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April 09. 2013 8:55PM

Red Sox season in hands of Buchholz, Lester

BOSTON -- ONE BY ONE, a seemingly endless parade of new Red Sox players was introduced during Monday's Opening Day meet-and-greet at Fenway Park.

Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Joel Hanrahan.

Koji Uehara, Mike Carp, Ryan Dempster.

Jackie. Bradley. Junior.

But for all the moves the Red Sox made this winter to clean up Dodge, be advised your baseball summer - and perhaps your baseball autumn - is going to depend on the performances of a couple of not-so-old old-timers who were here in the days of "so good, so good, so good."

One of those is left-hander Jon Lester, who after two starts is 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA, including seven shutout innings in the wrap-up to John Farrell Appreciation Weekend Sunday afternoon in Toronto.

The other is right-hander Clay Buchholz, who followed with seven shutout innings of his own in the Red Sox' 3-1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles in Monday's Fenway opener. He, too, is 2-0, and his ERA is 0.64.

Put it together and Lester and Buchholz are 4-0, 1.04.

OK, so it's too early to anoint these guys baseball's dominant 1-2 pitching punch, and even Farrell applied the brakes a little when he said: "They're extremely important to us, but I don't want to take anything away from everyone else that walks to the mound to start ballgames."

No sooner did Farrell speak those words before he proceeded to the heart of the matter: "To have two guys at the front end of it starting the season as they are, as consistent as they are, it sets a very good tone."

We've seen Lester and Buchholz submit fine seasons. We've seen them both toss no-hitters. We've even seen Lester start and win the clinching game of the World Series. And if the Red Sox are to return to those glory days, they need for Lester and Buchholz return to their glory days. If they don't, it won't make much of a difference what the new guys do.

While Lester has looked like the Lester of old, we may be seeing a Buchholz of new. Oh, he still looks like a 19-year-old kid who wears the pleasant, carefree face of someone pitching for the Yawkey League, but Buchholz was no kid Monday. Not even close.

He had worked six shutout innings. He had thrown 90 pitches, which is a fair piece of work for this early in the season. But nobody bothered to ask Buchholz if he could go back out for one more inning, and he didn't bother to ask.

Because he had every intention of pitching the seventh.

"I didn't even hesitate," he said. "I wasn't looking at anybody before the seventh inning. I was running out there. It was going to have to take somebody coming up to me to not go back out there."

So out he went. Now, it should be pointed out that, far from mowing down the Orioles, Buchholz had to work for this. The leadoff batter reached base in three of the first four innings, and then, in the seventh, he walked leadoff hitter Matt Wieters.

Even then, Farrell had no plans to take him out. He had seen Buchholz pitch out of a jam in the third inning, dropping a curve over the dish to punch out the hot-hitting Adam Jones with two on and two out, and now the manager was going to give him a chance to get out of the seventh.

"That was Clay's ballgame," said Farrell. "I felt like he earned that right to get through it. His stuff didn't diminish. He showed the ability to make big pitches in key moments. It wasn't like he was losing command or the fastball. He stayed sharp throughout. More than anything, that was his inning to finish."

Finish it he did, striking out J.J. Hardy, getting Pride of Maine Ryan Flaherty on a grounder to second, then striking out Steve Pearce.

Soon it was over, and the Red Sox were the owners of a 5-2 record to start the season.

"It's a lot better than starting 2-9 or whatever it was last year," Buchholz said. "Awesome group of guys. It's been fun all the way through the spring . . . It's easier to come to the ballpark in high spirits."

Though the fabled, make-pretend sellout streak is about to end, Red Sox fans, too, may find themselves coming to the park in high spirits.

Especially when Lester and Buchholz are pitching.


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