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Red Sox 1, Tigers 0

Buchholz, Saltalamacchia clear the way for a win

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By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / May 19, 2011

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You didn’t have to ask Jarrod Saltalamacchia twice.

Even though the Red Sox catcher delivered the winning hit in last night’s 1-0 victory over Detroit with his eighth-inning RBI double off The Wall, Saltalamacchia knew who was deserving of most valuable player recognition.

It wasn’t Daniel Bard, who picked up his first win of the season to improve to 1-3 (2.86 ERA) after pitching a scoreless eighth, or closer Jonathan Papelbon, who entered in the ninth and notched his eighth save of the season after rebounding from a leadoff double by Victor Martinez to record back-to-back strikeouts that stranded pinch runner Andy Dirks at third.

Instead, it was Clay Buchholz, the Sox’ slender righthander who took the ball in misty conditions that prevailed all night — causing a 27-minute rain delay in the eighth — and spun a masterful seven innings, allowing four hits, one walk, two hit batsmen, and seven strikeouts. He threw a career-high 127 pitches, the last of which was a 92-mile-per-hour fastball that induced Austin Jackson to strike out on a checked swing with the bases loaded.

“He’s the MVP,’’ Saltalamacchia said. “He was awesome. He kept the ball down and he pitched his butt off and battled all night. He got into some situations but he was able to get out of them and he went deep for us. Yeah, he’s the MVP.’’

Not that you would get much debate from Bard or Papelbon after they helped preserve the team’s sixth shutout of the season, tying the Tigers for most in the American League. The Sox climbed to two games above .500 (22-20).

“You certainly didn’t expect to see him throw as many pitches as he did tonight,’’ Bard said. “It was amazing.’’

“He was awesome for us tonight,’’ Papelbon said.

So what was Buchholz’s parting gift? A no-decision, which snapped a stretch of five straight decisions, the last of which was an equally dominating performance in a 5-4 victory over the Yankees last Friday in New York. In that outing, Buchholz threw 110 pitches, going seven innings and allowing a pair of runs on five hits. He struck out seven and walked one.

“This homestand, or this stretch of weather we’ve had, I don’t think it’s been easy for anyone to go out there and throw,’’ Buchholz said. “Even the other guy, he matched about every pitch I threw, but only half of ’em. It was tough at times, but it’s just some of the things you have to deal with.’’

Tigers lefthander Phil Coke also took a no-decision after matching Buchholz by throwing seven scoreless innings, allowing three hits, one walk and recording four strikeouts. However, he wound up throwing 78 pitches, 54 for strikes.

It seemed as if Buchholz was in his element in last night’s inclement weather conditions. In a 4-0 victory over the Twins May 7, Buchholz threw two innings, then returned after a rain delay of 2 hours 7 minutes to pitch three more innings before turning it over to the bullpen. Last night, he operated in soggy conditions with little distress.

Jackson led off the sixth with a double off The Wall, then advanced to third on Scott Sizemore’s sacrifice bunt. Buchholz got Brennan Boesch to pop to second and Miguel Cabrera to ground to third. It was Buchholz’s 100th pitch of the game.

The seventh proved more dramatic for Buchholz. He hit Jhonny Peralta with one out, then allowed Alex Avila to single to right. After striking out Ryan Raburn looking at 90-m.p.h. cutter, Buchholz hit Brandon Inge to load the bases for Jackson, who fanned on a check swing.

Bard replaced Buchholz to start the eighth, then was forced to wait out the rain delay before resuming his outing against Sizemore, who struck out swinging at a 96-m.p.h. fastball. Bard got Boesch to ground to second and Cabrera to hit an anything-but-routine fly to right that Mike Cameron temporarily lost in the mist.

“I played in a lot of tough fog in Chicago, but this was as bad as I’ve ever played in,’’ Cameron said. “I saw the ball come off the bat, but after that, I had to wait until the last possible minute to be able to see it again.’’

Ryan Perry relieved Coke in the eighth and got two outs, and was replaced by lefthander Daniel Schlereth, who proceeded to walk Carl Crawford.

When Tigers manager Jim Leyland emerged from the dugout, Schlereth automatically assumed he was being given the hook and handed the ball to his skipper, who wound up leaving Schlereth in the game.

The move backfired when Saltalamacchia crushed Schlereth’s sinker off The Wall for an double that scored Crawford from first.

“It feels great to get the win, period,’’ Saltalamacchia said. “I know I’m a better hitter than I’ve been showing, and it felt good to produce there.’’

In the ninth, Papelbon gave up a leadoff double to Martinez, then got Peralta to ground softly to first, moving the tying run to third. But Papelbon struck out Avila and Raburn to end it.

“Every pitcher tries to go deep when they go out there,’’ Saltalamacchia said. “They’re always trying to do their job from that standpoint, but we’ve asked our starters to do a lot, from taking the ball after a two-hour rain delay to pitching on short rest, to pitching out of the bullpen. They’ve stepped up to every challenge and tonight was no different.’’

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.

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