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The Red Sox couldn’t touch Justin Verlander all day. The American League MVP and Cy Young award winner started his 2012 season with a dominate performance, silencing the Sox bats over eight strong innings. He left the game with Detroit leading 2-0, and star closer Jose Valverde coming into the game. Valverde had a tremendous 2011 season as well, saving all 49 save opportunities. But it was the Sox on Opening Day who rallied in the 9th inning, only to fall a half inning later on a walk off RBI single by outfielder Austin Jackson.
Verlander was nearly matched by Sox ace Jon Lester, who pitched well against a loaded Tigers lineup. Lester went seven innings, allowing just one run on six hits and three walks, while striking out four Tigers. That included the newly signed Prince Fielder, who was 1-3 in his debut with a base hit in his first official at bat and a sacrifice fly which gave Detroit the 2-0 lead.
The Sox began their rally in the 9th inning with a leadoff double from second baseman Dustin Pedroia, followed by a single by first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to set the team up with runners on first and third and no one out. That brought up David Ortiz, who Bobby Valentine put in the cleanup spot in the first game. He hit a sac fly to get the Sox within one run, but hope seemed gone when Kevin Youkilis followed with a strikeout.
Pinch runner Darnell McDonald stole second base to put the tying runner in scoring position for right fielder Ryan Sweeney. After looking bad earlier in the day against Verlander, Sweeney redeemed himself with his second hit of the game, pulling a pitch down into the right field corner on what ended up as a dramatic game tying triple.
In the bottom half of the inning Boston brought in new reliever Mark Melancon to face the bottom part of the Detroit order. Newly assigned closer Alfredo Aceves relieved him after consecutive singles with one out. He hit ninth place hitter Ramon Santiago with a pitch to load the bases for Jackson, who ended the game on a dramatic base hit down the line. Melancon was handed the loss while Valverde picked up the win despite blowing the initial save opportunity.
There’s plenty of good to be taken from the 3-2 loss, especially the pitching of Lester. He looked like a true ace and leader of the staff, which might have been lacking at times last year. And while the Andrew Bailey injury might have been a part of the reason the Sox bullpen was ineffective, the trade for him also brought in Sweeney from Oakland who had a great first game offensively, including the clutch ninth inning hit. The Sox have a day off tomorrow before the series with Detroit resumes on Saturday, when Josh Beckett faces Doug Fister.