BOSTON — It had been 20 months since Fenway Park had been anything like it was on Saturday.
Fans sat in big clusters from behind the plate to the infield, and out to the bleachers and the Monster Seats. They roared with approval for all of Nathan Eovaldi’s seven strikeouts, and for three timely, run-scoring hits (Bobby Dalbec, Kevin Plawecki and Hunter Renfroe) on a day offense was at a premium.
With Adam Ottavino in a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the seventh, the fans got up on their feet and erupted when he struck out Miami’s Jesús Aguilar and Garrett Cooper to get out of the threat. They did the same when Hirokazu Sawamura wiggled out of a sticky situation in the eighth, striking out José (cousin of Rafael) Devers.
And the loudest batch of cheers came when Matt Barnes ended the festivities, with the Red Sox turning a pretty 4-6-3 double play that ended a tense, 3-1 victory over the Marlins.
Baseball was truly back in Boston on a day Fenway Park was opened back up to full capacity, and the Red Sox and their fans celebrated in a way that made you forget the temperature was in the high 40s on Memorial Day weekend. The paid attendance was 25,089. Due to the weather, the actual turnout was probably closer to 20,000. However, the fans who were there made it feel like it was a sellout.
“The crowd brought it today,” said Ottavino. “That’s what’s been missing is those two-strike moments at home, and I feel like that puts a lot of pressure on the hitter that didn’t exist last year. It’s a great feeling to be the guy on the mound in that spot. You feel like you have the advantage and you’re about to just have a big release there.”
Ottavino was so pumped up after his escape that he felt like he was in an altered state as he ran back to the dugout.
“Especially once I got to two strikes on the last guy,” said Ottavino. “So it was just kind of an out-of-body experience there. I was glad I was able to make the pitch and just kind of blacked out.”
While manager Alex Cora attended his daughter Camila’s graduation from high school back in Caguas, Puerto Rico — he called it “the biggest day of his life” earlier this week — bench coach Will Venable took the reins for the day and led the team to victory in his first game as a manager in any level of baseball.
“It was great,” said Venable. “High stress levels, but what we expected. And like I said, just with the work the staff did and the players, we knew [we] were in a good spot. Like I said, the staff did an amazing job keeping us locked in on what we were supposed to be locked in on.”
A season of good vibes continued for the Red Sox, who improved to 32-20 with their third straight win to remain a half-game behind the ridiculously hot Rays in the American League East.
For sports-crazed Boston, it was a nice way to ease into the Bruins playing Game 1 of their NHL Eastern Conference semifinals across town against the New York Islanders later on Saturday.
“It was awesome,” Eovaldi said of the atmosphere at Fenway. “They were definitely bringing the energy. You could definitely tell the excitement was there in the stadium. So it was awesome having them out there, and even better that we were able to get that win tonight.”
As an opponent, Marlins lefty Trevor Rogers also got caught up in an atmosphere that was uniquely Fenway.
“They were loud,” said Rogers. “I heard it, for sure. It was really special. That atmosphere, it was crazy. But that’s what baseball is, and I was glad to be back to normal. It was a really good atmosphere to pitch in and it was a lot of fun.”
The Red Sox are 16-13 at Fenway so far this season. That winning percentage could increase significantly with home field advantage becoming a factor again.
“I know the guys were really feeding off that,” said Venable. “A couple guys came into the dugout and were just talking about how electric it was and I think it was a great experience for them and obviously some tense plays out there, some tense moments, but the crowd was into it and I think everyone enjoyed it, for sure.”