This is what 2017 was supposed to be like.

The Red Sox took the short flight from St. Petersburg, Florida, to Miami Sunday night after taking 3 of 4 from the Rays. Tampa Bay is one of the weakest teams in baseball this season, so it’s important to have a little perspective about anything the Sox accomplished at Tropicana Field.

That said, what Red Sox starting pitchers accomplished in the first four games of the season was historic. Chris Sale and David Price opened up the season with scoreless starts – the first time a pair of Red Sox starters did that since 1940. In the third game, Rick Porcello followed up by allowing one run in 61/3 innings – and that run didn’t score until after he had left the game. Then Hector Velazquez – the pitcher acquired from a Mexican League team for $30,000 – followed suit with 52/3 innings of one-run work.

Once upon a time, baseball experts proclaimed “pitching wins championships.” These days, experts are too busy talking about launch angles and power-fueled OPS numbers. In the offseason the Sox followed this offensive obsession with the addition of J.D. Martinez, who led the majors in slugging percentage last year.

That was Sale’s first year with the Red Sox. He led all of baseball with 308 strikeouts, the most ever by a Sox lefty. He faded late in the season, but was every bit the ace the Sox hoped he would be. He was supposed to slide into the rotation with Price and Porcello, former Cy Young Award winners, to create a Big Three that would provide Boston with the pitching it needed to go deep into October.

That didn’t happen. Price dealt with injuries all season and made only 11 starts. Porcello struggled and suffered a major-league high 17 losses. Only Sale lived up to the billing.


That’s why this weekend’s success is noteworthy, even if it came at the expense of a weak offense. The Sox won 3 of 4 at The Trop despite the fact that Martinez, Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi were all hitting under .200.

The Red Sox could’ve won all four games over the weekend. The Rays had absolutely nothing going offensively when Sale left the game after six innings. It stayed that way after Matt Barnes threw a perfect seventh inning. The rest of the bullpen was not perfect, giving the Rays life with four walks in the eighth inning. All four batters who walked scored.

It could’ve been a devastating loss, but David Price made sure that wasn’t the case the next night. He threw 76 pitches in seven innings. It was a great start to the Price Redemption Tour as he tries to put 2017 behind him. He wasn’t healthy, and he wasn’t very popular with Red Sox fans after his verbal dust-up with Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley.

“I’ve done this for a long time,” Price told reporters after the start. “I’d like to think I know how to pitch. So that was what I did tonight.”

And Porcello did it the next night. He left the game with one out in the sixth inning, and watched a runner he left on base score. With that, the rotation ERA ballooned to 0.50. Then came Velazquez. We’re not ready to rename the rotation The Big Four just yet, but clearly the righty lived up to the precedent set by the top of the rotation.

This Thursday we’ll brush the snow off our cars and pretend that summer is here as baseball returns to Fenway Park. Price will get the start in the Boston opener. A year ago it seemed impossible that he would get one of the loudest ovations of the day. Now he should. The 2018 Sox are built around pitching, and that pitching made a very strong first impression this weekend.

Tom Caron is a studio host for the Red Sox broadcast on NESN. His column appears in the Portland Press Herald on Tuesdays.

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