TORONTO — It has been a month since Clay Buchholz last won a game he started, Aug. 16 in a 6-3 triumph at Baltimore.
And while he didn’t get a decision in Saturday’s 3-2 victory over the Blue Jays before a Rogers Centre crowd of 27,325, he played a huge role in the win.
Buchholz went seven innings and allowed two runs (one earned) on four hits and five walks (matching his season high) while striking out five. He helped the Sox improve to 15-11 in the games he has started this season.
“Buchholz was great,’’ said manager Bobby Valentine. “He gave up tainted runs, but he threw the ball exceptionally well. He had a fastball down, really good curveball and split.
“He got an infield hit, stolen base, and you saw the rest of it for their second run, otherwise he’d have the victory right now.’’
Were it not for that unearned run in the fifth inning, which enabled the Blue Jays to tie it, 2-2, Buchholz would have spun six scoreless frames after giving up a run in the first on Yunel Escobar’s single to right that scored Edwin Encarnacion for a 1-0 lead.
“The first two to three innings, I was up in the zone a little bit and they got a couple of hits on pitches that were up the middle,’’ Buchholz said. “From that point, my whole focus was to try and be down, and obviously the guy behind the plate had a low strike zone today and I could never get to that point consistently.
“I got there as much as I needed to, but overall I felt good.’’
When Buchholz turned it over to Craig Breslow, who picked up the win, he had held the Blue Jays to two runs or fewer in his last seven starts at the Rogers Centre dating to July 17, 2009, a stretch in which he’d allowed eight earned runs in 49⅔ innings with a 1.45 ERA.
Buchholz had won all six of his previous starts in Toronto before Saturday’s no-decision. He likely would have made it seven in a row if it weren’t for that shaky fifth, in which Buchholz limited the damage to one run after Adam Lind came up with the bases loaded and hit a sacrifice fly to center that scored Anthony Gose.
“It could’ve easily been three runs there,’’ said Buchholz, who got Escobar to ground to second to end the inning. “If you can find a way to get out of those situations, and not give up two or three runs in one inning, and give your team a chance to get back in there and get you some more runs, that’s what you want to do.”
Buchholz took that approach in turning his season around after stumbling out of the gate, giving up five or more earned runs in each of his first six starts to post a 9.09 ERA that ranked as the worst in the majors.
He has allowed five or more earned runs only three times in his last 20 starts. Saturday’s was representative of the kind of performances Buchholz was hoping — or expecting — to have at the beginning of the season.
“That’s why this game is so humbling,’’ he said. “It’s why you can go out there and feel great and give up six runs or go out there and not have your best stuff and still throw seven innings.
“So, yeah, I feel good about [turning it around] . But I wish the scenario was a little different for us as a team.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.