Buchholz, Sox flying at finish
Team completes homestand at 8-1
One of baseball’s many unwritten rules is the starting pitcher is to be left alone before the game, presumably so he can intently focus on the serious task at hand.
Then you have the Red Sox’ Clay Buchholz, who prepared for his start against the Los Angeles Dodgers last night by gleefully bouncing a soccer ball around the clubhouse with the 5-year-old sons of two teammates, Victor Jose Martinez and D’Angelo Ortiz.
“I think that’s when a lot of stress builds up, whenever you’re sitting there four hours before a game listening to music trying to get pumped up,’’ Buchholz said. “You might start thinking a little too much.’’
Perhaps every Red Sox starter should loosen up with the little guys. Buchholz controlled the Dodgers for nearly seven innings as the Red Sox held on for 2-0 victory before a crowd of 37,430 at Fenway Park.
Now 43-28, the Sox have won a season-best six straight and drawn even with the Rays (42-27) in the AL East and trail the Yankees (43-26) by a game after an 8-1 interleague homestand.
Buchholz (10-4) is tied with Phil Hughes of the Yankees and David Price of the Rays for the most victories in the American League. Price has the lowest earned run average in the league at 2.45 with Buchholz second at 2.47.
“I can remember thinking, ‘I don’t think I’ll ever be able to win 10 games in a season,’ ’’ Buchholz said. “A lot of things have to happen in order for that to happen.’’
Buchholz is 7-1 with a 1.62 ERA in his last eight starts, building the kind of résumé that could earn him his first berth in the All-Star Game. After several years of patience paired with development, the 25-year-old righthander is delivering on his vast promise.
“Coming out of spring training, I don’t know that we knew exactly what he would be,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “In a lot of those meetings [general manager] Theo [Epstein] sat there and banged the drum. He’s right. Young pitching, that’s why you don’t trade it away or give up on it because we don’t always know exactly what they’re going to be.
“But when they start reaching their potential, it’s awful exciting.’’
Over his 6 2/3 innings last night, Buchholz gave up three hits with three walks, four strikeouts, and two hit batters. The Dodgers were hitless in six at-bats with runners in scoring position against him.
Daniel Bard got four outs before Jonathan Papelbon finished off the Dodgers for his 16th save.
“Certain situations, maybe I’ve been in them before and know how it feels to get out of them, know how it feels not to get out of them,’’ Buchholz said. “It feels a whole lot better getting out of them. It’s having to go through some struggles to get to a point where you can pitch with confidence.’’
Buchholz threw 30 pitches in the first inning but did not surrender a run.
Andre Ethier walked with one out before Manny Ramirez — to a chorus of boos — singled sharply to center field. James Loney, down 0-2 in the count, worked a walk to load the bases.
Garret Anderson, who was 5 for 9 against Buchholz in his career, struck out swinging at a 96-mile-per-hour fastball for the second out. Casey Blake then tapped a slider back to the mound and Buchholz threw to first to end the threat.
Buchholz was erratic in the two innings that followed, and was rescued both times by his defense.
Blake DeWitt singled with one out in the second before Buchholz hit Jamey Carroll with a fastball. Matt Kemp then lined to shortstop and Marco Scutaro flipped to Dustin Pedroia to double off DeWitt and end the inning.
Buchholz walked Ramirez with one out in the third inning and fell behind Loney, 3 and 0. Loney then took a strike before grounding into an inning-ending double play as Scutaro made the turn.
It was the first of 10 batters in a row that Buchholz retired.
Dodgers starter Hiroki Kuroda also had a long first inning, throwing 28 pitches. But he was not as fortunate as Buchholz.
Pedroia started it with an infield single, the ball deflecting off the glove of Blake as he ranged away from third base.
With the infield shifted to the right against David Ortiz, Pedroia stole second. When the throw from Russell Martin bounced away, Pedroia scrambled to his feet and went to third as Kuroda failed to cover.
The Dodgers intentionally walked Ortiz to get to Kevin Youkilis. He tapped a ball down the third base line, too slowly for Blake to make a play. Pedroia scored.
The Sox extended their lead to 2-0 in the third inning. Scutaro singled and raced to third when Pedroia singled to right. Ortiz delivered a sacrifice fly to right.
Buchholz, a Texan, has moved to California with his wife, Lindsay. They are expecting their first child in August. Their new home is about a 30-minute drive to Angel Stadium, where the All-Star Game will be held July 13.
“Kind of a coincidence,’’ Buchholz said. “But it would be great to be there.’’