PHILADELPHIA — Clay Buchholz has started five postseason games in his career, one of them in the World Series. Those games, important as they were, didn't prepare him for the emotions of starting on Opening Day.
Or some of the obstacles, such as trying to warm up in the outfield when a giant American flag is stretched from nearly one foul line to the other.
"That was a little different," said Buchholz, who eventually found enough space to play catch.
Buchholz may not be the ace Red Sox fans think they deserve, but he was the one they got on Monday. The righthander pitched seven brilliant innings in an 8-0 victory against the Philadelphia Phillies.
On a day when Dustin Pedroia and Hanley Ramirez each hit two home runs, Buchholz was the star. He allowed three hits, walked one, and struck out nine. Facing Cole Hamels, a pitcher often linked to the Red Sox in trade talks, Buchholz was demonstrably better.
"Oh, man, he was great," Pedroia said. "It was fun to watch."
Buchholz didn't allow a hit until the fourth inning and only one Philadelphia runner advanced as far as third base. Of his 94 pitches, 65 were strikes.
Buchholz had not faced the Phillies before and the lack of familiarity played to his advantage. Whatever pitch catcher Ryan Hanigan called, Buchholz threw it for a strike. The Philadelphia hitters were overmatched by the variety.
"He had them all, fastball, curveball, changeup and we used a cutter sparingly. It was all on the money, everything," Hanigan said. "When a guy has four pitches, that's awesome. You can't sit on anything."
Buchholz retired 11 of the first 12 batters he faced, the exception being a slow roller he fumbled in the first inning. A pitcher with a reputation for taking his time worked like a metronome, getting the ball and firing it back.
"That was the best part, the tempo and the rhythm. We were flowing, doing a lot of nodding because we were on the same page," Hanigan said.
"We knew what we wanted to do and were real confident doing it."
Said Buchholz: "It's easier to do that when you're commanding and getting early contact and early outs. That's how I planned it out in my head, going out there and getting the ball and getting back on the rubber. It felt good."
Buchholz was 8-11 with a 5.34 earned run average last season. His selection to start the first game was more a nod toward his tenure with the team than anything else.
For manager John Farrell, seeing Buchholz embrace the opportunity was heartening. The pitcher arrived at Citizens Bank Park about six hours before the game, leaving his wife and parents back at the hotel.
"There was no change in his demeanor or change in his routine," Farrell said. "He's done a lot of work on the mental side of the game. Some of the potential distractions, he's able to keep that in check."
That Buchholz beat Hamels added some spice to his accomplishment. The Philadelphia lefthander has been on the trade market for months and the Red Sox are viewed as a logical match. No deal has transpired and maybe none will now.
"I guess you could say it's ironic," Buchholz said. "He's trying to win a baseball game, too. He left a couple of pitches up and our guys hit them. It goes back to what everybody's been talking about with our lineup, I'm glad I don't have to pitch to them."
The rebuilt Red Sox offense embarrassed Hamels, who allowed four home runs in five innings and was booed by the sellout crowd of 45,549.
The Sox took the lead in the first inning when Pedroia homered to left field. Mookie Betts, who was 2 for 4 with a walk, homered in the third inning, turning on a cut fastball that drifted inside and putting it deep in the left-field stands.
Pedroia and Ramirez homered in the fifth inning. Those, too, went to left field.
Pedroia was 3 for 5. He is 16 of 38 (.421) on Opening Day with four home runs and seven RBIs. He has hit safely in all nine of his Opening Day games.
In the ninth inning, facing lefthander Jake Diekman, pinch hitter Allen Craig singled before Betts and Mike Napoli drew walks. Ramirez then launched a grand slam, again to left field. It was the sixth slam of his career, the first since 2011.
The Sox hit 123 home runs last season, 12th in the American League, and did not hit five in any game. They hit four once.
With this lineup, the power has returned.
Buchholz was smiling afterward, a career first having been checked off. Not only did he start on Opening Day, he proved deserving of the honor.
"I can get used to this," he said.