Nelson Cruz hits solo home run in 7th to lift Orioles to 2-1 win over Red Sox on Opening Day

ORIOLES 2, BOSTON RED SOX 1

Boston threatens in the ninth, but closer Tommy Hunter seals the one-run victory

March 31, 2014|By Eduardo A. Encina | The Baltimore Sun

The path that brought Nelson Cruz to the orange carpet for Opening Day introductions at Camden Yards on Monday afternoon wasn’t the one he imagined months ago when he became a free agent. But if there was any doubt in his mind whether he landed in the right place, those questions were answered quickly.

As Cruz ran down the carpet before the Orioles’ season opener against the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox, Baltimore welcomed him with the long, exaggerated chant of his last name — “Cruuuuuzzzz” — a sound he had heard for several years from adoring fans in his former home ballpark playing for the Texas Rangers.

“A shock,” Cruz later called it.

The cheer also came before his first at-bat. It came after he made a jumping catch in front of the left-field wall in the second inning, and the chant was at its loudest when Cruz gave the announced sellout crowd of 46,685 the biggest hit of the afternoon — a solo homer in the seventh-inning that proved to be the game-winner in a tightly contested 2-1 win for the Orioles over the Red Sox at Camden Yards.

“It was really neat, it was special,” Cruz said of the crowd’s reaction. “I think I made the right call to come and be part of this organization, be part of this town. Hopefully now I can do some other stuff to contribute for the team.”

The win was the Orioles’ fourth straight Opening Day victory. They’ve won their last five season openers against Boston.

All Opening Days have their share of emotion, but this year’s was different. The Orioles’ free-agent spending spree in February, which included signing Cruz to a one-year, $8 million deal, created extra buzz and anticipation. And the intensity of the game — one between two American League East contenders — from the first out to the last had the feel of a late-September matchup.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter wore a black feather on his jacket that was given to him by the family of late public relations director Monica Barlow, who passed away hours before the team’s first spring training game in February after a 41/2-year battle with lung cancer. That day, Showalter poignantly said that the Oriole bird had “lost a feather” in Barlow's passing. Players were given orange wristbands with Barlow’s name on them to wear as her family watched the game from the Showalter family’s suite.

“A lot of emotion, not only with what we went through for the last couple of months, but just going back to last year,” Orioles first baseman Chris Davis said. “The way things ended kind of left a bad taste in our mouths. So to come out here and get a chance to play the defending world champs, it was so good for us to get a win on Opening Day.”

On the field, Cruz perfectly played the role of hero in his first game with his new team, turning on a 91 mph fastball from Boston starter Jon Lester, sending the first pitch of the bottom of the seventh inning deep into a sea of orange in the left-field stands.

“You always try to dream about a good start,” Cruz said. “I think the dream came true. … It was really neat, it was special. I think I made the right call to come and be part of this organization, be part of this town. Hopefully now I can do some other stuff to contribute for the team.”

With two runners on base and no outs in the second inning of a scoreless game, Cruz also made a jumping catch just in front of the left-field fence on a rocket by Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts. He also scored both of the Orioles’ runs, including the first one after he battled back from a 0-2 count to draw a leadoff walk in the bottom of the second inning.

“I wasn’t surprised,” Davis said of Cruz. “That’s the kind of caliber of player he is. I was excited in spring training when we signed him, and with good reason.”

When the offseason began, Cruz was one of the top power hitters on the free-agent market and hoped for a multiyear deal even though he was coming off a season in which he served a 50-game suspension for involvement in the Biogenesis scandal. He waited while the free-agent market slowed before settling for a one-year deal with the Orioles.

The win continued the Orioles’ recent dominance of the Red Sox.

Even though Lester — Boston’s ace — allowed just two runs over seven innings Monday, the Orioles have now won eight of the past nine games that Lester has started (Lester won his first 14 career decisions against Baltimore) dating back to the 2011 regular-season finale that helped knock the Red Sox out of the postseason race.

Including that game, the Orioles are 25-13 in their last 38 games against Boston.

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