Buchholz isn’t lacking
With big lead and fine stuff, he blanks Orioles
BALTIMORE — Some of Clay Buchholz’s most difficult and most precious moments have come against the Orioles, a franchise that has sunk to the bottom of the American League. It was against the Orioles when he threw his no-hitter, against the Orioles when he blew up and was exiled to Double A, against the Orioles when he gave up seven runs after being staked to a seven-run lead.
But the pitcher Buchholz was then, Aug. 2 of last season, is hardly the pitcher he is now.
Given a three-run lead before he took the mound, a four-run lead in the second inning, and a seven-run lead by the fourth, Buchholz became ruthless and economical, needing just 101 pitches for a shutout of the Orioles, 11-0, in front of 30,070 at Camden Yards.
“He was tremendous,’’ said manager Terry Francona. “Lot of first-pitch outs. Commanded his fastball. He threw it for strikes. We got a lead, and he threw his fastball for strikes, and stayed out of the middle of the plate. I think he had eight first-pitch outs. That’s huge.’’
After Buchholz came off the mound in the eighth inning, he glanced out to the bullpen. No one was warming. He would get to finish this one himself.
“It wasn’t like it was a 0-0 ballgame going into the seventh,’’ Buchholz said. “It’s easy to let yourself throw pitches where you wouldn’t usually throw them and hope for mistakes. The team’s aggressive and they swing at a lot of first-pitch, lot of second-pitch swings. I left some pitches up, they hit it, but it was right at people. It just went my way tonight, I guess.’’
That was an understatement. It was the curveball. It was the changeup. But, mostly, it was the fastball, as Buchholz (8-3) tied Tampa Bay’s David Price for the league lead in wins. With the shutout, his ERA dropped to 2.39, which puts him just behind Price (2.29). He walked just one last night and just seven over his last four starts.
“He’s a maturing pitcher, and we’re seeing it right in front of us,’’ Francona said. “It’s exciting. He’s putting it together, and he’s done a tremendous job. He looks confident. He should be.’’
Though apparently it’s hard to please everyone.
“It wasn’t fun at all,’’ Adrian Beltre said. “I didn’t get any ground balls. Only one. He was terrific today.’’
And on a night when the Orioles were looking for some hope, they didn’t get any. Four hours before the game, interim manager Juan Samuel and general manager Andy MacPhail talked about what needs to change on a team that has already lost its season. But last night, it was simply more of the same.
Starter Chris Tillman lasted just four outs, leading to a parade of bullpen arms. And the relievers did little better, as none emerged unscathed last night.
“You get in the bullpen that early, that’s a tough night for them,’’ Francona said. “We’ve been in that situation. That’s a tough way to get people out.’’
There was at least one hit from every spot in the lineup, save David Ortiz, by the end of the fifth inning, including a three-run shot from Kevin Youkilis, a two-run double from J.D. Drew, and a solo shot from Beltre. In the end, though, it was about Buchholz, as it always seems to be when he’s on the mound.
Still, he needed the support and he got it, mostly coming with two outs. After the Sox loaded the bases on a single and two walks in the first inning, Drew came up with two down and hit a two-RBI double to put the Sox up 3-0. Another run came in the second when Jeremy Hermida’s double was followed by singles from Bill Hall and Dustin Pedroia. Then it was Youkilis’s turn.
The first baseman slammed a three-run homer with two outs in the fourth to give the Sox a seven-run advantage. But, unlike last year against Buchholz, the Orioles stayed down and the Sox kept scoring. They added a Beltre shot to lead off the fifth, a Marco Scutaro shot to lead off the eighth, and two more runs in the ninth.
“Got him some runs early, which helped,’’ Youkilis said. “Just kept adding on. That’s the key when you’re ahead, just try to keep adding on, not let the team get back in.’’
This win, though, started and ended with the starter, who has already set a career high for wins. The Sox have won 17 of his 21 starts since last Aug. 19. Buchholz has gone 14-4 with a 3.38 ERA in that stretch, matching Ubaldo Jimenez for the most wins in the majors. And that’s not to mention the 0.99 ERA he has over his current five-start winning streak.
Now that’s maturity.
“That just goes back from the rough times that I’ve had,’’ Buchholz said. “I’ve felt like I’ve learned from them, and I guess that’s maturing. I’m not really sure. Still feel young and still feel like there’s a lot of things that I can learn about this game.’’