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Richard Justice

No losers at Fenway Park this Patriots' Day

Orioles prevail, but city's resilience at forefront one year after tragedy

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It was three hours, 18 minutes of two really good baseball teams punching and counter-punching one another on Monday. It was just one game in a long, long season between two teams that expect to be playing deep in October, but while it was going on, with each team refusing to give in to the other, with each showing the heart of a champion, it felt like much more than that.

Yep, the Red Sox and Orioles did themselves proud on this Patriots' Day, folks. Take a bow, fellas. Nice job all around. The O's won it, 7-6, in front of a packed house of 37,513 at Fenway Park, but given how the Red Sox fought and clawed back from a 6-0 deficit, given how Red Sox Nation has a month's worth of storylines to digest, there surely won't be much disappointment.

Just hours after finishing one gut-wrenching, heart-pounding contest -- with Boston fighting back from a five-run deficit to win Sunday night's game, 6-5 -- the two teams were right back at it for an 11 a.m. ET start on Monday.

Just over the Green Monster, marathoners could be seen in Kenmore Square, headed for the finish line a few blocks away on Boylston. As thousands of spectators celebrated with laughter and emotion, this uniquely New England moment was joy interspersed with defiance. No, they're not taking our best day of the year.

And so, as fans filed out of Fenway Park to join the celebration, they were left with an assortment of things to consider as the Yankees come to town for a Masahiro Tanaka-Jon Lester matchup on Tuesday night.

What's that? Am I forgetting something? OK, Tuesday will also mark the return to Fenway Park of onetime Red Sox star Jacoby Ellsbury. He finished his eight-year career in Boston with a tremendous 2013 season and was a significant contributor as the Red Sox won the World Series for the third time in 10 seasons. And then Ellsbury signed with the Yanks.

So Ellsbury will be booed like crazy on Tuesday night for no particular reason except that he's wearing that other uniform these days. It'll probably be difficult for Red Sox Nation to work up any real dislike of the guy because, during those seven seasons with Boston, he was such a low-key contributor, saying little, avoiding the spotlight, etc.

Ellsbury reached 150 games in a season only twice, but when he was on the field, he was a big-time contributor, leading the American League in steals three times, showing flashes of power and winning an AL Gold Glove Award in 2011 for his play in center field. That was the year he finished second in AL MVP Award balloting.

So while Red Sox fans chew on Monday's game, they've got an equally important one to look forward to. With all five AL East teams bunched within 2 1/2 games of one another -- the Yankees are first, the Red Sox last -- it's a series that's part of the usual feeling-out process as both clubs attempt to work through their problem areas.

Red Sox fans had to love their team's fight in rallying from that 6-0 deficit and coming within inches of tying it in the bottom of the ninth when Dustin Pedroia slapped a double high off the Green Monster.

The Red Sox left eight runners on base and went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position. Had they come up with one more hit in the late innings, had rookie Xander Bogaerts' baserunning mistake not cost them an opportunity in the eighth, who knows how it might have ended?

"I can't tell you how proud I am of our guys," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said.

After letting that five-run lead get away on Sunday, the O's probably needed a short night.

"The one good thing about playing an 11 a.m. game is you've got a short time to think about it," Showalter said. "We've had, what, about a half-hour since last night? [The Red Sox] are the world champions, and there's a reason why."

It didn't start like it was going to be a close game. Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz allowed six runs in 2 1/3 innings and is sporting a 7.71 ERA. His location was off, but of bigger concern to Boston might be that his velocity continues to decline.

The Red Sox have lots of intriguing pitching depth in the Minors, but they'll continue to try to fix Buchholz, who pitched like a No. 1 starter in the first half of last season. Afterward, the right-hander said his velocity has picked up as he has gotten deeper into games, but he didn't get that chance on Monday.

Still, the Red Sox almost came all the way back. David Ross and Mike Napoli homered, and three Boston relievers allowed one run in 6 2/3 innings. But with the tying and winning runs in scoring position in the ninth, Orioles closer Tommy Hunter got Mike Carp on a grounder to end it.

It wasn't a perfect ending for the home team, but it was one of those perfect games, a day of expectation and celebration that was about as good as it gets. Happy Patriots' Day, everybody.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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