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April 26, 2008
By Joe McDonald
Journal Sports Writer
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. _ Almost!
All Red Sox rookie pitcher Clay Buchholz could do was stare into the right-field seats as he nearly repeated his no-hit performance from last September with a three-hitter against Tampa Bay Saturday night at Tropicana Field as the Rays narrowly defeated Boston, 2-1, on some late-inning heroics.
The only three hits Tampa was able to register off the talented right-hander was a double by B.J. Upton in the fourth inning, a pinch-hit single by Dioner Navarro and a two-run homer by Akinori Iwamura in the eighth inning.
“He was good,” said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. “He was throwing all of his pitches for strikes. He was changing speeds. He just left one breaking ball over the plate. . . I thought Clay was great. He just gave up a home run when we didn’t need him to.”
Other than those three hits, Buchholz was just as good – if not better – than he was during his history-making performance last year.
“You could see as the game progressed he was coming off the mound with jump,” said Francona. “I don’t mean he was jumping out of his delivery, he was aggressive with arm speed on his change-up. It was fun to watch. You’re not going to throw a two- or three-hitter all the time, but that’s the kind of guy we envision. His stuff was electric.”
It was Sept. 1, 2007 when he recorded a no-hitter against the Baltimore Orioles in only his second major-league start. He threw 115 pitches that day and struck out nine for the 17th no-no in club history.
Saturday night didn’t have the drama, the edge-of-your-seat excitement, but he was just as good as he was last fall. He threw 113 pitches (76 strikes) but came up a bit short.
“I felt in control,” he said. “I never thought (Iwamura’s) at-bat would go down like that. I thought I had him struck out with a curve ball. He hit a good pitch, man. When I let it go I thought he would take it or swing over the top of it, but he was sitting all over it. Hats off to him because I threw a pitcher’s pitch and he hit it.”
Along with the no-hitter, last fall was bittersweet for Buchholz. The Red Sox shut him down for the remainder of the 2007 season due to arm-strength issues. That made Buchholz a bystander during the magical postseason run to a World Series championship. In fact, management had serious conversations with him about his preparation both on and off the field.
“In my opinion that’s in the past,” said Francona. “He’s done everything I’ve asked. He competes. He doesn’t back down from anybody. He’s exciting. He has good demeanor on the mound and he just wants to win.”
Buchholz was slow going to start the season, but he exploded onto the scene once again yesterday.
“Overall I felt great tonight,” he said. “It was just a little misfortune, I guess.”
Buchholz got two quick outs in the bottom of the first before issuing back-to-back walks. He got out of the jam by striking out the Rays’ Evan Longoria.
Buchholz then retired the next six batters he faced before Upton’s double in the fourth. He reached third on a ground out, but was left stranded.
With the way Buchholz was pitching, the Red Sox didn’t need much offense.
The Sox’ Coco Crisp led off the top of the fifth inning with a single, and reached third with some heads-up baserunning. Tampa starter Edwin Jackson threw a wild pitch and the speedy Crisp took off from first and reached third relatively easy. Crisp was stranded 90 feet from home plate until Jacoby Ellsbury’s two-out infield hit that gave Boston a 1-0 advantage.
Buchholz was extremely efficient in the bottom of the inning and quickly retired the side in order. He did the same in the sixth and again in the seventh. It was clear he was dialed in.
With one out in the eighth inning, and Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon warming in the bullpen, Navarro hit a soft liner to right field. Ellsbury, playing right field, attempted to make the play, but the ball just fell in at his feet.
The Rays weren’t done.
After Jason Bartlett flied out to center field, Iwamura scorched his two-run homer to deep right field to give Tampa a 2-1 lead. He said he was sitting on the curveball.
"Yes," said Iwamura. "I took a previous swing on his change-up and it carried pretty well to center field (in the third inning). I figured Jason Varitek knew I had timed his change-up."
After the game Buchholz admitted he knew the ball was gone as soon as it was hit. For a few seconds after it landed in the seats, Buchholz just stood there, glaring into right field.
“He pitched great,” said Sox’ Kevin Youkilis. “He just made that one mistake and got hurt on it. But, he threw the ball great and had a great outing. This is how baseball works sometimes.”
Buchholz was close to perfection, unfortunately almost only counts in horseshoes.
Posted by Joe McDonald at 11:14 PM | Permalink