BOSTON – Close game, with a clutch hit in the late innings.
Sounds like the Baltimore Orioles’ winning formula last year.
But on Monday, under clear blue skies that perfectly framed opening day at Fenway Park, the Boston Red Sox out-Orioled the Orioles, beating Baltimore 3-1 before a delighted throng of 37,008.
Clay Buchholz (2-0) kept it close by throwing seven scoreless innings, allowing just three hits.
Daniel Nava produced in the clutch with a three-run home run over the Green Monster in the seventh inning, off hard-luck Baltimore starter Wei-Yin Chen (0-1).
Closer Joel Hanrahan finished it with a bumpy ninth. He allowed a solo home run by Adam Jones, and then a two-out double by J.J. Hardy. Portland native Ryan Flaherty ended the game, flying out to third baseman Will Middlebrooks in foul territory.
Both teams managed only five hits.
“Can’t say enough what Clay did for us,” Boston Manager John Farrell said. “The way Chen was pitching. Classic pitchers’ duel. One swing of the bat becomes the difference.”
The victory continued Boston’s teasingly strong start, with an American League East-leading 5-2 record.
The Orioles (3-4), a playoff team last year, has been a thorn to Boston in recent years (19-8 in their previous 27 games). Baltimore’s forte had been to win close games.
Conversely, Boston has been a team that has wilted, falling to last place last year.
And although Farrell cautioned that “we’re very well aware we’re only seven games into this,” there is a feel-good feeling at Fenway.
“It’s a lot better than starting 2-9, or whatever it was last year and the year before,” Buchholz said of recent poor starts to the season.
“This is an awesome group of guys. It’s easier to come to the ballpark and be in high spirits.”
For all the joy, Buchholz was not giddy about his performance, although he struck out eight over seven innings. He allowed a couple of hard-hit balls that right fielder Shane Victorino ran down.
“I was up in the zone,” Buchholz said. “There were a couple of balls that might have gotten out, that stayed in the park. Sort of a grind there.”
Catcher David Ross quipped that “most pitchers in the major leagues would take that grind.”
In the third inning, Buchholz allowed back-to-back two-out singles, but then struck out Jones looking at a curveball.
In the seventh, Buchholz walked the first batter on a full count and was nearing 100 pitches. He stayed on the mound.
“That is Clay’s ballgame,” Farrell said. “His stuff didn’t diminish. He showed the ability to make big pitches in key moments. He stayed sharp throughout.”
Buchholz finished his day by retiring Hardy (strikeout), Flaherty (groundout) and Steve Pearce (strikeout).
In the bottom of the seventh, Dustin Pedroia got Boston’s third hit off of Chen when he singled. Jonny Gomes followed with a double to left center, putting runners on second and third. Will Middlebrooks struck out.
Nava came up and worked a 1-1 count.
“I thought he might try to go inside and he left it a little over the middle,” Nava said of the fastball he swatted. “It worked out. I won’t complain.”
Buck Showalter came out to get Chen after that.
“He pitched great. Both guys pitched really well,” Showalter said. “We didn’t do much offensively.”
And, with Nava, the Red Sox did just enough.
Reliever Andrew Bailey worked a 1-2-3 eighth, and Hanrahan got his third save after a one-run ninth.
Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at: