Thursday night the Sox made sure that 2014 got off to a good start in that regard, too.
A 14-hit attack produced enough that Felix Doubront and three relievers could hand the ball to Koji Uehara with a lead, and on his 39th birthday the Boston closer needed just seven pitches to seal a 4-3 win at Baltimore, notching his first save of the young season to give the Sox the series rubber match and send them home with a second straight win.
Manager John Farrell used a notably different lineup than he had in the previous couple of games. Jonny Gomes batted leadoff for the first time since 2007. Xander Bogaerts batted fifth for the first time in his career. David Ross saw his first action of the season, catching and hitting eighth. Jackie Bradley Jr. made his first start in center field, occupying the No. 9 hole as Grady Sizemore took a seat.
And it worked, especially early, as by the end of the fourth inning every Sox starter had at least one hit except Dustin Pedroia (who had four hits the night before, and later doubled) and Mike Napoli (who drove home four runs on Wednesday).
The Sox reached Orioles starter Wei-Yin Chen for six of those hits over the first three innings, and used them to take a 2-0 lead. They opened the scoring in the second when singles by Bogaerts and Daniel Nava put runners on the corners with nobody out, and Bogaerts came home when the Orioles traded the run for two outs when Will Middlebrooks knocked into a double play.
Then the Sox doubled that advantage an inning later by capitalizing on some bad Baltimore defense with some good hustle. After reaching on an infield chopper, Jackie Bradley Jr. was on first when David Ortiz lifted a fly ball to shallow left. Nelson Cruz misread the ball badly – Rangers fans can certainly relate – and despite giving himself little chance to make the catch with his hard charge, he made a diving attempt anyway.
When he did the ball skipped behind him, and because Bradley never stopped running after leaving on contact he scored all the way from first on what went as a single for Ortiz. (The White House rabble-rouser finished the night with three hits.)
The visitors stretched their advantage to three in the next inning, when Ross plated Bogaerts with a bounding single to left. But Doubront quickly gave back that run, and another, as the Orioles hit three balls off the outfield walls in the fourth. Chris Davis (double), Matt Wieters (double), and Delmon Young (single) conspired to trim the Sox’ lead to 3-2.
That’s where the game stayed until the sixth, when each side struck once while knocking out the opposing starter. Chen (5.2 IP, 4 ER, 12 H, 5 K) went to the showers after Bradley’s single to center scored Middlebrooks, who had doubled, but Baltimore got that back in the bottom half. Davis led off with a single, but, after winning an 11-pitch duel with Adam Jones, Doubront was lifted in favor of Brandon Workman, and after a Wieters single Davis eventually scored on a wild pitch.
The run was charged to Doubront, who was charged with three runs, six hits, and a walk, while striking out four in the 5.1 innings he completed in 76 pitches (51 strikes).
Workman finished the sixth, then gave way to West Springfield native Chris Capuano, who pitched a perfect seventh in his Red Sox debut. Junichi Tazawa subsequently took over for the eighth, and – pitching in his third consecutive contest – worked around a couple of singles to finish a scoreless frame against the heart of the Orioles’ order.
That left Uehara to face 8-9-1 in the ninth, and after whiffing Jonathan Schoop on three pitches he induced successive pop ups to Will Middlebrooks at third base. As usual there was no drama. Never a doubt. And now the Red Sox are headed home.