It may have looked like Clay Buchholz, the kid from East Texas who became the first Red Sox rookie to throw a no-hitter, was crying in the midst of the red-and-white scrum that engulfed him after he struck out Baltimore's Nick Markakis looking to make history last night.
But those weren't tears of joy, he said.
"David Ortiz was jumping up and down and hit me in the nose with his shoulder and my eyes started watering," he said. "I thought I had a bloody nose."
Fifteen days after making his major league debut against the Angels in the first game of a day-night doubleheader, a day that began with manager Terry Francona telling a sleepy morning assemblage of reporters that "[it] doesn't matter if he throws a no-hitter, he's going back down," 23-year-old Clay D. Buchholz made Francona an accidental prophet of sorts with the 17th no-hitter in franchise history and 20th by a rookie in major league history in a 10-0 win over the Orioles.
"I think that's about as nervous and excited as a lot of us have been in a long time," said Francona, who could have been speaking for the sellout crowd of 36,819 that made the rafters of old Fens vibrate with sound while Buchholz's teammates hung on the dugout railing until umpire Joe West signaled that the 115th pitch from Buchholz, a backup curveball, was strike three on Markakis.
"He kind of delayed the call a little bit," said another rookie, second baseman Dustin Pedroia, whose sprawling stop of Miguel Tejada's seventh-inning grounder past the mound was a no-no saver and destined to appear on highlight reels for years to come. "I started running, then stopped. I wondered what was going on."
Buchholz thought his no-hitter was lost when Tejada's ball went past him to start the seventh. "When I jumped up and missed that ball, I was thinking, 'Well, it's over,' and then [Pedroia] comes out of nowhere," Buchholz said. "I knew that something was meant to happen tonight. I mean, everything had to work out and it did."
Coco Crisp ran down two line drives by Corey Patterson, one in the sixth when he was in right-center and caught up with it in left-center, then again for the second out in the ninth, after Brian Roberts had struck out to start the inning. After walking the first two batters in the fourth, prompting a visit from pitching coach John Farrell, Buchholz set down the minimum number of Orioles.
"I nicked a ball tonight," said Orioles designated hitter Kevin Millar, the former Sox icon. "I nicked one ball. Tonight, this guy threw a great game. He had his stuff, man. He had a great changeup and his fastball was in some nice locations. It was just one of those nights. We got no-hit. You tip your hat to Clay Buchholz and you move forward.
"When you start seeing balls that aren't falling that should fall, you sense something is going on."
In two major league starts, Buchholz, who hails from Nederland (sounds like Neverland), Texas, already has more no-hitters than Pedro Martínez. When Martínez signed with the New York Mets, it presented the Sox with the sandwich-round draft pick they used in 2005 to choose Buchholz, a converted shortstop from Angelina (Texas) Junior College.
He also has more no-hitters than Curt Schilling, the 40-year-old who, on June 7, came within one out of a no-no in Oakland, and 41-year-old Tim Wakefield, whose stiff back presented Buchholz with the opportunity to start last night.
"I don't even have a word for it," said Buchholz, who before being signed had to convince scouting director Jason McLeod and Theo Epstein ("We flew him up here and interrogated him in the outfield," Epstein said) that he was a different guy than the one caught stealing some laptop computers from a middle school while he was in college.
"I was so excited and ecstatic about everything and the way everything boiled down to that moment and being out there," Buchholz said. "You'd think we won a World Series or something, but it was an incredible moment in my life and one that I will never forget."
It was the first no-hitter by a Sox pitcher since Derek Lowe no-hit Tampa Bay at Fenway Park April 27, 2002. The last no-no by a rookie was by Anibal Sanchez, the former Sox prospect who did it Sept. 6, 2006, for Florida against Arizona. The last AL rookie to do so was Wilson Alvarez of the White Sox, also against Baltimore, Aug. 11, 1991.
Buchholz's nine-strikeout performance took on even greater resonance, coming in the middle of a pennant race. The Sox lead was down to 4 1/2 games at the start of the game because a Yankee rookie call-up, Ian Kennedy, already had beaten the Devil Rays, holding Tampa Bay to one earned run in seven innings. Buchholz restored the Sox advantage over the Yankees to five games in the AL East with 26 games to go, and also ended a four-game slide, matching their longest losing streak of the season.
No Sox rookie ever has thrown a no-hitter. Forty years ago, a kid pitcher from Toronto, lefthander Billy Rohr, came within an out of a no-hitter against the Yankees April 14 in Yankee Stadium, a single by Elston Howard spoiling his no-hit bid. Last season, in the last day of the regular season, Oct. 1, Devern Hansack threw a five-inning no-hitter against the Orioles, a 9-0 game that was shortened by rain.
It was in the middle of the third inning, Sox broadcaster Joe Castiglione said, when Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer leaned in from the visitor's broadcast booth. "Palmer said, '[Sox hitting coach] Dave Magadan told me Buchholz reminds him of me,' " said Castiglione, who observed all the usual broadcasting superstitions and didn't directly mention that a no-hitter was in progress, behavior that was imitated in the Sox dugout.
"I didn't go anywhere near him," Francona said. "Neither did anybody else. I think he probably handled it.
"It looked to me like he got hungrier as it progressed and, obviously, he handled it just fine."
The Sox, who scored a run in the second inning, scored three more on Ortiz's bases-loaded double in the fourth off Orioles starter Garrett Olson. The Sox batted around again in the sixth, scoring four times on Mike Lowell's double and Kevin Youkilis's three-run home run, and twice more in the eighth, when Buchholz's roommate in Pawtucket, Jacoby Ellsbury, doubled home Pedroia and Lowell.
During those long innings late in the game, Buchholz said, he went into the batting cage behind the dugout to throw "to get my mind off" what was going on.
In the GM's booth, meanwhile, Epstein and McLeod were fretting about Buchholz's pitch count. The most pitches he had thrown in any start this season was 98, which is why Bryan Corey was warming up in the bullpen in the eighth.
Buchholz was at 103 pitches after eight innings, helped immensely by Jay Payton's first-pitch swing on the comebacker Buchholz snared for the last out of the inning, a ball that Pedroia said he was in position to field had it gotten past the pitcher. It also helped that Buchholz, who walked three and hit a batter, picked off Roberts, who was loitering off the first base bag after drawing a walk to open the sixth.
"We couldn't go beyond 120 pitches," said Epstein, who said he talked to Francona a couple of times during the game. "Thank God it didn't get to that. That would have been a horrible position, to take him out with a no-hitter in the ninth, but he would not have started a hitter after 120 pitches.
"Tito said he would have blamed me. I wouldn't have blamed him."
Catcher Jason Varitek, who has caught each of the team's last three no-hitters (Buchholz, Lowe, Hideo Nomo), was asked what would have happened if Buchholz had been lifted with a no-no in progress.
"Whoever would have yanked him," he said, "might be walking out with a noose."
Gordon Edes can be reached at email@example.com.