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Buchholz All Aces On Opening Day For Red Sox

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Clay Buchholz was pitching like it was 2013 on Monday.


COMMENTARY

You can keep your Cole Hamels.

The Red Sox will do just fine with Clay Buchholz. At least for one day.

"Hope and Change" once helped to elect a president.

"Hope and Changeup" was the rallying cry of the defending Last Place Champion Red Sox during their 8-0 Opening Day victory in Monday in Philadelphia.

Buchholz rang the Liberty Bell on the 2015 Red Sox season with a brutally efficient performance against the woeful Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. The Red Sox came into this game mad and took it out on their hosts. A pair of solo homers by the rejuvenated Dustin Pedroia, plus a Hanley Ramirez grand-slam and solo shot, powered Boston's five home run attack.

"It's all about pitching," Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley reminded us during NESN's pregame telecast. Such simple wisdom is another reason why he's perfect for both Boston media and Cooperstown.

Buchholz reminded the Red Sox, and perhaps himself, of the pitcher he has been sporadically throughout his career. And of the pitcher these Red Sox need him to be in 2015.

He was the pitcher we last saw in June of 2013 before the fateful nap that wrecked what was a 9-0 season. Monday, his best and most-effective pitch was his changeup. He struck out nine through seven innings, with five of those Ks coming as the Phillies went down flailing away at change-ups that suddenly became unhittable about six feet from the plate.

Buchholz's fast-ball was "92 on the dot," so explained Eckersley, and his curveball was equally spot-on.

"This is how I planned it in my head." Buchholz said.

The "hope" comes in the belief this lone performance by the much-battered and beleaguered Buchholz could be a positive harbinger of what's to come in 2015. Last season, Buchholz threw two complete-game shutouts in 28 starts. In each of his other appearances, he gave up at least one run. He allowed at least three earned runs in 10 of his first 11 starts during 2014, which ended with him logging the highest ERA in the majors.

His pitching line: 7 IP, 3H, 0R, 1 BB, 9K. Sixty-five of his 94 pitches were strikes. And there was no visible evidence of any foreign substances save for confidence and certainty.

We're not ready to drop the "L" and the "A" and go with "Cy" just yet. But Buchholz displayed what would be considered "midseason" form for most starting pitchers. He was confident and dominant. And while we didn't have the Navy's atomic clock monitoring the proceedings, he appeared to be pitching with both literal and figurative urgency.

Yes, it's just 1/162nd of the season. The rout, however, left the Red Sox in a three-way tie for first place in the AL East. The Red Sox were in first place for exactly one day last season, April 3.

The Red Sox want us to believe they have more aces than a $100 blackjack table at Foxwoods. Rick Porcello, who will be looking to extend Boston's perfect season Wednesday in Philadelphia, told us the team will need "Five Aces" to succeed this season. Buchholz chimed in this spring with t-shirts for the members of Boston's rotation that read: "He's the ace/I'm the ace."

Buchholz came up all aces on Monday. He retired nine and then eight Phillies in a row. He didn't allow a hit until the fifth and only faced one real jam, getting out a first-and-third situation in the seventh with two outs on his 94th pitch with his ninth strikeout.

John Farrell spoke before Monday's game about how Buchholz physically appeared to have finally recovered from whatever mystery shoulder ailment curtailed his 2013 season. "He's a guy who draws a lot of confidence from how he feels physically, and that's been very good since day one. He's done a good job of repeating his delivery and executing four different pitches in the strike zone," Farrell told ESPN. �[After] [John] Lackey and [Jon] Lester were dealt off, he looks upon himself as a guy who has been here the longest in the starting rotation. I think he embraced what that means, which is to go out and lead by example."

Combine Buchholz's physical recovery with the acceptance of his role as the team's Ace among Aces and there's reason to enjoy at least another 48 hours of optimism in wake of Monday's win.

The most cynical among us were also thrilled to see he made it though Monday's game without suffering the appearance of any major physical injuries or emotional damage. Our fears of Buchholz pitching were baseless following this performance.

And all of this glory came less than 24 hours after Jon Lester, to the absolute surprise of no one outside of ESPN, forgot that you could throw to first and second base as well as the plate in Chicago on Sunday night.

No one is #MyFenway crazy enough to say that Buchholz is a better choice to be atop any rotation than Lester. But Buchholz showed at least a taste of the mastery he has enjoyed in the past.

The "Five Aces" are each going to have to all exceed expectations if all those first-place predictions for the Red Sox are going to materialize. Fans no doubt hope to be pondering ALCS pitching matchups in a few months, and not just wonder who might be pitching when against the Yankees this weekend.

Monday in Philadelphia, Buchholz did his job, as a certain football coach likes to say. He took a nearly perfect first step into 2015. With help from Pedroia and Ramirez, he brought the Red Sox with him.

On April 6, that's all you can ask.


The OBF column is written by award-winning journalist and Bay State native Bill Speros.Reach Bill on the OBF Facebook page, Twitter @realOBF or at
bsperos1@gmail.com
. Thanks for reading.

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