Closing Time: Red Sox bats come up short in opener against Orioles, spoiling Jon Lester's solid outing

Rob Bradford
March 31, 2014 - 2:09 pm

BALTIMORE -- Jon Lester did his part. The Red Sox offense? That was another matter. In their first opportunity to defend the 2013 world championship, the Sox stranded 12 men while going 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position. The end result was season-opening, 2-1 loss to the Orioles before a sellout crowd at Camden Yards on Monday afternoon. The Red Sox ended their day stranding runners on first and second in the ninth against Baltimore closer Tommy Hunter thanks to a David Ortiz fly out and Jackie Bradley Jr. strikeout looking. Unfortunately for Lester, the lefty's solid Opening Day outing was defined by his 93rd pitch. That was a 91 mph fastball Orioles left fielder Nelson Cruz turned on for a solo homer to leadoff the seventh inning. Up until the Cruz blast -- which came on the Sox starter's first pitch of the inning -- Lester had been in complete command, allowing just five hits over seven innings, striking out seven and walking one. He finished throwing 104 pitches. Up until Cruz's homer, the biggest blast of the day came from Red Sox center fielder Grady Sizemore. Playing in his first major league game since Sept. 22, 2011, Sizemore lofted a 3-1, 91 mph fastball from Baltimore starter Chris Tillman over the right field wall to knot the game at 1 in the fourth. It was the 31-year-old's first home run in 991 days. Here is what went wrong (and right) in the opener. WHAT WENT WRONG -- Lester ran into a bit of trouble in the second inning after walking Cruz to kick off the frame. The DH was immediate followed by a Matt Wieters single to left-center, giving the Orioles runners at first and third with nobody out. The Sox were able to limit the damage, with Dustin Pedroia starting a 4-3-6 double play on a Delmon Young run-scoring grounder. -- The Red Sox had trouble closing the deal in the first six innings, stranding eight (at least one in each of the frames). Will Middlebrooks had the toughest time of it, leaving four runners on base over that span. -- The Sox left two more runners on in the eighth, with Bradley Jr. (having pinch-run for Mike Napoli) at second base and Xander Bogaerts having drawn a walk to get to first. But Baltimore reliever Brian Matusz came on to face A.J. Pierzynski, who grounded weakly back to the pitcher on his third pitch. -- Hitting in the leadoff spot, Daniel Nava had a tough day, going 0-for-5, joining Middlebrooks as the only Red Sox starter not to claim at least one hit. WHAT WENT RIGHT -- The Red Sox hitters did what they typically do so well -- drive up the starting pitcher's pitch count. In this case the victim was Tillman, who needed 104 pitches to get through five innings. The righty allowed just the Sizemore home run, but he had to weave his way in and out of trouble all day, allowing seven hits and one walk. -- Lester punctuated the sixth inning by striking out Chris Davis with Adam Jones on first, marking the starter's second punchout of the slugger on the day. Also of note: Of the 21 outs notched by the lefty, only one was hit in the air. -- With his first-inning single, Pedroia became the first Red Sox player in the last 100 years to hit safely in eight straight Opening Day games. - Besides Sizemore (who also had a second-inning single), an offensive standout for the Sox was Napoli, who reached base three times (single, two walks).