Contrary to the popular skeptical belief, I fully expect Clay Buchholz to take the mound tonight when the Red Sox match up with the Cardinals in Game 4.
And you know what? At this point, I’m not sure he has any choice.
The much-maligned Boston hurler met with the media on Saturday afternoon before his team’s controversial 5-4 loss in St. Louis, and he all but backed himself into a corner while saying essentially all the right things.
Asked if he’s in danger of doing any further damage to his shoulder, arm, neck, or whatever the exact ailment is, Buchholz said, “I don’t think there’s any risk there. The only thing I have on my mind right now is going out to compete, to go out there for as long as [manager John Farrell] wants to leave me out there, and give the team the chance to win to the best of my ability.”
Does he mean it? Will the same guy who took three months off during the regular season for little more than inflammation really give it his all, rather than have some last-minute cold feet?
“At this level and at this stage, it’s tough to take yourself out of a game,” Buchholz stated, perhaps in an effort to squash concerns over his often questioned competitive nature. “I’ve never done that before. I’m gonna compete and give them the best chance of winning that I can.”
Buchholz opened himself up to an abundance of criticism, fair or unfair, at the All-Star Break when he noted then that there was no risk in his returning to the mound with discomfort, but that he just wasn’t comfortable with the idea even though the team would have preferred to have him out there. He was also pretty matter-of-fact in saying that, if it was September and the team needed him, he’d be trying a bit harder to make it happen.
Well, now it’s October. It’s the World Flippin’ Series. The Red Sox most certainly need him. If I’m being overly dramatic, Boston needs him.
As the once-perceived Cy Young favorite noted, he’s not 100 percent. Fine. No player is 100 percent right now. But even 80 percent of a Buchholz who has pitched three postseason games in the last three weeks (and finished with a 12-1 record and 1.74 ERA during the regular season) is better than any conceivable available alternative.
Much as I’d prefer Buchholz not have the mentality that he’d happily take a five-inning, two-run performance (his totals against the Tigers in Game 6 of the ALCS), simply because I don’t like the idea of him being content with anything less than a nine-inning shutout, he’s not that type of guy. Candidly, I’d take that line, too. Heck, Jake Peavy allowed two runs in Game 3 before he recorded three outs.
It doesn’t matter that Buchholz is fatigued, especially when he says there isn’t much discomfort. It doesn’t matter if his pitch count fails to exceed 85 for the third straight outing. What matters is him being there, taking the mound and trying to lead his team to victory like he’ll never pitch on this stage again because, you know what, he may not.
Buchholz can lean on the environment, the crowd, or his adrenalin to get him through as gritty a performance as he can possibly muster, as long as he isn’t leaning against the dugout wall as a spectator.
“We go into tomorrow thinking he’s going to give us what he’s been in the postseason,” Farrell said of his pitcher on Saturday. “That may be a bit shorter of an outing than maybe we’ve seen back in April and May, but he’s also been very effective, and we’re fully anticipating that will be the case again tomorrow.”
I do, too. And, for once, I believe Buchholz does as well. The season could be riding on it.
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Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.
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