Five days after pitching admirably -- but ultimately losing -- in a duel with CC Sabathia at Yankee Stadium, the 24-year-old right-hander took the hill on Thursday afternoon with the hope of getting rewarded for his efforts this time around.
Justin Verlander would have none of that.
The Detroit ace spun an absolute beauty at Fenway Park, firing eight shutout innings to back a 2-0 Tigers victory that prevented a season sweep at the hands of the Red Sox.
With the loss, Boston (65-49) saw its lead in the American League Wild Card standings dwindle to a half-game over the Rangers, who will welcome the Red Sox to Arlington on Friday for the start of a pivotal three-game series.
Ryan Raburn supplied the offense for Detroit, collecting two RBIs -- one of which came on a solo home run. But that was the only damage done against Buchholz, who fell to 1-3 despite yielding two runs (one earned) on five hits over a season-high seven innings.
"I'm picking the wrong pitchers to throw against," said Buchholz, whose performance followed a six-inning, two-run effort last Saturday against the Yankees. Sabathia, however, twirled 7 2/3 scoreless frames in that game while fanning nine in a 5-0 New York victory.
"The last two guys have been as good as I've seen, so you can't read too much into it," Buchholz said. "The small steps that I've been taking to get better are working. It's proven that it's working, but it's hard to win games when you've got guys throwing like that."
His teammates felt Buchholz's pain.
"Two tough draws for him," left fielder Jason Bay said. "You couldn't really pick two worse guys to square off against, I guess. But the way he pitched today was unbelievable."
"He pitched a really good game," third baseman Mike Lowell said. "Clay's run into a buzzsaw the last two starts facing the other team's ace, but he's pitched well against good teams and good offenses. I don't think you can be disappointed with his performance."
|"Clay's run into a buzzsaw the last two starts facing the other team's ace, but he's pitched well against good teams and good offenses. I don't think you can be disappointed with his performance."|
|-- Mike Lowell|
There wasn't a whole lot of disappointment when it came to Verlander (13-6), who allowed just four hits and struck out eight. His 123rd and final pitch -- a fastball blown past Bay to end the eighth -- was clocked at 100 miles per hour.
"One of the best in the game," Bay said of Verlander. "He's got that [fastball] in his pocket when he needs it, and he made it tough on us."
"He's one of the best I've ever seen," said Victor Martinez, no stranger to Verlander's brilliance from his AL Central days with Cleveland.
The Tigers (60-54) broke through against Buchholz in the fourth, when Miguel Cabrera singled to right and reached second on a fielding error by Josh Reddick.
"I got a pretty good jump on it," Reddick said. "Then when I went down to catch it, and as it was tailing, it came back at the last second and started knuckling there at the end. I was happy to get a glove on it. Luckily, it hit my foot and didn't get all the way to the wall."
Raburn delivered Detroit's first run three batters later, grounding an infield single to third that drew an off-balance throw from Lowell.
Raburn was at it again in the seventh, tattooing a letter-high fastball from Buchholz well over the Green Monster.
Unfortunately for Buchholz and the Red Sox, there was no margin for error against the Tigers' flamethrowing righty.
"As good as Verlander was, I thought Clay was almost [just] one pitch worse," manager Terry Francona said. "It's amazing how the glass can look a lot more full when Clay goes out and does that. He had all four pitches today, and he commanded the game.
"We just ran up against one of the better performances you'll see."
John Barone is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.