EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 9, 2013

Let the good times roll

Sox have plenty to smile about

On Pro Baseball
Christopher Smith

---- — BOSTON — The Boston Red Sox’ season is just seven games old but these players and coaches keep providing more reasons to like them again after a year and a half of dysfunction.

Take for instance yesterday when tiny Daniel Nava, of all players, blasted a three-run homer in the bottom of the seventh inning in a scoreless game to propel Boston 3-1 over the Baltimore Orioles here on Opening Day at Fenway.

Are you having fun yet? The Red Sox sure are.

The switch-hitting Nava (a.k.a the little engine that could) entered yesterday with a career .191 batting average in 110 at-bats against left-handers. But he went 2 for 2 with a walk and his towering blast, a no-doubter to left field, against talented Baltimore southpaw Wei-Yin Chen.

Nava didn’t show much emotion after his homer — or at least until he rounded first base — even though he knew immediately that the baseball was headed well out of Fenway.

“I think with the clubhouse that we’ve got assembled everybody just wants to win and it’s contagious and so whether it was three runs with a home run or a sac fly, just getting us that lead knowing that bullpen that we have, was something that was on my mind,” Nava explained about his delayed celebration. “Now for it to be a home run, obviously I was pumped because it gave us just a little more cushion.”

Don’t underestimate the element of “team chemistry” in baseball. The phrase is thrown around too much in sports but a major league team must have chemistry to win.

Baseball players are forced to spend so much time together from the start of spring training in late February through October with only a few off days.

Players also typically spend 8-10 hours with each other each day.

Times can get tough when personalities and egos clash. That is exactly what happened the past two years, especially last season when the disconnect was felt between coaches and coaches, some players and players and some coaches and players.

Clay Buchholz, who earned the win yesterday by going 7.0 scoreless inning and striking out eight, indicated his team’s strong start has to do with the clubhouse jelling.

“It’s a lot better than starting 2-9 or whatever it was last year and the year before,” Buchholz said about Boston’s 5-2 start. “We’ve got an awesome group of guys. It’s been fun all the way through spring until this point. It’s easier to come to the ballpark and be in high spirits.”

The season again is only seven games old but you have to be impressed with the chemistry and manager John Farrell’s work ethic and daily approach.

Farrell’s impact on ace Jon Lester and Buchholz is noticeable. He also seems to be the ultimate communicator and on top of every single matter involving his team.

One issue with last year’s one-and-done manager Bobby Valentine was that he sometimes waited until the day of a game to inform players whether they were playing or where they were hitting in the lineup.

Baseball players are creatures of habit. They like to know exactly what is going on before they arrive at the ballpark so they can prepare the right way.

On the plane ride back from Toronto on Sunday night, Farrell told Nava, a backup first baseman/outfielder, that he would be starting in left field yesterday against a tough southpaw.

“That something they (the coaching staff) have done a great job of — just filling us in so we can prepare,” Nava said. “I think that’s huge for any guy who’s not sure when (he’s) going to be playing.”

Another impressive aspect of this team is the way Jonny Gomes and even Nava haven’t complained about limited playing time. And Gomes, meanwhile, has been a leader despite receiving only 13 at-bats in seven games.

Nava’s playing time automatically was diminished when Jackie Bradley Jr. made the Opening Day roster. After all, Bradley is a better defensive outfielder and he is a left-handed hitter (Nava hits best from the left side).

“I was happy for (Bradley) as I think we all were,” Nava said. “It’s a great story and obviously he’s a great player who has done a lot to open everybody’s eyes. So I was happy for him. I wasn’t really worried about how it impacted me because if I was in his shoes, I’d want someone to be happy for me rather than think, ‘He’s going to take playing time away from me.’”

Yes, it’s only seven games, but the Red Sox are making an early statement against AL East teams, winning series against the Yankees and Blue Jays on the road and now being ahead 1-0 against Baltimore.

And the Sox are making an early statement to fans as well. The statement: have some fun again.

Sox No. 1 Star: Daniel Nava went 2 for 2 with a walk and the game-winning three-run homer in the seventh. This against a left-hander (Wei-Yin Chen) and entering the contest with a .191 career average vs. southpaws. Sox. No. 2 Star: Clay Buchholz went 7.0 scoreless innings, allowing three hits and four walks while striking out eight. He allowed three hits or fewer in at least 7.0 scoreless innings pitched for the third time in his career. Friendly Fenway: The Red Sox have won their past nine home openers. That's a club record and the longest active streak in the majors. Ortiz progress: David Ortiz took live at-bats in a simulated game in Fort Myers yesterday. He went 2 for 4 with a single and double … LHP Franklin Morales will pitch one inning in an extended spring training game today. … LHP Craig Breslow will throw a simulated game today. Odds and ends: The Red Sox have not committed an error in seven games, the club's longest errorless streak to begin a season. ... An MRI on John Lackey's right arm showed inflammation of his right biceps and no tear of the muscle. ... Jackie Bradley Jr., who struggled over the weekend in Toronto, was given the day off. ...