There’s an undeniable resemblance between Red Sox starting pitcher Clay Buchholz and Theon Greyjoy, the once-cocky and misguided soul held hostage by Ramsay Bolton on HBO’s "Game of Thrones."
The doppelgänger goes further than facial appearances though, deeper than the scraggly hair that looks as if it’s been dipped into a vat of Crisco. Greyjoy is tortured at the hands of Bolton, who thoroughly de-humanizes the former Stark confidant, castrating him and bestowing his new servant with the name, "Reek." It’s saying something to note that Greyjoy’s scenes of persecution are some of the most agonizing to watch, even in a series predicated on ubiquitous violence.
Which brings us to Buchholz.
It hasn’t even been four weeks, but we’re a long way from Opening Day, when Buchholz dazzled in Philadelphia, limiting the Phillies to only three hits over seven innings, and prompting Red Sox principal owner John Henry to pronounce, "You’ve got your No. 1" upon emerging from the Boston clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park.
Number one what?
Of course, Buchholz hasn’t won since. He’s now 1-3 on the season, one already marred by the torturous incompetence of a Red Sox pitching staff with Buchholz leading the charge. On Tuesday, when Buchholz was coming off back-to-back decent starts against Baltimore and Tampa Bay, the starter couldn’t hold a four-run lead in the third inning against the Toronto Blue Jays, pulled by manager John Farrell after surrendering six hits, and four earned runs over 2 2/3 innings.
Buchholz walked off the mound to a chorus of boos from the crowd at Fenway Park, where a fed-up fan base voiced its displeasure with another atrocious outing from their team’s "No. 1."
"I would have liked to stay in there a little bit longer, but that's not my call," Buchholz told reporters after his team’s 11-8 loss. "I gotta do a better job of persuading I guess, in a way. A couple pitches that got hit hard. Like I said a couple of them I felt like they were pretty good pitches."
A former first-round draft pick, Buchholz is now 30 years old. He’s only 65-47 in his career, despite possessing what many figure to be among the top talent levels in the game. But it’s also increasingly clear that he’ll never put it all together at this level, simply because he just doesn’t get it, a delusional, laissez faire approach to his outings that doesn’t speak to his fragile mental state, as some have opined. No, with Buchholz it appears to be more of a stubborn refusal to become the pitcher his team needs him to be, the one they erroneously have depended on him to become. Year after year.
Maybe we’re not quite there yet, but the cut bait time on Clay Buchholz is coming, and it’s coming soon.
Since the start of 2014, Buchholz is 9-14 with a 5.39 ERA. Detroit’s Alfredo Simon (4-0) has almost half as many wins this month as the guy the Red Sox seem content to pacify year after year with the results drastically falling into the sewer.
Buchholz isn’t the only Red Sox starter to take the ball every fifth day and lay an egg on the mound, of course. After the latest gag job against the Jays, Red Sox starters now boast a 6.03 ERA, far and away the worst in baseball (Milwaukee is 29th with a 5.55 starters ERA). Wade Miley’s ERA is 8.62 (!). Rick Porcello, so good the Red Sox awarded him with $82.5 million extension before even throwing a pitch in a Boston uniform, is 1-2 with a 6.48 ERA. Justin Masterson, of all people, leads the staff with a pair of wins. Joe Kelly has been the de facto "ace" despite his bumpy outing against Toronto on Monday. He’s only 1-0 with a 4.94 ERA.
But Buchholz is the ringleader for this circus of ineptitude, the veteran member of the staff who was entrusted to be, at the very least, a reliable arm who needed to put his awful 2014 behind him and rediscover what made him one of the best pitchers in baseball in 2013 (12-1, 1.74 ERA). We see flashes of that Buchholz, but the consistency with which those moments appear are so unpredictable, so in contrast to the norm of Buchholz imploding that they tend to be little more than teases.
Because, ultimately, you know more torture is right around the corner.
"Don’t have a whole lot of luck on our side right now," Buchholz said on Tuesday. "The balls that are hit, like I said are finding holes, and seems like every ball that we hit are right at people, so got to buy time and just work. Work harder and go after them next time."
Buchholz’s team scored eight runs and pounded out 13 hits Tuesday night. They’re second in the majors with 109 runs scored. They lead the majors in unearned runs.
Right at people, Clay? Please.
If excuse-making were a stat, Buchholz would be a perennial All-Star. There’s never a shred of accountability in Clay’s world, where sub-par is apparently good enough. Ben Cherington tried to sell Red Sox fans a rotten bag of goods with this laugher of a pitching staff, which is no less concerning than when the realization hit that, wait…this is it?
We should have understood the depths of atrocity we were in for when Buchholz maintained his slot as the Red Sox’ top guy. Laughable.
Shouldn’t it all be on the table now? The Red Sox have a $13 million option on Buchholz for 2016, and there should be about as much chance of the team picking that up as there is seeing an influx of Edward Mujica jerseys in the stands. If things continue to go south, the team could always just say goodbye, more likely Cherington could try and work a trade with some delusional general manager who thinks Buchholz would flourish with a change of scenery.
But in Boston? It’s over.
There’s your No. 1, all right. Torture to watch, torture to embrace.
It’s why the Red Sox were doomed from the start.
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