Unless in a roundabout way you count the bulky mass in the ESPN booth last night somewhat resembling Curt Schilling, the Red Sox still have not had a homegrown, 20-game-winning pitcher since the Ferigno doppelganger who happened to be sitting in the Monster seats for Friday night's game against the Dodgers.
This year, they could have two.
Last night, Clay Buchholz became the first 10-game winner for Boston as early as June 20 since Josh Beckett won his 10th game of the 2007 season on June 19. However, the last time the team watched a pitcher it groomed from the minors to the majors win that many games that early in season was 20 years ago, when Roger Clemens won his 10th on June 8, 1990, en route to a 21- win season.
Jon Lester (8-2) takes the hill in Colorado tomorrow night on the heels of Buchholz' win total. Lester has never won 20 in the majors, and is on pace for 18 this season. Buchholz, meanwhile, is projected to go 23-9.
That's not likely to happen. Still, the last time the Red Sox saw two homegrown pitchers enjoy 20-win seasons during the same year? How about 1946, when Cecil Hughson (20-11) and Boo Ferriss (25-6) pulled off the feat.
The best modern comparison was in 1988, when both Clemens and Bruce Hurst won 18 games for the Morgan Magic champs.
Anyone missing Josh Beckett?
Lester and Hurst already became linked last season, when the former passed the latter for most strikeouts by a Red Sox lefty in a season (he eventually ended up with 225). According to Baseball Reference's similarity scores, the pitcher whom Lester most resembles at the age of 25 is none other than Johan Santana, the ace lefty for whom he had vigorously been rumored as a centerpiece in a potential blockbuster trade following the 2007 season.
But Theo Epstein kept faith in his young southpaw. So too, despite a plethora of maturity issues, did he with Buchholz.
Payback time is sweet.
It was just six weeks ago or so how everybody was whining about how downright awful the starting staff was, some calling for the head of John Farrell. Right? Today, only the Yankees can boast an American League staff that wins as consistently as Boston's. New York's top three of Phil Hughes, CC Sabathia, and Andy Pettitte: 26-6. Boston's top three of Buchholz, Lester, and John Lackey: 26-9.
The caveat for Boston is that New York's staff has been healthy, while Boston's has been decimated by injuries to Beckett and (surprise) Daisuke Matsuzaka. When they return, assuming both can pitch anywhere near expectations, it seems the preseason prognosis that Boston had one of the best staffs in the game will come to fruition. But for entirely different reasons that directly result from the emergence of Buchholz.
The top three headed into the season was assumed Beckett, Lester, and Lackey. Buchholz? Some thought he should be bound for the bullpen once Matsuzaka returned (the first time), leaving the open rotation slot to Tim Wakefield, who had been none too pleased about his bullpen role. Now...well, can you imagine a postseason rotation where Beckett - one of this decade's premier playoff pitchers - is only the No. 3 starter?
Ten wins later, and Buchholz is pretty much assured a spot on the All-Star team (though expecting him to be the starter is foolhardy with Joe Girardi as manager, giving Hughes the inside track), and he even has to have his name tossed into the early talk for Cy Young, along with Hughes, Lester, Cliff Lee, and David Price. Perhaps best of all, he has all but silenced the entitled assumption that he was headed to San Diego for Adrian Gonzalez.
Buchholz may not have the makeup of a staff ace, quite yet, and in fact, some see the matter of his strikeout rate decreasing as a sign of rocky roads ahead. Here's Fangraph's David Golebiewski:
The 25-year-old's K rate is down from the previous two seasons (8.53 K/9 in ?08, 6.65 in '09). (It's 6.13 this season). His swinging strike rate is basically the same all the years, ranging from 9.7% to 9.9% (8-9% MLB average), but the culprit for the lack of punch outs appears to be the rate of contact made against Buccholz’s [sic] pitches thrown outside of the strike zone. He's throwing more off-the-plate pitches in 2010, and batters are swinging at plenty of them. But they're also connecting more often against those offerings.
Then again, that's where the Red Sox' stellar infield defense comes into play. If there is a concerning aspect to Buchholz's game this season, it's his 3.7 BB/9. His strikeout-to-walk ratio of 1.68 is among the dregs of the American League. (For the record, Lee's is a ridiculous 16.75, striking out 67 and walking just four on the season.)
From the standpoints of maturity, resume, and hardiness, make no mistake, Lester is still the ace of this staff. And in reality, Beckett probably still gets the nod in Game 2 of any playoff series to come. But Buchholz could lead this team in victories, become the franchise's first homegrown 20-game winner since Clemens, and be in contention for the Cy Young Award.
All that, and he probably gets a Game 3 ALDS start. That says something.
In the end, it wasn't the addition of Lackey that made the Red Sox' staff potentially dominant, but the maturity of Buchholz, who along with Lester, is giving the Red Sox reason to be most proud of the farm system they've built. It's been more than two decades since a Boston front office could point to two front-of-the-rotation guys with the pride that they built them from scratch. Finally, they can now.