Colon solid in return to majors as BoSox topple Royals

BOSTON (AP) -- After 306 starts, 146 wins and one Cy Young award, Bartolo Colon felt like a rookie before his 2008 debut.

The beefy right-hander turns 35 on Saturday but when he took the mound Wednesday night he had the nerves of a neophyte.

"I was very nervous in the first inning," Colon said after showing that his elbow problems from last year were gone. "I felt like my first professional outing, actually. But after the first inning I was able to settle down and really enjoy the moment."

In his 307th start he picked up his 147th win -- giving up two runs and six hits in five innings -- as the Boston Red Sox beat the Kansas City Royals 6-3. It reminded him of his first victory, when he was a rookie, and Cleveland beat the Red Sox 9-5 on June 7, 1997, in the same stadium where he pitched Wednesday.

"I thought about that tonight after the game and reminisced about that great moment and kind of compared this to that moment," Colon, who signed a minor league contract Feb. 25, said through a translator.

Jacoby Ellsbury had three hits, including a leadoff homer in the first, and scored three runs for Boston, while Dustin Pedroia had three hits and Jason Varitek added a solo homer.

Joey Gathright scored all three runs for Kansas City and reached base in all four at-bats with two singles and two walks. But he was impressed with Colon, who no longer throws close to 100 mph.

"He throws hard. It's Colon," Gathright said. "He's still got good stuff."

The Red Sox won their sixth straight game overall and ninth in a row at Fenway Park to increase their lead in the AL East to two games over Tampa Bay, which lost to Oakland.

Trailing 2-1, Boston scored four runs in the fifth off Brett Tomko (2-5).

"I felt pretty good all night," he said. "The big innings have been kind of getting me the last couple of games. It seems like when they get me it's three, four runs."

Colon (1-0) threw 74 pitches, 46 for strikes after being called up from Triple-A Pawtucket, where he made three rehab starts.

It was a milestone in his comeback from two injury-plagued seasons that followed the best year of his career and added even more depth to Boston's deep corps of starters.

Colon was 7-13 with a 5.72 ERA in 29 games the past two seasons and lost his last six decisions last year after his last victory on June 14. In 2005, he went 21-8 with a 3.48 ERA, winning the Cy Young with the Angels and pitching more than 200 innings for the third straight year.

"The big man had a huge smile on his face when we all got in" the clubhouse, catcher Varitek said. "I mean, this is pretty big for him to be able to make his way back."

It was Colon's first major league game since Sept. 29, when he pitched one scoreless relief inning for Los Angeles. He had been on the disabled list from July 24 to Sept. 9 with irritation in his right elbow.

He became a free agent after the season and the Red Sox took a chance on him with a low-risk deal that could lead to a high reward. The deal is worth $1.2 million plus performance and roster bonuses.

In his last start on Sept. 22, he gave up three runs in eight innings but lost 3-2 to Seattle.

"He located his fastball pretty good for his first start," Royals manager Trey Hillman said.

Colon gave the Red Sox a chance to sweep the four-game series Thursday when Daisuke Matsuzaka (7-0) faces Brian Bannister (4-5).

On Monday night, 24-year-old Jon Lester pitched a no-hitter in a 7-0 win. On Tuesday night, 23-year-old rookie Justin Masterson allowed one run in 6 1/3 innings of a 2-1 victory.

"It's different. Colon's a veteran guy. We got him for a reason," said manager Terry Francona, who plans to keep him in the rotation. "Masterson's a young kid coming up."

Ellsbury led off the first with his fourth homer, but Kansas City tied it in the third on Jose Guillen's RBI single.

The Royals took a 2-1 lead in the fifth on a run-scoring single by Alex Gordon, the seventh straight at-bat on which he reached base. He struck out his next time up.

Boston took a 5-2 lead in the fifth. Varitek tied the game with his sixth homer and Coco Crisp then doubled and scored on Julio Lugo's single.

Singles by Ellsbury and Pedroia loaded the bases. Ron Mahay, who replaced Tomko after Ellsbury's single, gave up a sacrifice fly to David Ortiz, then threw a wild pitch that allowed Ellsbury to score.

Pedroia singled in the final run in the seventh.

Game notes
Boston OF Manny Ramirez remained stuck on 498 homers as he failed to hit one for the seventh straight game. He has just two in his last 27 games. He went 0-for-3 and is in a 2-for-18 slump. ... Ellsbury started in right field in place of J.D. Drew. Francona said Drew could have played but was sore after hitting the ball off his right knee Tuesday night. ... The Royals signed LHP Horacio Ramirez to a minor league contract. ... In his last start against Boston on June 11, 2003, Tomko, then with St. Louis, allowed nine runs in two innings of Boston's 13-1 win. ... The Red Sox are 20-5 at home, best in the majors.