Bulldog Beckett set to kick off season

Bulldog Beckett set to kick off season

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It will be a big stage on Sunday night at Fenway Park, when Josh Beckett kicks off his fifth season with the Red Sox by making the first pitch of Major League Baseball's 2010 season.

Derek Jeter will be in the batters' box. CC Sabathia, a fellow elite starter, will be the opposing pitcher. And any game against the Yankees is big for the Red Sox, especially when New York enters the season as the defending World Series champions.

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The first pitch is scheduled for 8:05 p.m. ET, and the game will be televised nationally on ESPN 2 and on NESN for viewers in the Boston area.

This is the first time the Red Sox and Yankees have faced off in a season opener since 2005, when Boston was fresh off winning its first World Series title in 86 years. It is the first of 18 meetings between the rivals this season.

Some pitchers might have too much adrenaline for a matchup like this, but it is right up Beckett's alley.

He has always craved the big game and often thrived in it. In large part, that is because Beckett treats every start as big.

This will be the fifth Opening Day start of his career, and second as a member of the Red Sox. Last year, Beckett was nasty in his Opening Day start against the Rays, giving up two hits and one run over seven innings.

"Any Opening Day is fun," Beckett said. "Last year was great as well. I've got to go and make pitches, because they're a good team. We don't face too many bad teams -- especially in our division."

The American League East is something the Red Sox and Yankees -- along with the Rays -- could be fighting for all year along. Last year, Boston won 95 games and captured the AL Wild Card, but finished eight games behind New York in the AL East. Boston was swept out of the AL Division Series by the Angels.

Boston Red Sox
Projected Opening Day lineup
1 CF Jacoby Ellsbury
2 2B Dustin Pedroia
3 C Victor Martinez
4 1B Kevin Youkilis
5 DH David Ortiz
6 RF J.D. Drew
7 3B Adrian Beltre
8 CF Mike Cameron
9 SS Marco Scutaro
Projected rotation
1 RHP Josh Beckett
2 LHP Jon Lester
3 RHP John Lackey
4 RHP Tim Wakefield
5 RHP Clay Buchholz
Projected bullpen
CL RHP Jonathan Papelbon
SU RHP Daniel Bard
SU LHP Hideki Okajima
SU RHP Ramon Ramirez
SU RHP Manny Delcarmen
MI LHP Alan Embree
Full 25-man roster | Depth chart
The Sox will try to erase that bitter taste starting Sunday, when they send out Beckett, who is at the top of the rotation that could evolve into one of the best in baseball. Jon Lester and John Lackey are also ace-caliber pitchers, and Tim Wakefield is closing in on 200 career wins. The honor of being the one chosen by manager Terry Francona to be first is not something Beckett takes lightly.

"Every one of those guys could start Opening Day," said Beckett. "I think before it's all said and done, [Clay] Buchholz will probably end up starting an Opening Day or two himself. Yeah, it's a great honor. Like I said the other day, it only happens one day and then everyone's got to saddle up on their day."

Though Beckett might not always get the results he is looking for, the Red Sox never have any doubt in his ability to saddle up.

"Like I say, it's way more fun to be behind the plate for him than facing him," said Red Sox catcher Victor Martinez. "Obviously, he's one of the best in the game and he has a presence on the mound. He knows what he's doing and he's never going to give up, no matter what. He's a pitcher that you always like to see on the mound for you."

Of course, nobody has a better understanding of both of the star pitchers who are facing off in this game than Martinez, who was Sabathia's catcher for many years in Cleveland.

"He deserves everything he got, and he's a great man, a great father, a great person -- that's the bottom line," said Martinez. "It's tough facing him, but this is the game, that's how it is. He's one of the best in the game. You just hope that you go out there and he makes a mistake on you and you make him pay. Obviously, a pitcher like CC, they don't make many mistakes. When they do, you have to make sure you don't miss it."

Mike Cameron, Boston's new starting center fielder, also spent some time as Sabathia's teammate in Milwaukee.

"He's a beast," Cameron said. "We know he's tough. I had the luxury of facing him and standing behind him and seeing the dominant stuff that he presents. Obviously, it's going to be a challenge all year long. He's one of the dominant pitchers in the game today. With guys like that, you're just hoping you can get a few mistakes off him, because they don't make too many mistakes and he's a big competitor. We know we're going to have our hands full, but we're going to try to go out there and beat him up."

Though Cameron hasn't played an official game with Beckett yet, he's fairly certain it will be a similar experience to what it was like playing behind Sabathia.

"Bulldog," Cameron said. "He's a guy that understands what he has to do as far as giving his team a chance to win against another dominant starter. The one thing I love about Becket is he doesn't back down from anybody."

As compelling a matchup as Beckett-Sabathia is, there are other subplots in store for this one.

Cameron, shortstop Marco Scutaro and third baseman Adrian Beltre will all be making their first starts for the Sox. It will be Martinez's first Opening Day in Boston, as he was acquired last July 31 from the Indians.

"There's always [close to] 40,000 people in Fenway," said Martinez. "It's a full house in Fenway. Obviously, you're a little anxious on Opening Day."

But the nerves might start to subside as soon as Beckett starts delivering the heat.

"I think he feels good about himself," said Francona. "He should. He looks strong -- he looks ready to go."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.