NEW YORK -- It seems almost silly to quibble. After all, even with a 4-2 loss in the finale of the three-game season-opening series against the Yankees, the Red Sox emerged from a three-game set in which they seemed to do a little bit of just about everything well.
The team has plated 17 runs thus far, tied for the fourth most in the majors. They hit .315 and got on base at a .397 clip in the three-game series. With solid approaches throughout most of the lineup and contributions from virtually every player on the roster (every one of the 11 players to have an at-bat has at least one hit this year -- with the surprising Jose Iglesias leading the way with seven hits in 12 ABs), the team sustained pressure on the Yankees, even on Thursday when Andy Pettitte required three double plays to work around a constant succession of baserunners.
On the bases, the Sox likewise exerted themselves, sometimes to great effect (as when Jonny Gomes scored from second on a groundout), sometimes to a harmful outcome (Shane Victorino's bold but ill-fated attempt to score from second on a passed ball on Thursday). But the team's assertiveness in trying to claim the extra base was noteworthy, and perhaps tone-setting.
The Sox also have played sharp defense to this point -- tracking down balls in the outfield, controlling the Yankees on the bases (David Ross gunned down a pair of would-be base-thieves) and executing shifts to positive effect.
Pitching? Solid, with Jon Lester and Ryan Dempster both showing swing-and-miss stuff even in outings when their pitch inefficiency led them out of the game after just five innings, and Clay Buchholz looking dominant on the strength of his fastball alone. The bullpen's wealth of power arms hinted at the potential for late-innings dominance. For the first time since 2001, the Sox have limited their opponents to four or fewer runs in three straight games to open the year.
"I think we played a good series overall," said manager John Farrell. "A solid three games played here in New York."
Overall, the Sox played and executed at a high level. They made a statement in a number of phases of the game over the season's first series.
Except, that is, for one.
The Red Sox didn't homer over the course of the three games. They collected just seven extra-base hits. It seems almost silly to react to such a brief sample, although it is worth noting that it's been a full 20 years since the Red Sox last fielded a squad that went three straight games to open the year without going deep once. (That 1993 team failed to homer for any of the first five games of the year.)
The Sox are one of four teams in the majors to go without a homer in the first series of the season. They are tied for 21st in the majors with just six extra-base hits -- five doubles and a triple.
Few are probably fretting that the Tigers (one of the other three teams that has yet to go deep, along with the Pirates and Royals) will have any kind of dearth of power, but for the Sox, the circumstances for now are slightly different.
After all, the Sox hit 17 homers in spring training -- the fewest among any of the 30 big league teams. And with that low homer output both in spring training and the first series of the regular season, coupled with the absence of David Ortiz ...
The details create a narrative with an obvious conclusion. It's just that the obvious conclusion might not be the right one, at least for now. A few mitigating circumstances suggest that the absence of home runs is not yet an issue for the Sox.
First, the spring training absence of home runs should be taken with a grain of salt. The Sox' power dearth reflected a home field in JetBlue Park that has proven immensely hostile to home runs. The Sox had just four homers at their home field this spring -- easily the fewest in the majors, four fewer than the runner-up Angels -- with a middle-of-the-pack total of 13 long balls on the road, a number that tied them for 19th among big league teams.
Meanwhile, the circumstances in Yankee Stadium were far from ideal for going deep, particularly on the last two nights of the series, when game-time temperatures in the low-40s meant that a number of balls that were crushed stayed in the ballpark.
Perhaps the most glaring instance occurred in the seventh inning on Thursday, when David Ross unloaded on an Andy Pettitte pitch and sent it screaming to deep center. Off the bat, it seemed destined for a game-tying round-tripper. But to the shock and chagrin of the Sox, it expired at the fence, where Brett Gardner made a terrific play to haul it in for the rally-killing third out of the inning.
"I hit that one ball pretty good. That's all I've got. I don't know if I'm getting old or what. Yeah, I thought maybe we had him on the ropes right there, but he did his job and you've got to tip your cap to those guys," said Ross. "I thought [the park] played really big. I thought [Jarrod Saltalamacchia] hit a ball yesterday that I thought was going off the wall or something and someone ran it down. Obviously, I felt like I hit my ball pretty good. ...
"I played here last year for the first time in interleague and the ball was jumping a lot more. We had some days where it was hot and it was carrying a lot more. That may have something to do with it. I'm not a meteorologist or anything. It is what it is. We didn't have any trouble scoring runs early on. but I think the park may have played a little bit bigger than normal."
Several other instances further backed the claim. Mike Napoli barreled a couple of balls that ran out of gas in the deeper regions of the park. Will Middlebrooks launched what seemed like a couple of moonshots in the arctic second game of the series, first hammering a ball to right-center (where it expired on the warning track) and then squaring a ball with what sounded like the force of a sledgehammer, only to see Gardner track it down against the fence in center, roughly 400 feet from the plate -- roughly the same spot where he hauled in Ross' blast.
"[The park] played huge, man," said Middlebrooks. "It always plays deep to center and left-center, but it seemed like there was an extra 30 feet out there. ... I know I hit mine well -- normally it's out. Ross', too."
Put simply, the Sox haven't played in an environment yet -- either in spring training or now after three games of the regular season -- that has offered a real litmus test for what kind of home run power the lineup possesses, with or without Ortiz (who may be back by the third week of the season). Team officials remain optimistic that, up and down the lineup, there will be a chance for legitimate pop from every position. There may not be a tandem that replicates what Ortiz and Manny Ramirez did in their primes, but from one through nine, once Stephen Drew assumes his role as shortstop, the team is convinced that it will have pop.
Meanwhile, from the first three contests, the team insists that the big goose egg in the HR column is not cause for concern. The Sox place more stock in the fact that all 11 players who stepped to the plate produced enough quality at-bats to exert pressure on the Yankees pitching staff. The home runs, they say, will come, perhaps as soon as this weekend when afforded the luxury of playing inside a dome in Toronto.
"It's very positive -- one through nine, we're hitting," outfielder Shane Victorino said of the team's offensive approach. "David Ross' ball, in the summertime, I'm sure that's gone. There were a couple of others. We're putting good swings on the ball, having good at-bats -- that's what we're worried about, and that's what we worked on, having good at-bats and professional at-bats."
For now, the explanation remains valid, a demonstration of why baseball statistics can be misleading when broken down into three-game increments rather than more meaningful stretches. Even so, for a team that faced questions about whether it had enough players who profiled as middle-of-the-order mashers, the first few games have yet to allay those concerns, even as the Sox accomplished something far more important than clearing the fences.
"We're winning. You don't need home runs to win, obviously," Middlebrooks insisted. "We will [hit them]. But it's tough when it's 30 degrees."