When Clay Buchholz was asked about coming out of the bullpen in Double A, back before he made his major league debut, back before he threw his no-hitter, he made a face. Not his first choice, clearly.
"I don't think I liked it too much," said Buchholz, referring to the relief appearance he made for Portland in the days before pitching in relief in the All-Star Futures game in San Francisco. "But if that's what I was doing, especially day to day, I could definitely do it. Definitely get used to it.
"It's just two different pitching mind frames. I mean, it's still pitching. You've still got to throw strikes. It's just a lot different than starting a game."
And pitching relief in the majors is quite different from pitching relief in the minors. But it's something that Buchholz - who yesterday was named AL Player of the Week - may have to adapt to, at least for the remainder of this season. While it's possible that he will get another start, for now he'll head to the bullpen to pitch "structured innings" in relief, though Red Sox manager Terry Francona declined to specify whether that meant coming in only for clean frames.
"We're not going to just state [his usage] in advance because we're trying to win games," said Francona, "but there will be some structure in place.
"I don't think that in the middle of a pennant race I need to tell the other manager how we're going to do things, but I think that kind of speaks for itself."
According to organizational sources, an innings cap of 155 was established for Buchholz before the season, and at 140 1/3, he is rapidly approaching that. It could be extended by about five innings or so, though not much more.
Buchholz did say after last night's game that the Sox have informed him they will attempt to give him a good amount of warning before using him in games to allow him to prepare.
Having thrown 23 pitches over the previous two days, Jonathan Papelbon seemed ticketed for a rest last night. But with Josh Beckett throwing eight innings, and leaving with a two-run lead, Papelbon was summoned for his third consecutive appearance, the first time all season the Sox have brought him in to three straight games.
"We wanted to get to this part of the season where Pap would have a lot left in the tank," said Francona. "His begging to do it had nothing to do with it.
"We spend a lot of time talking to the medical people, especially [assistant trainer] Mike Reinold and [pitching coach] John Farrell. There was no qualms on anybody's part or we would never have sent him out there.
"I think the way he pitched showed he's got a lot left."
Papelbon threw nine pitches to get his 33d save, after throwing seven Sunday and 16 Monday. He has gone 12 2/3 scoreless innings with 10 saves and 21 strikeouts in his last 13 appearances. He has allowed just one hit in that time.
"When you get out there every day and you get that exposure every day, you get into somewhat of a groove," said Papelbon, who added that his arm felt better the third time out. "It's hard to go out there every three days or couple days a week to stay in that good routine and that good crisp shape. I feel locked in right now."
Good to go
With Tim Wakefield being deemed "all set to go" by Francona - meaning he'll work tomorrow's series opener in Baltimore - that leaves Jon Lester to pitch Friday's game. Wakefield was scratched from his start last Friday because of a sore back.
"I don't think any of us thought there was going to be any struggles, but he did just fine," Francona said after Wakefield's side session yesterday. "Upbeat. John [Farrell] was upbeat. Mike Reinold was upbeat. So that was good news."
Doug Mirabelli caught Wakefield's side session and should resume his place as Wakefield's personal catcher tomorrow. That doesn't mean, however, that Kevin Cash is off the hook.
"Because Cash has proven he can handle it, maybe we pinch hit earlier than we normally would or maybe where we normally wouldn't," Francona said. "That's really the only change."
Playing ball - sort of
Manny Ramírez spent the afternoon working the core area of his body, with some rotational work with a medicine ball at a "crisp rate," according to Francona. But the manager said there are no definitive answers as to when he will return, or even when the left fielder will start swinging a bat. Ramírez has not played since leaving the Aug. 28 game in New York with a strained left oblique . . . Mike Lowell went 0 for 4 to snap his hitting streak at 16 games, which tied a career high . . . Toronto's Roy Halladay pitched his third complete game in his last five starts, though he has lost two of those games . . . Everything continues to go well in Eric Gagné's attempt to return from the soreness in his right shoulder. He played catch again yesterday.
More mound help
Devern Hansack was recalled from Pawtucket after the team's season ended Monday night. Craig Breslow already had been optioned to Pawtucket. Hansack was originally the call-up destined for Boston, but because he pitched Thursday, he would not have been immediately available. So the team instead brought up Breslow, whose stay was always likely to be short. "Nobody wanted to be caught short in pitching in September when you're allowed to bring up extra players and extra pitchers," Francona said. Hansack will work out of the bullpen . . . The contract of Mark Budaska, Pawtucket's hitting coach, will not be renewed . . . Curt Schilling packed up his things and left the clubhouse shortly before 4 p.m. yesterday because of a family matter. Schilling is fine and is still on track to start tonight's series finale against the Blue Jays . . . Portland clinched a postseason spot with a 7-4 win over the New Hampshire Fisher Cats in their one-game playoff. Andrew Pinckney hit two home runs, with Jeff Corsaletti adding one. The Sea Dogs will play tonight at Trenton in the five-game Eastern League Northern Division playoff series.
With the Sox cruising toward the league record for consecutive sellouts - last night was the 68th this season at Fenway Park and 375th overall - team officials were asked to explain how the club defines a sellout. Dr. Charles Steinberg, executive vice president for public affairs, was happy to oblige.
"Traditionally," Steinberg said, "a sellout is when you sell all seats, and any tickets you sell as standing room only are gravy."
It works a little differently at Fenway Park, where there are obstructed seats to consider. You can sit behind a pole at Fenway and it would not be considered an obstructed seat, Steinberg said. If you were behind a pole or at other vantage points where you could see neither the pitcher nor catcher, then you'd have an obstructed seat, according to how the Sox define one. There are roughly 500 such seats in Fenway, Steinberg said.
For the Sox to consider a game a sellout, Steinberg said, they would either have to sell all of those seats or an equivalent number of standing-room tickets. That also applies to any scattered single seats the Sox might not have sold; it's a sellout, he said, if there are as many, or more, tickets distributed than seats.
Why does the announced attendance deviate from, say, the 35,847 the Sox drew for their home opener April 10 against Seattle - their smallest crowd of the season - to the 37,216 they drew May 3, when Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched against Ichiro Suzuki and the Mariners? That depends on the number of compensatory tickets the Sox distribute on a given night, Steinberg said, which does not count toward paid attendance. The club distributes roughly 14,000 seats a season to community groups - many of those paid for by corporate sponsors - in addition to the comps that go to what Steinberg called the "la-di-da" set.
The record for consecutive sellouts is held by the Cleveland Indians: 455 at Jacobs Field from June 12, 1995, to April 2, 2001. The Sox' streak began May 15, 2003. They stand to tie the Indians' record on the 67th home date next season and break it on the 68th, which equate to the same dates this season as last night and tonight.