Sox show power, precision
They belt six homers, Buchholz dominant
Clay Buchholz watched from the Red Sox dugout as balls flew out of Fenway Park and his teammates circled the bases, and he pretended none of it had happened. Buchholz knows he pitches best when the game is close, his pitches crisper and his focus sharper. His teammates gave him the means for an easy night, but “I try to keep that out of my mind as much as possible,’’ he said.
The Sox belted a season-high six home runs, five of them in the first three innings, in a 10-0 victory over the Baltimore Orioles, a head-spinning homer haul that further cemented their once-sagging offense as one of the league’s most dangerous. Dustin Pedroia slugged two of them, the first multi-home run game of his career.
Given such a wide margin for error, Buchholz pitched as if engaged in a duel. He held the Orioles, the team he no-hit in the second start of his career, hitless until there were two outs in the fourth inning. He shut them out over seven dominant innings, allowing only three hits and striking out five.
“When he pitches like that - and I’m not trying to get ahead of myself - it’s amazing how good the organization feels about the future,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “You look at him out there putting up zeros, and the way he can do it, it’s very exciting.’’
Before the game, the Sox talked about the heightened significance of games this time of year. “A little bit of scoreboard watching,’’ Jason Bay said. By game’s end, the Sox had swapped eight of their nine starters, a welcome night to relax in the middle of a playoff chase.
But their most recent flogging of the Orioles, against whom the Sox are 12-2 this year, carried with it a bittersweet tone: They actually lost ground to Texas in the American League wild-card race. The Rangers, who trailed the Sox by 2 1/2 games entering the day, won both ends of a doubleheader in Cleveland and sliced Boston’s to lead to two games.
Buchholz’s continued emergence eased the sting. On Aug. 2, the Red Sox staked him to a seven-run lead in Baltimore. Buchholz promptly allowed six runs and exited after four innings. He turned the game, an eventual Sox win, into a lesson.
“I try to stay as if the game was still a tied game or a close game,’’ Buchholz said.
When Buchholz can unlock his best, he provides the Sox an answer to the question, what comes next after Josh Beckett and Jon Lester? The Sox have won the past five games Buchholz has started, and his ERA over his past seven starts is 3.00.
Last night, he threw all four of his pitches for strikes, a devilish combination of inside fastballs to go with sliders, changeups, and especially his curveball. “It is the pitch it was in 2007 for me,’’ Buchholz said. His most recent success has come with Victor Martinez behind the plate, and he gave Martinez partial credit.
“If I’m out there throwing four pitches for strikes, I think it makes it that much harder on the opposition to guess what,’’ Buchholz said. “Vic’s done a really good job. A lot of it’s Victor. We’ve meshed well the last couple of starts. It’s definitely worked out for the best.’’
Once a luxury, Buchholz has become a necessity. The Sox gave him the first start after the All-Star break as a reward for his work in Triple A, a planned cameo. As injuries and ineffectiveness struck the Sox staff, Buchholz took up residence in the rotation. He has not missed a start.
Buchholz, 25, remains an unfinished product. But his apprenticeship, in the opinion of the Sox, is over. There is no reason to look for meaning in a good start or a bad one. “He’s at that point now, go out and compete and see if you’re good enough to beat that team,’’ Francona said before the game. “I think he’s reached that point.’’
Of course, anyone could have pulled a win from last night’s barrage. The carnage began instantly. After Jacoby Ellsbury walked to lead off the game, Pedroia crushed a four-seam fastball over the Green Monster and off the top of the AAA sign. It bounded on to Lansdowne Street, and it soon would have company. Two batters later, Kevin Youkilis pounded a 3-and-1 four-seamer high into the night and out of Fenway.
Alex Gonzalez, who was hitting .211 when the Sox acquired him from Cincinnati, extended his hitting streak to 12 games by lashing a homer into the front rows of Monster Seats. He hit three with the Reds. In his first month with the Sox, he has three as well.
“I know I can put some pretty good swings on balls,’’ Gonzalez said.
Pedroia led off the third with another bomb, a near-replay of his first. They were done battering Hernandez. Later in the inning, after a walk, the Orioles called on Chris Lampert. J.D. Drew, the second batter Lampert faced, laced a three-run shot into the Boston bullpen, his 20th homer this season.
David Ortiz finished the night off with a blast to center, a home run he appropriately posed to admire for a moment. It gave him 269 as a designated hitter, tying Frank Thomas for the all-time lead.
The Sox have averaged 6.4 runs over their past 21 games, and they had warned of their potential for such an explosive game. They had crunched 60 home runs since July 31, second most in the majors behind the Yankees over that span. In August alone they smashed 50, the third highest total for one month in club history.
Last night, they didn’t need home runs. After coming in having dropped three of four in Chicago, they just needed to win.
“We’ve got to keep it that way,’’ Ortiz said. “We’ve seen what Texas is doing out there. They’re the team we’ve got to worry about.’’