ST. LOUIS -- The hard part, Joe Kelly must have figured, would come out on the mound, pitching against his former teammates, matched up against his best friend in the game.
He was wrong.
Kelly's homecoming to St. Louis, just six days after being dealt to Boston with Allen Craig for John Lackey at last week's deadline, became an emotional event even before the game started.
As he walked out to, and then back from, the bullpen prior to the delayed start of Wednesday's night game at Busch Stadium, the St. Louis fans saluted him with applause.
"That was crazy,'' said Kelly. "Definitely hard to put in words. I mean, I got a whole standing ovation before I started stretching. The Cardinal fans and the people here are so incredibly awesome. I can't thank them enough for that. That was awesome. My heart started beating fast and I just tried to keep it together.''
They did so again in the bottom of the first when he took the mound, and then again, in the top of the third when he led off.
"There were some emotions there,'' acknowledged Kelly. "After that first inning, I realized it was just pitching again. It's like pitching in the playoffs -- you get really excited, but once you let go of the ball, it's just pitching again from there.''
Just pitching? If that's what it was, it worked. Kelly limited the Cards to just three hits over seven innings, and while he didn't qualify for the win, gave the Red Sox the opportunity to edge his old team, 2-1.
"Joe was outstanding,'' raved John Farrell. "(He threw) three quality pitches for strikes. After the first couple of base hits in the first inning, he settles down. He used his full repertoire, particularly his curveball, which I thought was a very good pitch for him. He was seemingly very easy to the bottom of the strike zone and kept the ball on the ground.
"I thought overall, he was very strong.''
Kelly had struggled in his last four starts for St. Louis, but his Red Sox debut was a thing of beauty. He mixed his pitches better and other than a leadoff double to Matt Carpenter to start the game and a fly ball to the warning track by Jhonny Peralta in the fifth were about the only hard-hit balls against him all night.
"I just wanted to go out there and pitch as best as I can,'' said Kelly. "When we got ahead and fell behind 1-0 or 2-1, we put an emphasis on throwing the breaking ball and the changeup. They were both good pitches. I think mixing in pitches like that is going to be going to be huge for me (instead) of going out there and hucking fastballs and trying to make them hit the ball on the ground.''
He overcame a shot off his thigh on a comebacker by OScar Taveras in the fourth.
"It definitely hurt,'' said Kelly. "It left some seams there (from the imprint of the ball) and some swelling, but I didn't want to come out that game. (The discomfort) was there every time I threw the ball, but I didn't want to come out of there. It was my first start for the Red Sox and I wanted to go out there and gut it out.''
The Cardinals, of course, were eminently familiar with Kelly and he with them, so there wasn't much of an edge to either side. It was about execution.
"Scouting reports are so advanced at this level,'' he said, "facing my former team or facing another team, I see the tendencies and what players like to hit. But ultimately, I like to just pitch to my strengths.''
Which, on this night, once he got past his emotions, were considerable.