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Rain drops pitchers from their routines

Clay Buchholz didn't have to endure a rain delay last night, but the Tigers poured it on against him; Buchholz allowed 10 hits and five runs and lasted just four innings, throwing 82 pitches. Clay Buchholz didn't have to endure a rain delay last night, but the Tigers poured it on against him; Buchholz allowed 10 hits and five runs and lasted just four innings, throwing 82 pitches. (Duane burleson/Associated Press)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / May 8, 2008

DETROIT - As the rain came down yesterday, and the threats of thunderstorms mounted, Clay Buchholz walked through the visitors' clubhouse. The night's starter had just arrived at the ballpark and, as he headed toward the dining room, he let out a sigh of displeasure and a mild curse.

For his second straight start, the last being Friday against the Rays, Buchholz faced the possibility of a rain delay. Perhaps not as long as that one, which clocked in at 2 hours 27 minutes, but it was looking like 7:05 p.m. might not be anywhere near first pitch.

Ultimately it was as the rain cleared and the Red Sox and Tigers - and Buchholz and Armando Galarraga - readied for an on-time start. But that didn't mean the impending rain didn't play a few games with Buchholz's head, or that dealing with a delay is easy for starters whose routines can be legendary.

"Ever since I played ball in high school, getting myself really focused or getting locked into the game was something I'd do immediately before the game, so it didn't require a lot of time," Daisuke Matsuzaka said through interpreter Masa Hoshino. "Since playing in the big leagues, where there's more stops and starts, it's been a little bit more difficult.

"But usually if I'm given a time and told this is the time that I'll be going, I can really focus on getting ready just prior to that. So that adjustment wasn't that difficult when I was playing in Japan when they'd give a time and follow it exactly or else they would cancel the game outright."

That rarely happens over here, where games are sometimes delayed for hours. Like 4 hours 47 minutes, the rain delay on Jon Lester's major league debut, June 10, 2006, when a doubleheader turned into a single game and Lester was left to wait for far, far too long for his liking.

"Six hours," Lester said, adding a little hyperbole. "Not fun."

But Lester has gotten lucky, he thinks. He couldn't recall another rain delay in the majors where he was scheduled to be the starting pitcher. And it's not such an issue in the minors.

"Usually they just call them, if it's too long," Lester said. "They just call them and play a doubleheader the next day. We don't have to worry about the gate as much as they do in the big leagues."

That's for certain. Over time, though, pitchers develop their own ways of handling the waits. Tim Wakefield, a crossword puzzle fiend, keeps himself occupied with one of those or Sudoku. After 16 seasons in the big leagues, Wakefield has adopted ways to keep himself busy.

It's more of a problem for rookies.

"Maybe in a guy's first major league start, like what happened to Lester," Jason Varitek said. "Then you're dealing with a different set of nerves for a long period of time. I think everybody's played long enough where they've had rain delays before.

"Me and Cashy [Kevin Cash] have to go out there when they go out there so we have to stay at the same level. If I sit around too long, mentally fall asleep, then physically you get pretty tight. But as far as them, it's something everybody's had to deal with before."

Wakefield said he tries not to waste mental energy waiting. It's all about being relaxed and calm and biding time before word comes that the game's about to begin. He believes the focus and intensity should come when the pitcher marches out to the bullpen - there's no need for it before.

But that's not for everyone.

"They just can't afford to fall off of alert," Varitek said. "I think that's the biggest thing, going through their normal steps up until you get told that we're on delay. Then you have to keep the motor going mentally until the green light turns back on."

So, though Lester gets points for his first rain delay falling on his first major league start, it's hard to quibble with the delay suffered by Jonathan Papelbon April 12 against the Yankees.

Papelbon warmed up three times during a 2-hour-11-minute rain delay, which began with Alex Rodriguez at the plate, and ended with Rodriguez striking out on a 96-mile-per-hour fastball. On Papelbon's third pitch.

"Shoot, I was tapped out warming up," Varitek said. "I didn't know if I could get loose again, let alone him."

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

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