for manager John Farrell.
There was some light stretching in the pen as Doubront struggled early, but Farrell had every intention of waiting it out, knowing how much he needed some length Saturday.
"Wasn't really close at all," Farrell said when asked if he was close to removing Doubront early. "We needed him to get through those middle innings at a minimum. I wasn't thinking about taking him out. We needed him to get through the middle innings."
Farrell indicated that he, Doubront and pitching coach Juan Nieves may explore alternate ways to manage Doubront's warm-up routine. Perhaps warming in the pen, sitting down and then getting up again to simulate the first inning will work. All too often it takes the 25-year-old some time to find his groove, and eradicating those early speed bumps could do wonders.
"The one thing that we've seen is that many times it's taken him a couple of innings to get into the flow of the game and that was the case again tonight, as it was in spring training," Farrell said. "Then once he hits his stride he becomes more efficient. It's just a matter of him finding his rhythm on the mound and fortunately he was able to come through that first inning without a big number on the board."
Doubront has struck out more batters than innings pitched in six straight outings. He's 3-0 for the first time in his young career. He has four straight quality starts at Fenway Park. He seems to be knocking on the door to something better. If and when he can turn the seven-inning start from an extreme rarity into an expected outcome, Doubront will reach that next level.
He gets loads of credit for recognizing that he is still going through the process, and not near its completion.
"I'm just waiting for that moment I have to put it all together to be more efficient," he said.
When Doubront left with two outs in the seventh, most fans along the first-base line rose as one to show their appreciation for his efforts. He had made the fans feel good again, and may have grown up a bit more along the way.