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Slow start for Buchholz

His jittery return aids quick-hitting Orioles

Jay Payton crossed the plate in the eighth inning to give the Orioles a 7-3 lead. Jay Payton crossed the plate in the eighth inning to give the Orioles a 7-3 lead. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / July 12, 2008

Standing on the mound, his first time back in the majors in two months, Clay Buchholz was uneasy. He knew he had been sent down to Triple A to find his way, find his fastball, and last night was his first chance to show manager Terry Francona and the rest of the Red Sox he is ready to rejoin the rotation. But he didn't look ready at the start, not with his first-inning jitters.

"I think most of it was nerves," Buchholz said. "I hadn't been that nervous in a long time that I recall.

"Trying to impress. Being down in Triple A, knowing that I was sent down there to work on some stuff, trying to show that I got better down there, trying a little bit too hard."

It showed. "I thought the first inning, I thought he looked nervous, a little jumpy," Francona said. "Just feeling like he has a lot to prove."

Buchholz will get time to prove himself, even though his first attempt didn't go as well as he wanted, the four runs he gave up leading to a 7-3 loss to the Orioles in front of 37,779 at Fenway Park. Buchholz allowed two runs in the first and two in the fifth, though he tossed a couple of dominant frames - five strikeouts in the third and fourth - in between.

The loss hurt - the Sox remaining 1 1/2 games behind the Rays in the American League East - but not as much as Julio Lugo's quadriceps muscle, which may sideline the shortstop for some time. Lugo and Francona voiced concerns when describing the injury, which occurred as Lugo beat out a grounder up the middle in the ninth inning. Steps before hitting the bag, Lugo had an ominous feeling.

"I was going to first and I felt something pop in my quad," Lugo said. 'We're going to see tomorrow, but I felt something pop in there."

Jed Lowrie will probably get a return trip to Fenway Park in the near future, though a promotion will have to wait until Lugo undergoes an MRI today.

Lugo stumbled over the bag and was helped off the field after tumbling to the ground. He was replaced by pinch runner Alex Cora.

Even though the Sox had done little all night, they had a chance in the ninth inning. The Orioles were forced to bring in closer George Sherrill to get the final out. After Lugo's single, Jacoby Ellsbury reached on an error by shortstop Brandon Fahey, necessitating Sherrill. Dustin Pedroia walked to load the bases, bringing up Kevin Youkilis.

But Youkilis struck out swinging on three pitches, giving Sherrill his 28th save.

"I got a fastball, I got a slider, and I got a fastball again," said Youkilis, who acknowledged he felt cramping in his hamstring in the seventh inning.

Despite a performance from Buchholz that got better after a 29-pitch first inning left the Sox in a 2-0 hole, the team wasn't able to do much against Brian Burres (7-5). It didn't help that Buchholz got off to a slow start. He allowed a leadoff double to Brian Roberts, who stole third, then a sacrifice fly to Adam Jones. After he walked Nick Markakis and Aubrey Huff, Melvin Mora drove in Markakis with a single to left.

In the fifth, Roberts's triple scored Fahey and Roberts came home on Huff's sacrifice fly.

The Orioles scored two in the eighth off Manny Delcarmen, and another in the ninth off Mike Timlin.

"There was a million things going through my head at one time and I was trying to correct myself instead of just letting my body take over and trust all the stuff that I have," Buchholz said of his first-inning problems. "After that, even in the fifth inning, I felt that I felt the ball really well. I left some balls over the middle of the plate. That's what happens when you do that."

The Sox scored two in the second, Mike Lowell (single) and Sean Casey (double) scoring on a single by Brandon Moss and a ground out by Lugo. That ground out also put Lugo in the spotlight because of a bad call by first base umpire Doug Eddings. Replays showed the ball was at least a couple of feet from Burres's glove when Lugo stepped on the bag. It was a play that could have opened things up for the Sox, who would have had two on and one out with two runs already in.

The Sox scored in the fourth, Jason Varitek (single) coming home on a ground out by Lugo for a brief 3-2 lead.

"We didn't play very good," said Pedroia, who went 0 for 3 to snap his 17-game hitting streak. "We seemed - no energy. I don't know if the day off [made us] too relaxed, but we didn't play very good."

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

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