By Bill Burt
---- — To Boston Red Sox fans, yesterday was a charming formality of every February, the unofficial opening of Spring Training ... two games against a pair of Boston-based college teams.
To Dustin Hunt, it was one of the most memorable experiences of his life.
The Northeastern University freshman, who hails from Andover and picthed at St. John's Prep, had trouble sleeping last night in his Fort Myers hotel room.
"Our pitching coach came up to me while we were stretching (on Wednesday) and told me I was starting against the Red Sox," said the 6-foot-4 Hunt. "I was a little stunned. And then I started to get a little nervous."
Hunt's start against the Sox probably had something to do with his performance recently, which included four shutout innings against Houston Baptist last weekend. He also pitched hard-fought four innings against nationally-ranked Texas A&M the week before.
Yesterday morning the teams had a pregame meal at JetBlue Park and the Northeastern players mingled with the Red Sox players during batting practice. It quelled the nerves a little bit.
"Jonny Gomes was one of the nicest guys," said Hunt. "David Ortiz was great. He shook hands and posed for pictures. Dustin Pedroia, he was great, too, just talking and asking us about our team."
Then came game, which was surreal.
"First off, the stadium is the best I've ever played in," said Hunt. "It was beautiful. And the place was packed. I was on the mound, warming up, and I couldn't believe I was there."
Then came the batters, Grady Sizemore, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz.
"I got Grady to fly to left," said Hunt. "Then Pedroia, the count went to 3-and-2, and I threw a fastball. He hit it so hard up the middle that I didn't see it until it was in center field. And then Ortiz, the count got to 3-and-2 and I threw him a changeup, which was a little low for ball four."
Hunt got the next two hitters, Mike Napoli (a popup to the catcher) and Gomes (fly out to left) to end the first inning.
Hunt's second inning was very similar. He got Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks to hit deep fly balls before catcher Ryan Lavarnway doubled off the wall in left and Jackie Bradley Jr. walked.
Hunt ended his appearance inducing Sizemore to hit a line out to left field.
His stat line was impressive: 2 innings pitched, 2 hits, 2 walks, no runs.
"I learned going against those guys you've got to have all your pitches working," said Hunt, whose fastball has hit 92 mph this winter. "A 90 mile-an-hour fastball isn't enough. You have changeup, maybe a slider, and you have to have command of all your pitches.
"The thing I noticed was every guy worked the count," said Hunt. "It seemed like every batter had a 3-and-2 count. I was throwing changeup on 3-and-1 and 3-and-2 because they'll crush a fastball."
The score as 0-0 when Hunt left the game after two inning. The Red Sox took a 1-0 lead after five innings before Northeastern came back with two runs in the top of the sixth inning for a 2-1 advantage.
But the Red Sox bats exploded for four runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to eventually take the win, 5-2.
"It was an amazing experience, throwing to all of those guys, some of whom I've rooted for my whole life," said Hunt. "It really was cool, something I'll never forget."