Perhaps even Clay Buchholz wondered, as he stood on the Fenway Park mound, at a time normally reserved for a ballplayer's breakfast, and prepared to pitch to Ian Kinsler. It was just five outs into the game and Buchholz already had given up a double in the first inning and loaded the bases in the second. That was where he was at that moment, facing Kinsler, the bases full, and his outing about to resemble his last start.
"Today there were probably a lot of people saying, 'Oh God, here he goes again,' " Buchholz said.
They might have been. He might have been.
Didn't matter. Buchholz got Kinsler to pop to first baseman Kevin Youkilis, ending the inning and pushing him through the biggest challenge the Rangers would pose while the rookie was on the mound. Two more runners appeared in the third, though the second came aboard with two outs. One more in the sixth, but Milton Bradley was erased immediately on a double play.
It wasn't quite like his last start, against the Yankees in New York, and the six scoreless innings earned him his first victory of the season, 8-3, in front of 37,539 fans on Patriots Day. It was his first win since a relief victory last Sept. 6 against the Orioles and his first win as a starter since his no-hitter last Sept. 1.
"I thought he was much more unpredictable in all counts," manager Terry Francona said after the Sox had swept the Rangers, locking up their fifth straight win and ninth in 10 games. "He was throwing all his pitches.
"We talk so often about establishing fastball, but with Clay, he's got four pitches that if he can throw at any time, in any count, vs. lefty, vs. righty, all of a sudden you start pumping that 93, 94 in there, it gives you an extra foot or two on your fastball. And he was throwing them all, all day, right from the very beginning."
Plus, it didn't hurt to have a big lead, which his teammates provided in the fourth inning. Just one ball was hit hard that inning, the one off the bat of Dustin Pedroia that was smashed into the triangle and went for a double. The others? Well, those were more a combination of sneaky shots and miscues by the Rangers. Many miscues.
Between Dustin Nippert's balk, Kinsler's throwing error that allowed Jed Lowrie to score, Michael Young's wide throw on Jacoby Ellsbury's infield single, and Milton Bradley losing David Ortiz's fly ball in the sun (and keeling over in the process), the Red Sox scored five runs in the fourth, staking Buchholz to a nice advantage. Even when the Red Sox planned on making an out, they didn't do it.
With J.D. Drew on first base (the second of his three walks on the afternoon), Lowrie popped up a bunt so badly it landed in front of Young at shortstop and went for an infield single. He couldn't have placed the ball better.
"You try to make a play and we just didn't come up with it," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "It's just the way things go sometimes."
It made the inning before, when Ellsbury ran into an 8-2-4-2 mess of a out from third base to end the inning, rather meaningless. But the Sox got around the bases quite a few times as the game wore on, adding another three runs in the fifth on a double by Julio Lugo, singles by Kevin Cash and Ellsbury, and a double by Ortiz.
Relievers David Aardsma and Manny Delcarmen gave up three late runs to the Rangers, two in the seventh and one in the ninth.
That prevented the shutout, but it didn't take away from the start turned in by Buchholz, one in which he gave up five hits and two walks while striking out six. And one in which he was throwing to his old backstop.
"Just a little bit better command with his fastball especially," Cash said of the difference between when he caught Buchholz over the second half of the 2007 season in Pawtucket and now. "He's always had four plus pitches; there aren't many pitchers in baseball that have four pitches you can get a swing-and-miss on in the zone. So he has that, but just to get ahead of hitters is big for him."
Of the 24 batters he pitched to yesterday, Buchholz threw first-pitch strikes to 17, with 68 of his 103 pitches strikes overall. But, as is most important for any pitcher, Buchholz got out of jams, making the pitches he needed at the moments he needed them.
"I've felt like I've had good stuff just about every time I've gone out, but there's a difference between having good stuff and just going out and pitching," Buchholz said. "It's a whole world of difference, and I felt like I actually pitched today, instead of just going out there and throwing curveballs and changeups and hoping something good will come out of it."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.