Buchholz's gem leads Red Sox to victory

Buchholz's gem leads Sox to victory

BOSTON -- As Clay Buchholz stood out there on the Fenway Park mound Saturday night, it was just three nights shy of the two-year anniversary of his no-hitter. So perhaps the setting was ripe for Buchholz to have another breakthrough performance, albeit not an historic one.

Buchholz ultimately fell two outs shy of a shutout that was still within his grasp when he took the ball for the top of the ninth. But his masterful performance was still more than enough to lift the Red Sox to a 3-2 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays.

In a performance that encapsulated all the elements that explain why Buchholz is one of the most highly touted young starters in the game, the wiry right-hander gave up just three hits and one run over 8 1/3 innings. Buchholz walked two and tied a career high with nine strikeouts to improve to 3-3 -- all of those wins coming against the Blue Jays.

But if Buchholz keeps pitching the way he did Saturday, there will be many more wins in his future, be it against Toronto or countless other teams.

"That was a terrific game," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "He threw strikes with a lot of pitches. Changuep, breaking ball, fastball -- he really pitched well."

So well, in fact, that Buchholz thought his stuff was better than the no-hitter against the Orioles.

"I think it was better tonight than it was that one night," said Buchholz. "I'll go back and look at some of the video whenever I'm pitching against Baltimore just to see the pitches I was throwing and how they responded to the pitches. There were a lot of pitches I left up that could have been hit out of the park just as quickly as they popped up or swung through them."

When Buchholz reviews Saturday's video against Toronto, he doesn't expect to see those types of misfires.

"Tonight, being able to work both sides of the plate, being down for the majority of the time, I think that's the key to pitching efficiently and getting outs on a consistent basis," Buchholz said.

With just 99 pitches over the first eight innings, Buchholz trotted back out for the ninth, hoping to notch the third complete game of his career. He gave up a leadoff single to Jose Bautista and then got Aaron Hill on a lineout to Alex Gonzalez.

The Blue Jays (58-69) had lefties Adam Lind and Lyle Overbay coming up, so Francona went to southpaw Hideki Okajima. Buchholz, who threw 107 pitches, exited to a thunderous ovation from the Fenway faithful.

"That was the first time I actually looked up at the board and saw how many pitches I threw," Buchholz said. "I didn't think it was past 100 just the way the game was going. I would have liked to stay out there and pitched, but it was the most pitches that I've thrown all year. That's his decision to go out there and do that. The bullpen we have is a tremendous bullpen."

Even so, Buchholz sweated it out on the bench for a couple of minutes. Lind doubled against Okajima to bring home Bautista. Overbay got Lind home with a single.

Closer Jonathan Papelbon preserved the win for Buchholz and earned save No. 33, getting Vernon Wells and Kevin Millar on popups.

The win allowed the 75-54 Red Sox to maintain their 2 1/2-game lead over the Rangers in the American League Wild Card standings while staying six games behind the Yankees in the AL East.

The beauty of Buchholz on Saturday was his ability to spot his crisp fastball, which made his curveball and changeup that much more unhittable.

"He was tough," said Millar. "He made his pitches and he had a great changeup tonight. He went to in the second half of the game and kept us off balance -- he threw a great game."

Victor Martinez had the best view of all -- behind the plate.

"He was throwing a lot of 0-1, 0-2 counts, and I always say, 'When you face a pitcher like that that jumps on you early in the count, it's pretty tough on you,'" said Martinez. "It's not a secret. Clay has great stuff."

All Buchholz needed was a smattering of run support.

Jacoby Ellsbury got the Red Sox off to a solid start offensively, lacing a double to left to open the bottom of the first. He moved to third on an errant pickoff throw by Jays catcher Raul Chavez. Dustin Pedroia belted a single to left, bringing home Ellsbury for the first run of the game.

The Red Sox, who stranded a steady stream of baserunners over the first few innings, at last extended their lead in the sixth. With two on and one out, Alex Gonzalez ripped an RBI single up the middle against reliever Casey Janssen to score Jason Bay from second. Martinez drew a bases-loaded walk to give Boston a 3-0 lead.

"At one point, we got like seven hits and we were able to score just one run," said Martinez. "At some point, it definitely gets you when you get a lot of runners on base and you're not able to bring them in. I didn't think that walk would win the game, but I'll take it."

There was a chance for some late-game excitement in the bottom of the eighth, when Ellsbury hammered one to the triangle area in right-center that probably came one bounce shy of being an inside-the-park homer. The speedster was held at third and didn't wind up scoring.

Buchholz and the bullpen finished it from there.

"I was just talking to him and I told him that, 'As a hitter, I wouldn't want to face him,'" Martinez said. "I'm glad I'm on his side now. I just wanted him to know he has great stuff. He just needs to trust his stuff a little more and go right at the hitters."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.