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Feeling good, Buchholz aims to tame Tigers in Game 2

Feeling good, Buchholz aims to tame Tigers in Game 2

Feeling good, Buchholz aims to tame Tigers in Game 2

BOSTON -- It was an unimaginable fantasy, beyond any dream Clay Buchholz or any professional athlete could've had. Just a few steps away from completing his climb to the top of the world, Buchholz nearly had the perfect year.

On Sept. 4, Buchholz's wife, Lindsay -- a television host -- gave birth to their second daughter, Landri. On the field, the Red Sox had completed a historic turnaround and held the best record in the American League. And Buchholz had a 1.71 ERA.

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The perfect year? Perhaps, had he not been forced to miss three months with a bursa sac injury. He was so close.

ALDS

"That's the frustrating part about this season," Buchholz said. "Knowing that I never really dreamed of having a year to start that well in my career. It's not high school or college. This is everybody out there is getting paid to play this game. And there are only 750 some odd guys that are getting to do it."

Buchholz spent three months on the sidelines, and another month rebuilding his arm strength and building up his pitch count. He finally passed the 110-pitch mark on Sept. 27, more than four months since the last time he hit 110.

It has led Buchholz to this: A Game 2 start against the Tigers, at Fenway Park, in the AL Championship Series on Sunday (8 p.m. ET, FOX). And the Red Sox need a win to even the series after Saturday night's 1-0 loss.

"This is what baseball is all about," he said. "This is where you want to be."

Buchholz hasn't faced the Tigers since 2012, when he held them to two runs over eight innings during a July start in Fenway. Before that, on April 8, the Tigers spoiled Buchholz's season opener by plating seven runs in four innings, forcing him to start the year with a 15.75 ERA.

Buchholz's ERA didn't fall below 5.00 until July 24. He finished with a 4.56 mark.

Tale of the Tape: Game 2
Max Scherzer
Tigers
Clay Buchholz
Red Sox
2013 regular season
Overall: 32 GS, 21-3, 2.90 ERA, 56 BB, 240 SO Overall: 16 GS, 12-1, 1.74 ERA, 36 BB, 96 SO
Key stat: Scherzer dominated against right-handed hitters this season, holding them to a .165 batting average and .275 slugging percentage. Key stat: After returning from a neck injury, Buchholz is 3-1 and has only allowed eight earned runs in 30 innings over the last month.
At Fenway Park
2013: 1 GS, 0-1, 2.57 ERA
Career: 4 GS, 1-2, 3.86 ERA
2013: 9 GS, 6-1, 1.99 ERA
Career: 58 G, 57 GS, 27-14, 3.39 ERA
Against this opponent
2013: 2 GS, 1-1, 2.57 ERA
Career: 8 GS, 2-4, 7.02 ERA
2013: N/A
Career: 8 GS, 2-1, 3.58 ERA
Loves to face: Mike Napoli, 1-for-13, 5 K
Hates to face:: David Ortiz, 7-for-15, 1 2B, 3 HR
Loves to face: Victor Martinez, 0-for-6
Hates to face:: Alex Avila, 3-for-8, 2 2B, 3 BB
Game Breakdown
Why he'll win: Scherzer, the favorite to win the AL Cy Young Award, went 2-0 with a 3.00 ERA in the ALDS. Why he'll win: Buchholz doesn't need much run support. The Red Sox are 13-1 this year when scoring at least three runs in a game started by Buchholz.
Pitcher beware: Scherzer lost to the Red Sox in early September at Fenway, allowing two runs on five hits in seven innings. Pitcher beware: Buchholz wasn't at his sharpest in Game 3 of the ALDS vs. the Rays, giving up three runs in six innings.
Bottom line: Scherzer has been strong on the road this year, going 8-2 with a 2.44 ERA, but will have to be sharp to limit the Red Sox. Bottom line: Buchholz has limited hitters to a .158 batting average with runners on base this year, and will need to continue the trend against the Tigers.

He went from among the worst pitchers in 2012 -- he was one of just seven starters to pitch 180 innings while allowing at least 25 homers with an ERA above 4.50 -- to beginning 2013 like an AL Cy Young Award favorite.

He was the first pitcher since Greg Maddux in 1994 to throw at least 100 innings with a 1.75 ERA or lower while allowing five homers or fewer.

Players don't go from worst to best without appreciating where they came from. In a way, it was like growing up poor, finally earning a well-paying job and buying that first neighborhood Victorian house, complete with a yard and a pool.

"No, I didn't think I'd ever be that good," Buchholz said Saturday. "The frustrating part was I couldn't go out and pitch and try to keep it going. So it was definitely a fun first half for me, which I would have given a lot of it up to pitch throughout the season. That's the way it goes sometimes. But now I feel good and I'm ready to go tomorrow."

Since coming back from the disabled list Sept. 10, Buchholz's location hasn't quite come back. He still misses spots and his strike percentage is down about three percent. Stamina and endurance are building.

But as far as pitch sharpness and effectiveness goes, particularly with his curveball, Buchholz has been as good as he was in April and May.

"The touch and feel to secondary pitches are consistent to pre-injury," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "And I think coming out of particularly the last three starts, where we've been able to get him over a hundred, 110 pitches on each of those outings, I think he comes away with greater confidence on the physical side of things."

The added importance on the Red Sox winning Game 2 comes from his past history. Buchholz is one of the few Boston pitchers who have had success against the Tigers' potent lineup. Against him, Detroit's batters have a career .231 average with a .697 OPS and just two homers in 139 career plate appearances.

Buchholz may not have had the perfect regular season. But he's ready to add postseason success to his sparkling year.

And after the Red Sox could muster just one hit in Game 1, they'll hope to get Buchholz some run support in Game 2.

Dustin Pedroia was told it might be tough off Tigers starters Max Scherzer in Game 2 and Justin Verlander in Game 3.

"The [Tigers] have [to face] Buchholz and [John] Lackey," Pedroia said. "Every team in the playoffs still is a championship caliber team. We're excited for the opportunity."

Buchholz may not have had the perfect regular season. But he's ready to add postseason success to his sparkling year.

Jason Mastrodonato is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @jmastrodonato. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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