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No more excuses for Clay Buchholz

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  October 18, 2013 10:23 AM

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Prove it, Clay.

With all due respect to starters Jon Lester and John Lackey, the Red Sox are one win away from the World Series, much in thanks to a bullpen that has dominated the Detroit Tigers over the course of the first five games of this dazzling American League Championship Series. Red Sox relievers have combined to turn in 17 innings, allowing only 12 hits and one run, that sole score surrendered by Junichi Tazawa in the seventh inning of Thursday’s 4-3 win, but that was only in addition to a couple of crucial double plays that helped the hurler escape late-inning jams. Other than that, Connecticut’s own (that’s new in the stylebook) Craig Breslow and closer Koji Uehara were dynamic in putting the Sox ahead in this series in a somewhat-plodding game that lasted three hours, 47 minutes.

Maybe Koji can twirl a complete-game in Saturday’s Game 6?

What a relief it was to see Uehara come in for the five-out save, if only because it meant the game might have completed by the witching hour. Uehara threw 27 pitches over 1 2/3 innings, striking out two and walking … oh, none. Again. It’s the type of effectiveness and speed of delivery we’re assured not to witness at Fenway Park when Game 6 gets underway.

Clay Buchholz makes Jeff Gray look downright Mr. McFeeley when it comes to speedy delivery.

One of the minor keys heading into this series was certainly Buchholz’s ability to keep the dangerous Tigers lineup in check, something he was hardly able to do during Sunday’s Game 2. Buchholz gave up five earned runs over 5 2/3 innings, and some of that has to be credit to the Tigers, who are able to think and react during the 26 seconds it takes Buchholz between pitches, the slowest such number in all of baseball.

If it weren’t for Jake Peavy dry-heaving on the mound at Comerica Park on Wednesday, Buchholz would have the worst line for a pitcher on the Boston ALCS roster. He’s allowed 15 hits over 11 2/3 innings against the Rays and Tigers, good for a 6.17 ERA, and despite his 12-1 regular season, the fans’ confidence in Buchholz is as low as it’s been in some time.

Of course, you could say the same for Lackey, who went toe-for-toe with Justin Verlander on Tuesday, and changed his perception in Boston faster than you can say “Popeye’s.” Time for Buchholz to do the same.

Buchholz’s 2013 season may have been a breakout year for the 28-year-old, but it was one that was also marred by his mysterious neck injury, which we were told came on the heels of having his infant sleep on him. In spite of losing him for three months, the Red Sox roared to the best record in the American League, and now, are on the precipice of their first World Series appearance since 2007.

Really, it’s no thanks to Buchholz.

In going up against Verlander, Lackey showed a certain confidence and attitude that we’ve never really seen from Buchholz. Does the latter have the same sort of attitude it will take to face soon-to-be Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, ol’ puppy eyes who’s become the apple of Joe Buck’s own?

In order to beat one of the Tigers’ two aces in Games 6 and 7, the Red Sox don’t just need a dependable arm to bridge them to the bullpen, but a bulldog who wants to make his name known as the reason why Boston won this series. Can Lackey do it twice against Verlander? It seems a lot to ask.

Which is why this series hinges on Buchholz Saturday. It’s up to him to deliver the Red Sox to the World Series.

It’s time for Clay Buchholz to finally prove he’s up to that challenge. Want to be considered an ace? No more excuses.

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About the Author

Eric Wilbur is a Boston.com sports columnist who is still in awe of what Dana Kiecker pulled off that one time in Toronto. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children. Comments and suggestions for the best Buffalo wing spots are encouraged.

Contact Eric Wilbur by e-mail or follow him on Twitter.

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