Daniel Nava starts, homers to lead Red Sox to win in home opener
BOSTON -- Red Sox manager John Farrell spent several minutes Monday morning explaining why rookie phenom Jackie Bradley Jr. was sitting out the home opener, with Daniel Nava was in his place.
In the bottom of the seventh inning, Nava made Farrell look like a genius. He hit a 1-1 pitch from Baltimore Orioles starter Wei-Yin Chen into the Green Monster seats for a three-run home run. Those runs were all Clay Buchholz and two relievers needed, as the Sox beat the Orioles 3-1 in the home opener before a sold-out Fenway Park.
It was a very good day for Nava, who walked and singled to left in three at-bats, improving his early-season batting average to .500.
"It was special because it was opening day and opening day is a special experience to begin with," Nava said. "Obviously, I wasn't trying to hit a home run. It just worked out like that.
"To contribute and get us a lead in a tight game after [Buchholz] pitched well is something that anyone who would step into the box in that situation would look to do."
The home run made a winner of Buchholz, who pitched seven scoreless innings for the Red Sox. The right-hander, who improves to 2-0, gave up only three hits and walked four in seven innings of work. He struck out eight, including Steve Pearce on his 113th pitch of the game.
Andrew Bailey pitched a perfect eighth inning and closer Joel Hanrahan gave up a leadoff home run to Baltimore's Adam Jones and a two-out double to J.J. Hardy before getting Ryan Flaherty on a pop out to end the game.
"It's a fun game to pitch in, especially when you come out on top," said Buchholz. "I didn't have one thing that was working the whole day. I was up in the zone. There were a couple of balls hit early that could have gotten out, but they stayed in the park. Other than that, it was sort of a grind there."
When the Red Sox broke camp, Bradley was the talk of Fort Myers. Through the first six games of the regular season, the rookie was a fixture in left field -- until Monday.
Farrell, who told Nava he would start on Sunday, said that using Nava as a right-handed batter instead of the left-handed Bradley against the left-handed Chen wasn't a really difficult decision. It was a decision, Farrell said, that was made easier by Nava's work at the plate.
"I think he's done a much better job of picking out pitches and getting a pitch to drive," the first-year Sox manager said. "[Sunday] up in Toronto and [Monday], he was the difference in the ball game. He puts up consistent ABs. He got a hit in the second at bat. He walks in his first at-bat and he's the difference in his last at-bat."
The game was scoreless through six innings and the Red Sox had only two hits against the Taiwanese left-hander. Dustin Pedroia started the home seventh with an infield single to short and took third when Mike Napoli doubled to the 379-foot mark in center field. Pedroia was coming so hard around third that when third-base coach Brian Butterfield put up the stop sign, it was like Pedroia put skid marks into the grass.
Will Middlebrooks, who hit three home runs in Sunday's win at Toronto, struck out swinging for the first out and Nava stepped to the plate. He hit a 1-1 fastball from Chen over the Green Monster.
"Knowing the shadows were in play, I wasn't sure how I was going to pick the ball up," Nava said. "Knowing the game situation, I was trying to get on him early because he knew what was going to happen in that situation."
Buchholz threw seven quality innings for the Red Sox, pitching out of a couple of sticky situations. Twice in the first six innings, the Orioles had runners in scoring position, and the Red Sox righty pitched out of trouble. In the third, he got Jones looking to end the game. His big moment came in the seventh.
Buchholz walked Matt Wieters to open the seventh inning and as his pitch count rose over 100, Wieters reached second when Flaherty grounded out. Pearce worked the count to 2-2, but he swung and missed on Buchholz's 113th pitch.
"I wasn't looking at anybody for the seventh inning. I was running out there," said Buchholz. "It feels good to be on a team where everybody has your back to do that. I didn't feel any kind of tiredness. I felt good enough to go back out there."
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