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Buchholz was on target all night long

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / July 20, 2012
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After throwing eight innings of one-run ball and leaving down, 1-0, Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz went into the clubhouse knowing everything else was out of his control.

All he could do was flop down on the couch and watch how the last inning played out Thursday night at Fenway Park.

He had been locked in a staredown with White Sox rookie starter Jose Quintana, and neither wanted to flinch.

Quintana retired his first eight batters before giving up a triple to Pedro Ciriaco, then retired 11 straight after that.

Buchholz, in his second start since coming off the disabled list after being sidelined by esophagitis, struck out six White Sox, catching four of them looking.

They went inning for inning, essentially fighting to a draw, but even Buchholz had to tip his cap to Quintana.

“The other guy threw a better game,” he said.

But from the clubhouse, Buchholz watched his team pick him up. First Alfredo Aceves pitched a scoreless ninth inning, then Cody Ross blasted a three-run home run (his third in two nights) that gave the Red Sox a 3-1 walkoff win.

When the ball landed in the Monster seats, it was as if Buchholz’s leather sofa had an eject button.

“I was running all around the clubhouse,” Buchholz said.

Quintana’s luck couldn’t have been tougher. He became the first starter since 1900 with three starts of eight shutout innings that resulted in no-decisions, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

For the second straight start, Buchholz pitched well enough to earn the win (which went to Aceves). By and large he stayed out of jams, never facing more than five batters in an inning.

“We battled,” Aceves said. “And we recognized that [Quintana] pitched well, too. But Clay Buchholz proved one more time that he’s one of the best, for sure.”

Buchholz said he’s felt good about his two-seam fastball in his last two starts, saying it’s working as well for him now as it has in the past two years. His out pitch, though, was his changeup, which he was able to throw for strikes and avoid contact. And his curveball, he said, has “probably been my best pitch all year.”

“Clay was excellent,” manager Bobby Valentine said. “He had a good breaking ball, excellent fastball, changeup down, competitive the whole way. He looked great.”

Buchholz was on a 90-pitch limit a week ago against the Rays, when he gave up four runs on three hits in 6 innings and took the loss. After allowing two runs through six innings, he came back out and immediately walked Luke Scott and hit Jeff Keppinger before Valentine took the ball from him. He left with a 3-2 lead, but Matt Albers couldn’t hold it.

With no pitch count Thursday night, Buchholz worked late (his sixth start of at least seven innings this year) and threw 107 pitches.

“I felt strong,” he said. “It was time for me to come out and let the other guys have a clean inning instead of me roll back out there in the ninth inning, giving up a couple hits and the bullpen having to press. So it was the right move. I wasn’t 100 percent drained, but it was a couple stressful innings throughout the game.”

Catching four batters with called third strikes, he said, was an indicator of how much he trusts his offspeed pitches.

“Some days you go out there and you throw a pitch where you want to throw it and it gets hit and some days it’s the complete opposite,” Buchholz said. “Having a feel for your offspeed pitches early in the game helps because you’re not scared to throw them later in the game. And that’s where I’m at right now. It doesn’t really matter what it feels like in the bullpen before the game, you’ve just got to go out there and trust it sometimes.”

It was the first time a Red Sox starter had gone eight innings at Fenway and allowed one run or fewer and not earned a win since Josh Beckett in 2009, against the Mets. In his last seven starts, Buchholz is 4-1 with a 2.63 ERA.

“I feel like my past, probably, six starts, even though the results haven’t been what you want them to be I felt pretty confident with all my pitches every time I go out,” Buchholz said. “I think that plays a big key in going out and having success and keeping your team in the game in a game like this.”

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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