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What's limit for Buchholz?

Status uncertain as ceiling looms

CLAY BUCHHOLZ Trouble in fifth CLAY BUCHHOLZ Trouble in fifth

TORONTO - It wasn't until there were two outs in the fourth inning, and Frank Thomas lined a single into left field, that Johnny Vander Meer's record of consecutive no-hitters was safe from Clay Buchholz.

But after a performance in which Buchholz came in just under the prescribed pitch limit, of far more importance than his pitching last night - good as it was - remained the question of his use as the regular season grows short.

Between Double A Portland, Triple A Pawtucket, and Boston, Buchholz has thrown 148 innings, just seven shy of the limit established for him by the organization in spring training. But that doesn't mean he won't be pitching in October, though both manager Terry Francona and catcher Jason Varitek shied away from the matter last night, with speculation on playoff rosters perhaps unwise after a 6-1 loss to the Blue Jays cut the Red Sox' lead in the American League East to 1 1/2 games over the Yankees.

"We're just not ready to talk about the playoff roster," Francona said. "That doesn't make a lot of sense to me."

"I mean, he can pitch," Varitek said. "I don't want to get into that right now. I want to figure out a way to let this team start playing well."

Buchholz pitched extremely well before running into trouble in the fifth. And that was after not having started a game since Sept. 1, when he no-hit the Orioles, and not having pitched since Sept. 6, when he went three innings in relief of Tim Wakefield. Buchholz threw five or six bullpen sessions in the interim.

"I felt fine," said Buchholz, who went 4 2/3 innings, allowing five hits, two runs (one earned), with two walks and five strikeouts. "Thought I was going to be out there and going to be a little rusty. But right off the bat, I felt good with the fastball command, being able to get to the secondary pitches."

Until those problems in the fifth. Much of that trouble was of his own doing. He didn't get the call on a 1-and-2 pitch to Gregg Zaun, which led to the high changeup that Zaun hit for a double. Adam Lind singled before Russ Adams (the new Sox nemesis?) came to the plate.

Adams hit a ball that was gloved by second baseman Dustin Pedroia, but with first baseman Eric Hinske having been pulled out of position, the covering Buchholz didn't tag the bag in time, as Adams reached. That was followed by a single by Ray Olmedo, a bunt that bounced high before Buchholz scooped it and shoveled to third base, likely the only play he could have made.

Except he didn't shovel very well. The ball rolled into left field, the play salvaged only when Bobby Kielty's relay to Mike Lowell at third resulted in an out when Adams lifted his foot off the bag and was tagged. Buchholz called his play a "mental lapse" and said he thought he could have gotten Adams had he not double-clutched.

"There was no play, then he tried to backhand," Francona said. "We caught a break and ended up getting an out. Just trying to do something that wasn't there."

But two runs had scored, all the offense the Blue Jays would need to finish off their three-game sweep.

"I knew it wouldn't be anything like the previous start. I wouldn't be going six or seven innings," Buchholz said.

He meant his pitch count. He could have been talking about his outing as well. It's clearly difficult to duplicate a no-hitter.

Now, as for the future of the heralded rookie? Buchholz wasn't quite sure. He's out of commission for the rest of the road trip.

"I don't know," he said. "It's day to day. I feel it's maybe something later in the month, whenever we get back home. That's about all I've got for you."

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com.

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