BOSTON – So, Terry Francona, what do you make of your lineup now ?
"I knew that was going to be the first question," the Red Sox manager said, after witnessing his team's decidedly offensive triumph over the Yankees on Opening Night.
Forget, for a moment, the caveats about reading too much into the first game of a season. With Sunday's 9-7 win over their archrival, the Red Sox showed the baseball world that the most popular question about them isn't so urgent after all.
Where will the offense come from? The supposed riddle was repeated throughout the winter and spring, as if a team that scored the third-most runs in baseball last year would suddenly forget how to swing.
Well, it took one game to remind us that they do have Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis. And if Red Sox fans had grown nervous over what Jason Bay's departure would mean, then the gritty duo eased minds from Maine to Connecticut in Game 1.
"We may not have the best lineup, so to speak," said Mike Cameron, now 1-0 as the Boston center fielder. "But we've got some guys in here that can play some ball, man."
"One through nine, we're going to put good at-bats together," Pedroia said. "That's why everyone was kind of shocked when they doubted our offense."
New York built leads of 5-1 and 7-5, but Pedroia and Youkilis willed their team back. They scored or drove in all but one of the Boston runs, pumping fists and inspiring teammates along the way.
Youkilis? He became the first Red Sox player to deliver three extra-base hits on Opening Day since Pudge Fisk in 1973.
Pedroia? He muscled a letter-high two-seamer from Chan Ho Park into the Monster seats to tie the game, 7-7, in the seventh.
Before the inning was through, Youkilis had raced home on a passed ball to score the deciding run. During the play, Pedroia could be seen in the dugout, arms waving wildly and his mouth moving even faster: "GO-GO-GO-GO-GO!"
"It doesn't take much for him to get fired up," John Lackey said with a laugh.
Like regulars Cameron, Adrian Beltre and Marco Scutaro, this was Lackey's first game with the Red Sox. The right-hander signed a five-year, $82.5 million contract in December - and, yes, he thought beforehand about how much run support he would get.
"I never listened to that stuff," Lackey said of doubts concerning the Boston lineup. "I faced those guys. We've got a great offense over here. That's one of the reasons I came."
Let's not get carried away, though. The Red Sox do have plenty of issues.
Josh Beckett, amid reports that his mega-money contract extension is close, looked very ordinary on Sunday. He surrendered five earned runs and didn't finish the fifth inning. He cursed on the mound after throwing his 94th and final pitch.
The middle relief looks flimsy. Ramon Ramirez's name would be all over the Boston newspapers this morning if Pedroia's homer hadn't bailed him out.
Victor Martinez, forever iffy behind the plate, showed questionable judgment by throwing to second base on a double steal that resulted in a New York run.
And then there is Mike Lowell, unseated at third base by Beltre. The Red Sox would like to trade the former World Series MVP. He got the biggest ovation of any active player during pregame introductions, which tells you that his status remains an emotional pressure point for many fans.
Speaking of ceremonies, Pedro Martinez, Steven Tyler and Neil Diamond were among those who appeared at Fenway Park to ring in the new baseball year. Dr. Dre was on hand, too, in a less official capacity.
Until a rare triple by Youkilis sparked the sixth-inning rally, the locals probably found the celebrity sideshows more entertaining. Fenway was as quiet as an Easter church service during the middle innings.
Come to think of it, maybe this game will serve as a good, early-season lesson for Red Sox Nation. General manager Theo Epstein, whose baseball acumen remains revered in these parts, sought to improve the team's pitching and defense this off-season.
Since the dollars were allocated elsewhere, the offense remains very good - but isn't a juggernaut. There will be lulls. There will be wins that are more emotional than artful.
Like this one.
The Red Sox will need to score runs in bunches. Beltre isn't going to reprise his 48-homer season of 2004, but he can come up with timely RBIs. He did so twice on Sunday.
But Youkilis and Pedroia are the keys. Their tenacity at the plate contributed to CC Sabathia's fatigue in the latter stages of his start. That's what made the comeback possible.
And it didn't end until Jonathan Papelbon made a cathartic trip to the same mound where he blew the save that bounced Boston from the playoffs last October. He didn't let a runner past first base in a scoreless ninth.
More surprising was what he said afterward: He didn't even notice that Diamond was standing on the field prior to the bottom of the eighth inning, performing his signature "Sweet Caroline."
"I was warming up," Papelbon said. "I hear the song, but I had no clue Neil Diamond was here, actually. Missed that one."
Criticized for weeks, the Red Sox looked talented and focused and resilient on Sunday night. It's nice to be an underdog with a $160 million payroll. It's also nice to be 1-0.