"There's been times in recent starts here where there's a moment inside the game where there's a real competitiveness that comes out of him," said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "The last out he recorded in Kansas City against [Omar] Infante; today after it looked like we turned a double play and we don't get it, he settles right back in to get the next hitter out. He's able to rise to the moment and execute quality pitches."
Kelly is 3-2 with a 4.15 ERA in his first nine starts for Boston, and those numbers would look much better if you took away the seven-run clunker he had against the Astros on Aug. 17.
"I feel like I'm throwing the ball decent," said Kelly. "I don't know what my numbers say, but I'm happy right now with my fastball command. It's something that has been a lot better since I've been over here. I missed three months of the season. Finishing down the stretch, my command of my fastball feels good -- and that's usually the key to my success."
While most of the Red Sox's rotation is uncertain for 2015, Kelly is looking like a sure-fire piece.
In just a few weeks, the Red Sox have seen a lot that they like.
"The intangibles, and a pitch mix or a repertoire that's got definition to the four pitches he can throw," said Farrell. "There's distinct differences in each one. It starts with his ability to throw his fastball for strikes -- whether it's on the plate or sometimes there's not as much swing-and-miss as we'd like or you might think there'd be with mid-to-upper 90s velocity. He challenges hitters, and he puts the ball in play."
In this one, Kelly allowed just three hits and two runs, while walking three and striking out five.
For the entirety of his performance, Kelly pitched with a lead. For that, he can thank Mookie Betts, who led off the game with a solo shot to left.
"It's great to get it going early, trying to get on base and put one on the board so Joe and those guys can have some confidence in the first inning," said Betts.
Kelly got into a groove early, and stayed in it. The Red Sox generated a two-out rally in the fifth, which started with a single by Jemile Weeks, who came on earlier in place of Xander Bogaerts, who had a stiff neck.
Daniel Nava followed with a walk before Yoenis Cespedes delivered an RBI single.
David Ross clubbed a solo homer in the sixth to give Boston a 3-0 lead.
For Ross, who is hitting .187, it was a gratifying contribution with the bat.
"It was fun. It actually felt really good," Ross said. "I haven't smiled in a while. Nice to put a smile on my face for a moment. It was fun to hit a homer and one that means something. Yeah, I haven't been swinging the bat, but it definitely feels good when I get to trot around the bases."
In the home half of the sixth, the Orioles finally put together something against Kelly. Alejandro De Aza led off with a walk and David Lough followed with an RBI double to left. Baltimore cut Boston's lead to 3-2 on a fielder's-choice grounder by Nelson Cruz. Kelly escaped the jam by striking out J.J. Hardy.
"Joe threw the ball well," said Ross. "I think he let off the gas a little bit in that sixth inning, and it cost him. I think he located his fastball, got his secondary pitches over when he needed to against a really good lineup. To keep those guys to two runs and under is pretty good."