No matter -- under clear skies on a sublime evening, they watched a duel between two of the American League's savviest young arms, punctuated by blasts off the bats of Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. Kason Gabbard won the poker game, going the distance for the first time and beating the Royals, 4-0, and not only because he kept the ball in the park.
"That," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona, "was a well-pitched Major League game."
Ramirez and Ortiz, who homered together for the 46th time in their careers, have never been timid about putting on a show. But Gabbard, an unassuming 25-year-old left-hander who wiles his opponents not with velocity but with movement on three savage secondary pitches, provided the most consistent thrill of the evening by silencing the Kansas City bats.
It was the first shutout for a Red Sox rookie since Paul Quantrill on July 4, 1993, at Seattle. It was the first shutout for Gabbard since his days at Florida's Royal Palm Beach High School.
He faced the minimum 12 batters through four innings and didn't give up his first hit until the Royals' Emil Brown squeezed a fifth-inning grounder past the second-base shift. And Gabbard finished strong, keeping his changeup down and mixing curveballs and two-seam sinkers with devastating results.
Perhaps most importantly, "he attacked the strike zone," Francona said, "right from the very first inning."
Gabbard fired consistent first-pitch strikes, which factored critically in a performance that lasted under 2 1/2 hours. He faced the minimum 12 Royals in the sixth through ninth innings, retiring the last two on strikeouts.
"Strike one's huge," said catcher Jason Varitek. "And strike one with different pitches is huge. But he's got a lot of movement in the zone with both his changeup and his sinker. And he's got a good change of plane with his curveball. And he's got enough on his fastball to keep hitters honest inside."
"It's the way you're supposed to pitch," Francona said.
Added Gabbard: "The results were pretty good."
Typical understatement from a man about whom Francona said, "I don't think he's going to start doing the Johnny Carson show."
"He's a good kid," Francona added. "He's just not real talkative, but he's comfortable and polite."
As the game sped onward, nevertheless, Gabbard's self-confidence erupted in bursts: a fist-pump here, a high-five there. When he finished off Kansas City's Mark Teahen with a high fastball and a swinging strike to end the game, Gabbard celebrated loudly.
What worked so well?
|"He's always focused on what he does. He goes out there and battles every time. Man, I love playing with him. I love playing behind him. And, you know, he's a great teammate to, so it's fun to watch him do that."|
|-- Dustin Pedroia, on Kason Gabbard|
"I don't pitch," said Varitek. "It's about [the starters] executing pitches, actually. I just try to put them in a situation that's going to make them successful. I'm still not the guy with the ball. Just an aid. And he did the work."
In only the fifth inning did Gabbard encounter any real trouble. That's when Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia stepped in to play the hero.
Pedroia, who broke the silence against Royals starter Brian Bannister by cracking a fourth-inning fastball over the Green Monster, and whose heads-up initial throw in the fourth started an unconventional 4-3-6 double play, made another defensive gem with the bases loaded.
After allowing the hit to Brown and issuing free passes to Esteban German and John Buck to load the bases, Gabbard induced a high bouncer from speedy Kansas City shortstop Tony Pena.
Pedroia steamed in like a locomotive, gloving and getting rid of the ball in a single motion. He nabbed Pena by a step.
"I got a good jump on it," Pedroia said.
Like Gabbard, Bannister got outs with efficient command and early strikes, facing the minimum through three innings. But the Royals starter was done in by the home run; two batters after Pedroia's homer, Ramirez added his own shot over the deep right-hand side of the Green Monster. Ortiz provided the rest of the offense by tailing a home run beyond Pesky's Pole in right.
Bannister allowed four earned runs in six innings, posting a line that didn't reflect an otherwise quiet night for the Boston bats.
"He was strike one, too," Varitek said, adding that Bannister was "very impressive with that. [He was] strike one throughout the whole game that he pitched. We just hit a couple home runs."
In the end, though, the night was Gabbard's. On a day that Curt Schilling received an assignment to pitch at Pawtucket on Saturday, Gabbard made a statement about his place in the team's plans, should Schilling's return create a logjam in the rotation.
"He's always focused on what he does," Pedroia said. "He goes out there and battles every time. Man, I love playing with him. I love playing behind him. And, you know, he's a great teammate to, so it's fun to watch him do that."
Alex McPhillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.