Buchholz goes 6 solid innings, earns 15th win
Clay Buchholz never expected to win 10 games this season, something he achieved in June. His selection to the American League All-Star team also came as a surprise.
Seeing his name among the statistical leaders still causes Buchholz to shake his head in wonder.
Imagine how he will feel if he wins the Cy Young Award.
As the Red Sox fight to remain relevant in the pennant race, it is Buchholz who gives them hope. The righthander did it again yesterday, outlasting two rain delays to throw six strong innings as the Sox beat the Toronto Blue Jays, 5-0.
Now 15-5, Buchholz has not allowed an earned run in 23 1/3 innings dating to his Aug. 6 start against the Yankees in New York. The brilliant streak has dropped his earned run average, already the lowest in the AL, to 2.26.
“He’s becoming one of those pitchers that you can count on, which is very exciting for us,’’ manger Terry Francona said.
Buchholz allowed five hits and three walks with seven strikeouts as the third-place Sox kept pace with the Yankees and Rays. They remain 6 1/2 games out in the division and 5 1/2 behind in the wild card.
Buchholz, 26, could become the first Sox pitcher to win the Cy Young since Pedro Martinez in 2000. That’s how good he has been. The Red Sox are 17-5 in games he has started.
“I’m put here to pitch and try and help this team win. Whatever happens after that happens,’’ Buchholz said. “I think that can sort of step in the way if you think about it too much.’’
First baseman Mike Lowell has watched Buchholz mature into one of the game’s best starters.
“It takes time to learn yourself, to learn the hitters, to see what works and what adjustments you need to make,’’ he said. “I think it’s necessary. You can throw young prospects in the fire too much. You can do irreparable damage sometimes. The time he was in the minor leagues, I think he learned a lot and we’re being treated to all his good work now.’’
Buchholz lived dangerously, putting the leadoff hitter on base in five of his six innings. But the Blue Jays were 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position with Buchholz in the game and left seven runners on base.
“We just couldn’t get a big hit against him,’’ Jays manager Cito Gaston said. “Not a one.’’
His best escape came in the sixth inning. Given a 3-0 lead, Buchholz was aggressive in the strike zone and Jose Bautista and Vernon Wells started with singles. After a visit by pitching coach John Farrell, Buchholz struck out Adam Lind, got Lyle Overbay on a fly ball to right field, and threw a slider that John McDonald lined softly to second baseman Jed Lowrie.
“I got a little fatigued in the sixth inning. My legs were a little dead,’’ Buchholz said. “The defense made some good plays out there.’’
Toronto starter Shaun Marcum was perfect through four innings, striking out four and allowing only two balls out of the infield. That changed quickly in the fifth.
David Ortiz, the leadoff hitter, kept his hands back and lined a changeup over the head of center fielder Wells. A rambunctious Ortiz sped up as he approached second, took a turn reminiscent of an 18-wheeler, and slid into third with his first triple of the season.
“Those big legs were moving, he wasn’t stopping,’’ Francona said.
Ortiz, believe it or not, has 15 triples in his career and at least one in each of the last 11 seasons.
After the game, his teammates were still laughing about the sight of Ortiz sliding into third.
“He looked good running the bases. When he smells it he runs a lot harder,’’ Lowell said. “Maybe we should put some chicken nuggets out there.’’
Adrian Beltre lined the next pitch into left field for an RBI double. With two outs, Bill Hall worked the count in his favor and hammered a 2-1 fastball over the wall in left field and across Lansdowne Street.
It was Hall’s third home run in four at-bats against Marcum. He had not faced the righthander until this season.
“I’ve been looking for that pitch. They’d been beating me with that pitch in the early part of the series, the first two games, and I knew the last time I faced him, I hit his best pitch, which is his cutter, I hit it out twice. I knew he was going to try to get me out with a sinker,’’ said Hall, who paused at the plate to enjoy watching the ball soar over everything.
“If he left one out over the plate, I was definitely going to try and drive it and he left one right where I was looking for it.’’
Hall has 17 home runs, an unexpected return from a player who started the season in a utility role but became a regular because of injuries.
“When you make a mistake he hits it a long way,’’ Francona said.
Other than the decisive fifth inning, Marcum (11-7) put only one other runner on base, a two-out single by Lowell in the seventh. He struck out six.
The Sox added two runs in the eighth against Jason Frasor. Rookie Ryan Kalish doubled and Marco Scutaro walked ahead of RBI singles by Victor Martinez and Ortiz.