BALTIMORE - He may not have to shave yet, but the legend has legs.
There can be little doubt of that after 23-year-old Clay Buchholz, in the encore to his no-hitter in his second big league start, made his first relief appearance one to remember, too. Buchholz pitched out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam of his own making in the sixth inning last night, put up two more scoreless innings, then stepped aside while Coco Crisp and Jason Varitek manufactured the winning run in the ninth of a 7-6 Red Sox win over the Baltimore Orioles.
"I know everybody will have a million questions about Clay, and deservedly so, but we did some really good things," Sox manager Terry Francona said after a game in which his team came from behind three times before Crisp beat out an infield roller, stole second, and came racing home on Varitek's pinch single to left-center. "Now I'll answer the questions about Clay. It worked out about as well as it could."
The Sox lost their starting battery by the fourth inning, Tim Wakefield because of ineffective pitching (six runs and nine hits in 3 2/3 innings, including a two-run home run by Kevin Millar), Doug Mirabelli because of a tweaked left hamstring, not to be confused with the strained right calf that kept him on the disabled list until last Saturday. But they recovered to win on Crisp's three-run home run in the fourth (his first in 54 games), a tying home run in the fifth by David Ortiz (whose right knee is about to force him back on anti-inflammatories), and three stunning innings by Buchholz, whose audition out of the bullpen was the longest stint by a Sox reliever this season.
"We're finding ways to win," understated Varitek, who came through with a pinch hit for the third time this season, the most of any Sox player, this one off Danys Baez, whose high leg kick allowed Crisp to steal his 23d base.
The art of pinch hitting is one that has buckled the best of hitters.
"You always have an adrenaline rush to deal with," Varitek said. "You're not already in the flow of the game. You're not at game speed. But the quicker you can get a swing in, the better you can get your eyes adjusted, the better off you are."
An inning earlier, Crisp, who finished with three runs and three RBIs, saved Buchholz from a potentially unhappy ending, running down Jay Payton's blast to center and making an over-the-head catch.
"Announcers are calling those routine now," said Crisp, whose Gold Glove-caliber defense has become something of a given. "It's kind of upsetting. They're not really routine plays. I was able to get back and make the play. I was actually playing him shallow - for what reason, I don't know - it had good backspin over my head, but I was able to bring it down."
Maybe someone should point out the difference between "routine," and routine Coco. "Some guys that have speed like myself can get to balls that other guys can't get to," he said.
And with the Sox increasing their American League East lead to 6 1/2 games over the Yankees, who were idle last night, with 21 games to play (22 for New York), it was possible for Buchholz to imagine coming out of the bullpen in October.
"Anybody who couldn't get used to pitching in the playoffs doing some role, I think they'd be lying to you," he said. "A couple more outings, I think I'll get the hang of it and be able to run out there."
These are hard times to be an Oriole. Their own fans have deserted them by the thousands, so that when the Sox are in town, Camden Yards is left to become Fenway Park South, a term Orioles broadcaster Joe Angel so detests that he has resorted to lobbing insults at Fenway, a place he contends should be hosed down with Clorox.
They promote a new manager one afternoon, and that night give up 30 runs, something that no team had done in over a century. They lose the last nine games of a homestand to go 1-9, the worst homestand of that length in the history of the franchise. Their pitchers have allowed more than nine runs a game over the previous 15, including games in which they allowed 8, 9, 10, and 11 runs in an inning. They go on the road, and a rookie pitcher, Buchholz, throws a no-hitter at them.
Last night, they show up for work wearing uniforms honoring a Negro League team from Baltimore known as the Black Sox, prompting the esteemed Thomas Boswell of the
The disguises didn't help. Their starting pitcher, Garrett Olson, played two comebackers into outs at first instead of certain double plays, once looking right at Sox pinch runner Royce Clayton, who was hung up between third and home, before turning to throw to first. "It looked like he panicked, to be honest with you," said Dave Trembley, the Orioles' beleaguered manager, who was forced to replace Olson because of a strained forearm one batter after he gave up Crisp's home run.
And just when it looked like the Orioles finally caught a break - getting to face the rusty Wakefield after he'd missed a start with a sore back instead of the prospect of Buchholz trying to pull off a 21st-century Johnny Vander Meer - the bullpen door opened and out came Buchholz.
With Kevin Cash behind the plate after Mirabelli came up lame, Buchholz walked the first batter he faced, Brian Roberts, gave up a ground single to the next hitter, Tike Redman, and walked the third, Nick Markakis, to load the bases. But that's when the legend went super-sized again. Buchholz induced Miguel Tejada to ground into a third-to-home-to-first double play and struck out Millar.
Special? "He's got good stuff, you know," Varitek said. "He's got good stuff. Let's keep it at that. He can pitch, he's going to get some things polished up, and he's got good stuff."
Gordon Edes can be reached at email@example.com.