ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Clay Buchholz professed not to remember much about the last time he pitched in a playoff game for the Red Sox.
“It was against the Angels and we didn't end up winning,” he said. “That's about all I got.”
To fill in some of the gaps, it was Game 3 of a Division Series on Oct. 11, 2009 at Fenway Park. Buchholz went five innings and left with a 5-2 lead only to watch Billy Wagner and Jonathan Papelbon give up five runs.
The Sox were eliminated and did not return to the playoffs until this season. Buchholz, who was 25 at the time, has since gotten married, had two children and signed a long-term contract with the Sox.
Now, finally, he gets another chance at the postseason and this time it’s the Red Sox who are in a position to sweep. Buchholz starts against the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday night with the Red Sox up 2-0 in the best-of-five series.
The Red Sox waited until this morning to fly here. The team went directly to Tropicana Field and worked out for about 90 minutes.
Buchholz threw briefly in the bullpen and met with reporters to discuss what will be one of the biggest starts of his career and one he wasn’t sure he would be able to make a few months ago because of his lingering shoulder injury.
Buchholz is no ordinary Game 3 starter. He was 11-1 with a 1.71 ERA before the injury and made the All-Star team. Buchholz also is 7-5 with a 2.42 ERA in 16 career starts against the Rays. His ERA at Tropicana Field is 2.26 in nine starts.
The Red Sox lost the one playoff game Buchholz appeared in and their season ended. If they win Monday, they would advance to Game 1 of the American League Championship Series at Fenway Park on Saturday against either the Tigers or Athletics. That series is 1-1 headed to Detroit for two games.
“This is what baseball is all about. Everybody wants to be in this position. If you don't you're in the wrong sport,” Buchholz said. “I'm excited, a little anxious to get it started.
“I'm going to just try to do the same thing as I've done all year when I've been out there: pitch in the zone, throw strikes, try to get your hitters in the dugout as quick as possible.”