MIAMI — There is an 85 percent chance in a major league game that a run will score with a runner on third and no outs. The best a pitcher can usually hope for is to give up one run.
That was the goal Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz had in the bottom of the first inning against the Miami Marlins on Tuesday night when Jose Reyes led off with a triple.
“When you get in that position you’re just trying to get out of that inning giving up that one run,” Buchholz said.
Instead Buchholz struck out Omar Infante, Hanley Ramirez and Giancarlo Stanton on 13 pitches. All three went down swinging, the first two at changeups and Stanton at a curveball that broke a foot away from his bat.
Buchholz bounced off the mound, his confidence never higher. It led to seven strong innings for the righthander and a 2-1 victory the Red Sox desperately needed.
“I thought Clay was absolutely fantastic,” manager Bobby Valentine said after his team snapped a four-game losing streak.
Catcher Kelly Shoppach, who admitted he fully expected a run to score, marveled at how Buchholz took command of the situation.
Reyes had a leadoff triple against Josh Beckett in the first inning on Monday and three runs ultimately scored. With the Sox struggling to score runs, another early deficit would have been emotionally crushing.
“What a boost that was for him, a leadoff triple and coming back to strike out the side,” Shoppach said. “The way he did it, with those three hitters, he was in control of each one of them. It looked like he felt no pressure with a guy on third base.
“I’ve seen it a million times. Guys get confidence and they have no fear. They go out there and execute pitches because they believe they can.”
Buchholz allowed five hits, walked two and struck out nine, his most since April 22, 2010 when he struck out 10 Texas Rangers. Buchholz (7-2) has dropped his earned run average from a ghastly 8.31 on May 11 to 5.38.
He has allowed one earned run over 16 innings in his last two starts and five in the last 31.
“A lot of work’s gone into it,” Buchholz said. “The first couple of weeks out were pretty tough. Had to find a way to battle past that and get through. I knew that I’ve done it before.
“The Red Sox stuck with me. They could have given up on me a lot quicker. I do appreciate that. It’s a little bit of work in the middle of everything.”
Beckett taught Buchholz a split-finger fastball before his start against Tampa Bay May 16. Buchholz threw 11 of the pitches on Tuesday, using the off-speed pitch thrown on a sharp downward plane to keep the Marlins from timing his fastball.
“It puts another pitch in the back of the hitter’s mind that I can go to in certain counts,” said Buchholz, who is 8-2 in 12 starts following a loss since the start of the 2011 season. “It’s been a good pitch when I’ve thrown it.”