|Jed Lowrie’s foul into the left-field stands had some fans bracing for the worst. (John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)|
Buchholz, Sox weather storm
Delay no detour to starter’s duty
Clay Buchholz walked through the nearly deserted Red Sox clubhouse at 9:30 yesterday morning carrying his acoustic guitar. His hat was on backward and he was wearing red
Every pitcher has a pregame routine, and for Buchholz that means strumming a few songs. It’s how he relaxes.
But what followed was anything but a routine day.
Buchholz pitched two innings, endured a rain delay of 2 hours and 7 minutes, and then pitched three more innings to help the Red Sox beat the Minnesota Twins, 4-0, at Fenway Park.
Buchholz allowed two hits with one walk and six strikeouts as the Red Sox snapped a three-game losing streak. That it came under such unusual circumstances made his performance even more impressive than the statistics indicate.
“To give us five innings on a day like this, that’s pretty special,’’ catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said.
Buchholz threw 28 pitches over the first two innings, striking out three of the eight batters he faced. What looked like a promising start was put on pause by passing thunderstorms.
Standard protocol is to re place a pitcher if the delay goes longer than an hour, which is what the Twins did with their starter, Brian Duensing. The alternative is to risk injury.
But the Red Sox had used their relief pitchers for 22 1/3 innings over the previous three days. Asking for seven more innings out of the bullpen would have been a challenge.
“If you don’t send Buch out there, we’re going to have to pitch somebody else too much,’’ manager Terry Francona said.
The Red Sox improvised on the fly. Buchholz, wearing a jacket to keep his body warm, went to a batting cage below the stands and threw to Saltalamacchia from 25 feet.
He alternated throwing for a few minutes with stretching and walking around. As the delay dragged on, the Sox told Buchholz to relax for a bit. Once the weather cleared, he threw again in the cage and told Francona that he felt fine.
Buchholz waited out a 59-minute rain delay last Aug. 22 and beat the Blue Jays. But this was more than twice as long. Buchholz had never tried this before in the majors.
“I felt that I needed to go out there and throw,’’ he said. “I didn’t want to tax the bullpen any more than they had been taxed the last three or four days. I tried to stay focused and stay loose.’’
Buchholz threw three more innings and 33 more pitches, holding the Twins to a single and a walk and turned a 2-0 lead over to the bullpen. Rich Hill, Matt Albers, Daniel Bard, and Jonathan Papelbon combined to hold the Twins to one hit over four innings.
“My thought process was to throw as many as I can before Tito takes the ball from me,’’ Buchholz said.
Buchholz was willing to pitch the sixth inning. But Francona had taken enough chances on the day.
“We cut it short because that is a lot to ask,’’ he said. “For me that was as far as he was going to go.’’
Jason Varitek, who has been with the Red Sox since 1997, could remember only one similar instance. That came in 2002, when Derek Lowe waited out a delay of 1 hour and 14 minutes and beat the Yankees.
“Buch gave us exactly what we needed,’’ he said. “We didn’t have too many alternatives.’’
Buchholz was 1-3 with a 5.33 earned-run average through his first five starts, giving up six home runs and walking 16 over 27 innings. He has regained his touch in the two victories since, giving up two runs over 11 2/3 innings with only three walks and no home runs.
Buchholz threw all of his pitches for strikes yesterday, working ahead in the count and inducing weak contact. Francona said it was the best he has pitched this year.
The Sox hope that much like last season, this is the start of a trend. Buchholz was 3-3 with a 3.82 ERA after six starts in 2010. He was 14-4, 1.95 after that and finished sixth in the balloting for the Cy Young Award.
“To me, he looks ready to go,’’ Saltalamacchia said. “He is pitching with a lot of confidence.’’
As Buchholz and the relievers shut down the Twins, the Red Sox collected 12 hits off five Minnesota pitchers.
Jacoby Ellsbury ran his hitting streak to 16 games when he doubled to lead off the bottom of the first inning against Duensing (2-2). Dustin Pedroia then drew a walk.
But the Sox scored only one run, that coming on Jed Lowrie’s two-out single.
The Sox scored again in the third as Adrian Gonzalez bounced a ground-rule double into the stands in right field and scored on a single off the wall in left field by Kevin Youkilis.
Ellsbury added a two-run single in the eighth inning. Carl Crawford, who was 2 for 4, scored one of the runs.