PHILADELPHIA -- For all the kerfluffle surrounding Clay Buchholz's first Opening Day start, his routine Monday barely strayed from the norm, other than the part about having to negotiate some space to do his pregame long toss around the giant American flag blanketing Citizens Bank Park.
"I woke up, took a shower, met my parents [Skip and Robin] in the hotel lobby and had breakfast with them," the Boston Red Sox pitcher said. "I took the 10:30 [a.m.] bus here."
Needless to say, he wasn’t the first arrival in the visitors’ clubhouse, not by a long stretch. Some people, such as Buchholz, are content to let Opening Day come to them. Then there are those, such as Dustin Pedroia, who dictate that Opening Day begins when they say it does.
"He was fired up," Buchholz said after he pitched seven scoreless innings and the Sox hit five home runs, two each by Pedroia and Hanley Ramirez, in an 8-0 demolition of the Philadelphia Phillies. “He loves the game of baseball. That's why he’s here in uniform at 9 o’clock in the morning for a 3 o’clock game, just in case it starts early. That’s Pedey."
Pedroia treats an opener like his personal Groundhog Day. He sees his shadow in the April sun, he’s going to get a hit. You can book it. He has played in nine openers since joining the Red Sox and has hit safely in all of them. No Sox player in at least 100 years has hit in his first nine openers; only one player, Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski, can boast a longer streak (13, 1968-80), and with Pedroia under contract through 2021, that one doesn’t have much shelf life left.
But it’s doubtful that Pedroia has made a brassier statement on Opening Day than he did on this one, hitting the third pitch he saw from Phillies ace Cole Hamels into the left-field seats in the first inning, then driving another 1-and-1 pitch from Hamels into the same neighborhood in the fifth. Thumb and wrist injuries in the past two years had stripped him of his ability to turn on a ball and drive it the way he did earlier in his career. Not that he was ever a home run hitter, but Pedroia had five straight seasons of double-figure home runs, followed by nine in 2013 and a career-low seven last season. Pedroia went his first 30 games without a home run last season, not going deep until May 2.
Given the importance of a hitter’s hands, there were questions whether Pedroia might ever regain his power stroke, especially since he is turning 32 this August. He came to camp this spring with his customary defiance turned up even higher, intolerant of the suggestion that he might be susceptible to physical decline. “Just watch," he said more than once this spring when asked if he was fully recovered.
He took show-and-tell to new heights Monday, becoming the first Sox player since Carlton Fisk in 1973 against the Yankees in Fenway Park to homer twice in an opener. The fact that Ramirez duplicated the feat later Monday, his second home run in the ninth a grand slam on which he broke his bat, took nothing away from what Pedroia had done; it just meant the Sox had their first opener in which two players had gone deep twice. The Sox imported Ramirez because he can crush the ball; they were elated to see Pedroia do the same.
"Sometimes you get hurt, you know," Pedroia said. “You try to find a way to play through it. Sometimes you get healthy, too. That’s the way I look at it. I grinded a lot the last couple of years. Now I’m back to who I am."
Buchholz, meanwhile, was all but accused of possessing a false ID after manager John Farrell nominated him to pitch the opener. That’s the prerogative of a staff ace, and the wise guys said coming into this game there would be only one ace on the mound for this one: Hamels, with the only lingering question being which uniform he’d be wearing for the occasion.
But the Sox stayed the course. They did not sacrifice their top prospects for the Phillies’ left-hander, and then Buchholz did them one better. While Hamels was being hammered, fastballs he left up in the zone to Pedroia and Mookie Betts being knocked into the seats -- the same fate that befell a hanging changeup he threw to Ramirez -- Buchholz had the Phillies on a string with his shrewdly conceived mix of curves, changeups and sinkers.
Ryan Howard doubled to left-center field with two outs in the fourth for the Phillies’ first hit. Carlos Ruiz and Grady Sizemore had one-out singles in the seventh. No Phillies baserunner reached third. Only one Phillie walked. Nine went down on strikes.
“He looked great," said Pedroia, who backed up Buchholz with some terrific defense, his best play coming when he speared a smash by Cody Asche to quell the Phillies’ seventh-inning uprising. “That was midseason form -- as good as it gets."
It was the most dominating Opening Day performance by a Red Sox pitcher since Pedro Martinez, the newly minted Hall of Famer, threw seven scoreless innings against the Mariners in Seattle in 2000, allowing two hits while whiffing 11 in seven innings.
“You’ve got your No. 1," owner John W. Henry said as he emerged from the winners’ clubhouse afterward.
For a day, there could be no debate. There have been times, like the first two months of 2013, when Buchholz appeared primed to take his place among the game’s best pitchers. He has never been able to sustain that level. He knows it. He seems determined to do something about it; that he did so against Hamels on Monday made it all the sweeter.
"This is how I planned it in my head," he said. “Like I said, everyone’s opinion [about the Sox rotation] is a lot different than what we have ourselves."
Besides, he added, Hamels was working at a disadvantage.
“It goes back to what everyone has been talking about, our lineup," Buchholz said. “I'm glad I don't have to pitch to them. Glad they’re on our side. It feels like 2007, when I got called up, with Manny [Ramirez] and David [Ortiz] and everybody."
And that everybody, both then and now, includes one Dustin Pedroia.