Tyler O’Neill makes MLB history with 5th consecutive Opening Day homer – Boston Herald

SEATTLE – “I got a five-game losing streak on Opening Day, and he has a four-game home-run streak (on Opening Days) so, analytics.”

That was Alex Cora’s humorous pregame explanation for putting right-handed hitting Tyler O’Neill in Thursday evening’s lineup against Mariners starter Luis Castillo.

Those analytics paid off in the top of the eighth, when O’Neill led off with a first-pitch home run to center, making him the first player in MLB history to homer on five consecutive Opening Days, and cementing his new manager’s first-ever Game 1 win, a 6-4 victory.

Thursday was supposed to be Brayan Bello’s big night, but the 24-year-old Sox starter needed a little help from his friends to get by. His manager called his performance “excellent,” but his five innings – in which he allowed five hits, two earned runs, zero walks, two strikeouts, and hit a batter – were a group effort. Only once last season did Bello fail to strike out at least three batters in an outing of at least five innings. He fell behind in too many counts, and left too many balls over the heart of the plate. At times, he could be seen exhaling with relief and smiling at his teammates when their defense rescued him.

“He can be better, we know that,” Cora said. “Command was off, but he was able to make pitches… he did enough.”

Trevor Story’s glove and Rafael Devers’ bat helped Bello remain in the game long enough to be in line for the win, and indicated how much this team has strengthened other facets of their game. Story’s presence in the middle infield proved an immediate game-changer in the bottom of the first, when Bello gave up back-to-back hits to put runners on the corners. The shortstop ignited an inning-ending double play, ensuring the Sox starter could at least escape the first frame unscathed.

Devers looked ready for the last two weeks of spring training, and he proved that was no Sunshine State mirage in top of the third, when he whalloped a two-run homer to give the Sox a 2-0 lead. Buoyed by the blast, Bello set the Mariners down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the frame.

The Boston bats rewarded their starter by tacking on another run in one of the most chaotic ways possible. With Masataka Yoshida on second and Tyler O’Neill on third, Ceddanne Rafaela reached on a fielder’s choice by Mariners third baseman Josh Rojas. But as O’Neill raced home, Rojas’ throw to the plate ricocheted off his batting helmet, away from the catcher, allowing him to score.

By game’s end, the Sox had collected 11 hits, two walks, and struck out seven times. Their successful challenge in the top of the ninth turned Story’s out into a single, meaning each member of the starting nine had contributed at least one knock.

It was a night of extra bases in more ways than one. Devers and Masataka Yoshida contributed doubles, Rafaela tripled. O’Neill, Duran, and Story each stole a base. According to Alex Speier of the Boston Globe, that tied 1967 for their second-most in Opening Day history; they swiped four in 1977.

The home team was far quieter. Until Kenley Jansen took over for the ninth and walked the leadoff man, Seattle hadn’t received a single free pass. They collected eight hits, the lone walk, struck out nine times, and were 1-for-3 with runners in scoring position, stranding five.

Seattle’s four runs came on a pair of homers. When Bello’s sinker didn’t sink in the bottom of the fourth, Mitch Haniger sent the ball soaring into the right-field seats to cut Boston’s lead to 3-2. The same thing happened to Joely Rodriguez in the bottom of the seventh, when pinch-hitter Dylan Moore sent one of the southpaw’s sinkers deep to center, bringing the Mariners within one once again.

It’s Game 1 of 162. One game shouldn’t matter. But for a team that began each of the last five years 0-1 and finished last in three of the past four, starting off with a win certainly matters.

“(Expletive) better than 0-1,” Cora said with a smile.

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