ST. PETERSBURG -- There were times when Clay Buchholz wasn't sure if he would make another start this season. Now, the right-hander will get the ball with a chance to ensure Boston advances to the American League Championship Series.
"Everybody wants to be in this position," said Buchholz, who will start Monday night (6 p.m. ET on TBS) against Tampa Bay with Boston up 2-0 in the best-of-five AL Division Series. "If you don't you're in the wrong sport. 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 -- play in the zone, throw strikes, try to get your hitters in the dugout as quick as possible."
It's been a roller-coaster year for Buchholz, who will be making just his fifth start since June 8 due to a right bursa sac injury that kept him out three months. That might be the only thing working against him when the game begins, as Buchholz holds a 2.26 ERA at Tropicana Field, which is the best mark among active starters with a minimum of 35 innings.
"Listen, he's pretty much pitched well against us, period," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I know there are even times when he was not going well, but if he saw Rays on the front of our uniform, he would pitch well.
"This guy is really good. The answer is, I don't think we're doing necessarily anything differently. It's hard, because he's got really good stuff, and when he's got command of what's going on, his stuff plays really well against us."
Even in his first start after the long layoff, Buchholz held Tampa Bay scoreless on three hits over five innings on Sept. 10. He needed just 74 pitches to get through the outing. In Buchholz's previous start against the Rays, on April 14 -- when he was looking like an AL Cy Young Award candidate -- he scattered two hits and fanned 11 over eight shutout frames.
Asked to explain his success at Tropicana Field, Buchholz spoke to the comfort of pitching well at a particular ballpark. It's a trend he hopes to continue in his biggest start of the year and his first playoff start since pitching five innings in a Red Sox loss against the Angels in the 2009 ALDS.
"It was definitely good to experience it," said Buchholz of pitching in October. "It's a different feeling. But it was a couple of years ago. I was a little bit younger, too. I think I've matured as a player knowing what I need to do in certain situations. And I can't take anything for granted or anybody lightly. They're here for a reason, too. But definitely ready to go, and I definitely think that was a good stepping stone for me.
Buchholz won't have any restrictions on him pitch-count wise and will take the mound eager to end the series and send his team back to Boston early.
"I just think this year the goal started in Spring Training to make it to the postseason. And this is a whole other season past the regular season," he said of a tight-knit Red Sox team. "We've had the same thoughts and same goals in mind. That's sort of what's driven us to this point now. But it's been -- I can definitely say it's been the funnest time I've had on a baseball field on and off with the guys."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.