There was Jacoby Ellsbury, performing in familiar roles and familiar fashion.
Yes, he was wearing a different uniform, but what he did in New York's 9-3 victory over the Red Sox was entirely recognizable. The 30-year-old opened his career as a visitor to Fenway Park by slamming an 0-2 pitch from former teammate Jon Lester high off the wall in center, with the umpiring crew awarding him third base on fan interference. In the bottom of the same inning, he got a tremendous jump on a liner toward the gap in left-center off the bat of leadoff hitter Grady Sizemore and made a gorgeous sliding catch.
It was the type of offense and defense that the Red Sox have struggled to find thus far in center field and atop the batting order this season, a poignant reminder that what has gone has not been replaced.
Already, the Red Sox have churned through five leadoff hitters, creating ripples of instability throughout the lineup. Daniel Nava, Jonny Gomes, Sizemore, Dustin Pedroia and Brock Holt all have seen the top of the order. Regardless of who's been in that top spot, the results have been dismal.
In the first at-bat of the game, the Sox are 2-for-18 with a double, two walks and a hit by pitch -- good for a line of .111/.238/.167. Ellsbury has more hits in the first at-bat of his team's first inning at Fenway than the Sox (0-for-8) have had this year.
Overall, the team has received a .182 average (worst in the AL), .270 OBP (second worst) and .250 slugging mark (worst) from the leadoff spot. Ellsbury, meanwhile, is off to an outrageous start. He's hitting .342 with a .395 OBP and .479 slugging mark.
The Sox miss Ellsbury -- miss him as an anchor atop the lineup, miss his range in center, miss his impact on the bases. Particularly with Shane Victorino out thus far this year and Dustin Pedroia having yet to hit his offensive stride, they have been without a player capable of impacting the game in all three areas. (It is telling that Ellsbury's eight steals match the total for the Sox to date this year.)
But it's not just that the Sox miss Ellsbury. After 2013, the team made a decision to let three key free agents -- Ellsbury, Stephen Drew and Jarrod Saltalamacchia -- walk. The transition from that trio has been anything but seamless.
In the infield, the Sox felt comfortable walking away from Drew after the shortstop turned down the one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer, given the presence of Xander Bogaerts. Offensively, Bogaerts has performed at a level (.271 average, .400 OBP) that has mitigated the impact of Drew's absence.
But defensively, that has not been the case to date. Bogaerts is 21, with limited professional experience. The team believes he has the athleticism and aptitude to become a solid big league shortstop, but in the early stages of 2014, growing pains persist.
His first-step quickness and range haven't matched what Drew brought to the table, nor has his consistency. According to John Dewan's Fielding Bible, Bogaerts entered Tuesday having made four fewer plays than the average shortstop, costing his team five runs relative to a big league average shortstop.
The Sox believe that as the season continues Bogaerts will improve at the position, that the gap between what Drew offered and what the 21-year-old displays will diminish significantly. Bogaerts himself is convinced that such a progression will occur -- both for him and his team.
"As defenders, we try our best to get all the balls. Sometimes the ball is a bit too far from you. It's part of the game," Bogaerts said. "We're definitely going to get better. There's no need to worry about that."
But for now, at a time when the team needs defensive excellence because the offense has not hit its stride, Bogaerts has contributed to the team's struggles in the field.
Though Sizemore opened the year in center, the Sox quickly became convinced that his range was inadequate for the position, resulting in Jackie Bradley Jr.'s emergence as an everyday center fielder. Though Bradley has shown extraordinary range since taking over at that position last week, he has shown some lapses in fundamentals, uncorking some wild throws that have afforded the Sox' opponents some extra bases.
The combined result has been a palpable difference from what happened a year ago when the ball was hit up the middle. More often than not, the ball would end up where it was supposed to -- whether resulting in an out or the hitting of a cutoff man. This year, that up-the-middle stability has been missing at times.
"You're talking about the two positions on the field with respect to outfield or infield that are going to see the most action," Farrell said of having Bogaerts at short and Bradley in center field at a time when they are still in the initial stages of their big league careers. "As their learning curve is fairly steep at this point, you may see some things that a veteran player isn't going to show you. That's part of the game and that's part of a young player becoming an everyday big leaguer. ... The talent is there, the work ethic is there. and yet we've got to ride the ebb and flow a little bit, because of the inexperience, which is fully [accepted] on our part."
The team went from Saltalamacchia behind the plate to an even more experienced veteran in A.J. Pierzynski, but while youth hasn't been an issue on that front, the 37-year-old has been going through his own transition to the Red Sox, and the Sox likewise have been experiencing the growing pains of his arrival.
At this point, it may just be a coincidence, but Sox pitchers have fared far better with the familiar David Ross behind the plate than they have with Pierzynski. The pitchers have a 2.76 ERA throwing to Ross, and a 4.16 mark when Pierzynski is behind the dish. Part of that represents a transition to a new team.
"I think he's still getting familiar with our guys, particularly in the rotation," said Farrell. "There's still a little bit of a learning curve going on there. So, not to make any excuses in that lack of repetition is the cause of it, but he's still getting familiar. We've got guys who have gone three times through the rotation, he hasn't gotten them all. We're doing what we can to create that familiarity."
However, the issues go beyond simple familiarity. At times, Pierzysnki has seemed stiff behind the plate, evident in his two early passed balls (one of which led to an unearned run on Tuesday) and the seven wild pitches that have occurred on his watch (compared to one for Ross).
And offensively, Pierzynski has not produced. He's hitting .236 with a .283 OBP (one walk in 60 plate appearances) and .309 slugging mark. He drilled his second extra-base hit of the year on Tuesday against the Yankees and Tanaka, but his approach has been even more aggressive, even more baffling than the Sox anticipated based on his career track record. The Sox have a 4-10 record when Pierzynski starts this year, compared to a 5-2 record with Ross behind the dish.
It's worth noting that Sox pitchers had a 3.12 ERA with Ross behind the plate last year, while they had a 3.86 ERA with Saltalamacchia. Still, the disparity in performance wasn't as significant as it's been in the early going with Pierzynski, and the Sox enjoyed a 70-42 record (.625 winning percentage) in games he started, based both on the work of the pitchers with him and the offense he delivered.
Saltalamacchia, meanwhile, is hitting .259 with a .386 OBP, 12 walks and a .431 slugging mark. He's an important and steady contributor to the middle of the Marlins lineup, just as he was to the lower third of the Sox lineup a year ago.
The Sox made a bold gamble by turning over three critical up-the-middle positions last year. Thus far, the transition has been profound and challenging. It may well be that the team adapts and finds its stride, but in the early stages of the 2014 campaign the loss of three key free agents has been felt acutely, with Ellsbury offering an emphatic reminder of that fact at Fenway Park on Tuesday night.