March gladness: Red Sox fans ready for team's earliest start in history

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Welcome to the new normal in Major League Baseball.

The defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox and the other 29 teams will be in action today amid the earliest start to their season in baseball history.

But for Red Sox fans in Berkshire County and elsewhere, it might seem like a year until the season starts. That's because Boston plays 11 road games before returning home.

The Red Sox are on the West Coast to open the 2019 season. They start with a 7:05 game tonight at Seattle, against the Mariners. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.

But Boston won't play a game in the friendly confines of Fenway Park until April 9, when the Toronto Blue Jays visit for the Sox's home opener.

The early start is due to a change in the collective bargaining agreement between Major League Baseball and its Players Association, which allows the schedule to start this early in exchange for additional off days over the course of the 162-game schedule.

The season got started last week. The Mariners and Oakland Athletics played games March 20 and 21 in Tokyo, with the Mariners winning 9-7 and 5-4. So, while tonight's game is the Mariners' home opener, it is not their season opener.

Manager Alex Cora's Red Sox will play four games in Seattle, four games in Oakland, Calif., and three interleague games, against the National League's Arizona Diamondbacks, before flying across the country to open the home season in New England.

Boston will play the Blue Jays on April 9 and 11, before four games against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park.

Historically, the Cincinnati Reds have hosted the first game of the major league season. While the Reds, who host the Pittsburgh Pirates, will play on opening day, they will not play in the first game of the day.

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The Yankees will host Baltimore at 1:05, while the New York Mets travel to the nation's capital to play the Washington Nationals, also with a 1:05 start.

The Seattle-Oakland series was not the only international series on the schedule. The Red Sox and Yankees will travel to play a two-game series in June in London. London Stadium, built for the 2012 Summer Olympics, will host the two-game series. The Sox and Yankees will take turns being the home team.

The Red Sox finished 108-54 last year, eight games ahead of the Yankees in the American League East. The Red Sox had the best record in baseball and were one of three teams to win 100 or more games. The Houston Astros (103 wins) and the Yankees (100) were the other two.

The Yankees beat Oakland in the wild card game, but then lost the Divisional Series to the Red Sox 3 games to 1.

Boston lost only three games in the postseason en route to the World Series championship, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-1 in the Series.

The Red Sox roster returns pretty much intact. The biggest change comes in the bullpen, where closer Craig Kimbrel was not signed to a new contract.

Boston still has American League MVP Mookie Betts patrolling the outfield, Comeback Player of the Year David Price on the mound, and World Series MVP Steve Pearce signed a new contract to stay in Boston.

Probably the biggest deal of the offseason for the Red Sox was the contract extension given to starter Chris Sale.

The regular season runs until Sept. 29.

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.


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