Buchholz bucks up
He helps Red Sox complete sweep
SEATTLE — No one was worried about Clay Buchholz’s previous start, when he lasted only an inning in Oakland. But even so, it was impressive the way Buchholz bounced back last night from one of his few bad performances this season.
Buchholz limited the Mariners to just one run in seven innings in a 5-1 win, improving to 16-7 and making up for the blip on his 2010 résumé. His command was back, along with his curveball.
“Felt really good with the fastball, felt like I had some good life,’’ Buchholz said. “I think my curveball was better than it has been all season. For that pitch to come back this late in the season and for me to be able to throw it for strikes and [have conviction] in throwing it, that was one of the keys for me.’’
It wasn’t the September baseball the Sox have experienced in the recent past. As the Yankees and Rays engaged in the finale of an epic series in Florida, the Sox were involved in a far more low-key series in the Pacific Northwest. The Sox, though, were doing what they needed to do, sweeping the sad-sack Mariners in three games before heading back to Boston for an AL East homestand.
“We’re still battling,’’ said Adrian Beltre, who got the Sox on the board with yet another home run, his 28th of the season. “We’re still [six] games behind [for the wild card], but we’re not out of it. We’re trying to do whatever we can to win games and see what happens. We’re not out yet. We’re trying somehow to get back in the playoff hunt. Hopefully one of those teams falls back.’’
That’s not likely, but at least the Sox aren’t going down easily.
Buchholz provided evidence of that, allowing just the one run on four hits and three walks. He struck out six, as his ERA dropped back down to 2.48.
“Just not coming out of your delivery, I think that’s a big thing, especially at this level,’’ Buchholz said. “You’ve got to be able to repeat it, and the more times you repeat it, the more consistently you’re going to throw strikes with each pitch. That’s the key with any pitcher is being able to repeat the delivery and throw all your pitches for strikes.’’
He certainly wasn’t perfect, allowing runners in each of the first three innings, and after he gave up a solo home run to Russell Branyan in the first, he allowed the first two to reach in the second, Casey Kotchman on an infield hit and Jose Lopez on a double to left.
But Kotchman was picked off third, the throw whipping from Victor Martinez to Beltre for the first out. Michael Saunders walked, giving the Mariners two on with one out. But Buchholz induced consecutive ground outs to get out of trouble and leave the Sox down by only one run.
“Adrian and I thought that he was a little too far,’’ Martinez said about the pickoff of Kotchman. “I’ll take a chance with no outs.’’
After a single by Chone Figgins in the third, Buchholz really turned it on, retiring 10 consecutive Mariners, five by strikeout, until he walked Branyan in the sixth. That allowed the Sox not only to pull even, but to take the lead in the sixth inning.
Beltre tied the score with his solo shot to left in the fourth, dropping to one knee in his trademark show of power.
The Sox then took the lead in that sixth. David Ortiz doubled to center and moved to third on Beltre’s fly to center, the second out of the inning. Then second baseman Figgins misplayed a grounder by Daniel Nava, Ortiz scoring. The Sox loaded the bases on a single by Josh Reddick and a walk to Lars Anderson, but they couldn’t add any more when Yamaico Navarro struck out.
However, the Sox made up for that in the seventh, when the first three batters reached, producing two runs. Marco Scutaro singled, then Ryan Kalish pushed him to third on a ground-rule double. Martinez sent both home with a double down the right-field line, giving Buchholz a 4-1 cushion. It was yet another hit from the right side against a lefthander by Martinez, who is now batting .402 from the right this season with a .727 slugging percentage.
“He’s been a huge presence,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “That’s been an area where there’s been lefties that have kind of tied up our lefties, and he’s been sitting there and he’s been consistently strong from start to finish against lefthanders.’’
The Sox, who added on another run on a triple by Kalish in the eighth, came up with enough offense. But Buchholz was the story, as he has been in so many of his starts this season. The numbers are incredible, including a 9-3 record with a 2.57 ERA on the road.
“The way he’s pitching, he’s matured a lot,’’ Beltre said. “He knows what he’s doing out there. Every five days, he comes in and he competes and he gives us every time he’s out there a chance to win. He’s definitely one of the best pitchers we have.’’