ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Red Sox had modest goals for Clay Buchholz Tuesday night. Throwing 75-80 pitches and walking off the mound with a healthy shoulder would have made his first outing in 95 days a rousing success.
That Buchholz threw five scoreless innings and showed command, velocity, and the ability to control the game was a bonus few expected.
“Honestly, yes,” manager John Farrell said when asked if he were surprised.
Buchholz (10-0) allowed three singles, walked one, and struck out six. He left after 74 pitches, 44 of them strikes. The bullpen finished off an impressive four-hit shutout.
Buchholz looked like a pitcher getting ready for the postseason, or at least who will be once he builds up his pitch count.
“I felt good. I had some counts where I had to throw a strike,” Buchholz said. “The offspeed stuff [was] pretty good. There were a couple of times I didn’t really follow through in my delivery or stay back in my delivery.”
The underrated (and all too often unacknowledged) Craig Breslow worked two innings before Junichi Tazawa started the eighth. When Tazawa gave up a double with two outs, Farrell went to Koji Uehara.
Uehara needed only 13 pitches to record four outs, 12 of them strikes. The save was his 19th on the season.
In 33 appearances since being named the closer he has allowed one earned run over 35 2/3 innings and struck out 49.
Uehara has not allowed a run in 28 1/3 innings and has retired the last 31 batters he has faced, striking out 14. It’s the longest streak for a Red Sox pitcher since Hideo Nomo also retired 31 in a row in 2001.
“I have huge respect for him. He’s somebody that I looked up to,” Uehara said via interpreter C.J. Matsumoto. “He’s on another level.”
The Sox extended their lead to 8.5 games on the Rays in the American League East with only 16 games to play. The Sox have won six of seven and nine of their last 11 games.
With Oakland losing, the Sox also have a four-game lead for the best record in the AL and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.