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Let the games begin: Red Sox ready to face Orioles on Opening Day

BALTIMORE -- What a difference a year makes.

Last year at this time, fans were hoping for any type of rebound from the Red Sox 69-win season under manager Bobby Valentine in 2012 and Jackie Bradley Jr. was all the rage, being named to the Opening Day lineup.

This year, the Red Sox head into Opening Day as the defending World Series champions and comeback veteran Grady Sizemore has taken the center field job from JBJ after Jacoby Ellsbury skipped town to suit up for the Yankees.

At 3 p.m. today, the Red Sox will send lefty ace Jon Lester (15-8, 3.75) to the mound to begin the defense of the World Series title at Camden Yards in Baltimore, where you can always expect to find a sea of Red Sox fans in the stands. A year ago in the Bronx, Lester, who will be making his fourth consecutive opening day start, picked up the win in the season opener as the Sox pounded the Yankees 8-3 before going on to lead Boston to their third World Series title in 10 years.

"One through nine, obviously very powerful. A lot like the rest of the East," Lester said. "One of the biggest things with this club is you try to keep them in the ballpark as best you can. That's where they do a lot of their damage."

A year ago, Lester got the win as the Red Sox thumped the New York Yankees 8-2 in the season opener. It was an uplifting start for a team coming off a last-place finish, and now Lester hopes to provide a similar boost for a squad opening defense of its title.

"It's like we talked about last year during the playoffs - you want to set the tone for the rest of the guys," said Lester, who is 15-3 lifetime against Baltimore. "You don't want to be that weak link in the chain. You want to go out there and get these guys off on the right foot."

Since beating St. Louis in the World Series, the Red Sox lost center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and shortstop Stephen Drew in free agency. It's also quite possible that right fielder Shane Victorino will miss the opener with a strained right hamstring. Victorino returned to Boston on Sunday for an MRI and will undergo an exam Monday morning before the team decides whether to put him on the disabled list to start the season.

New catcher A.J. Pierzynski will also make his debut with the Red Sox today along with Sizemore.

"We recognize fully that last year is behind us, and everyone is looking forward to (Monday) and beyond," Farrell said. "Shane's situation is going to be one of the challenges thrown our way. We don't know what's going to come up against us. As long as we remain resilient and face those challenges as we did a year ago - as a team - I feel like we'll be in a very good place as we go through this journey in 2014."

The rejuvenated Orioles will send Chris Tillman (16-7, 3.71 ERA) to the hill. At 11-8, the Orioles were the only team in the AL East with a winning record against the Red Sox (97-65) last season.

"This is always a challenge to come into Baltimore, or playing them in Fenway," Red Sox manager John Farrell said Sunday. "This is a very good team. We've had a chance to see their regular lineup in spring training, and it's deep and powerful. Just another example of how difficult this division can be. This will be a good test for us right out of the gate."

Here are the lineups:

RED SOX (0-0)
Nava RF
Pedroia 2B
Ortiz DH
Napoli 1B
Carp LF
Sizemore CF
Bogaerts SS
Pierzynski C
Middlebrooks 3B

Pitching: LHP Jon Lester

ORIOLES (0-0)

Pitching: RHP Chris Tillman

Game time: 3:05 p.m.

Location: Camden Yards, Baltimore

TV/Radio: NESN, WEEI

Notes: Follow today's game on Boston.com beginning at 3 p.m. with our live blog.

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