Buchholz was tagged for six runs on five hits over three frames in Boston's 12-7 victory over Cleveland at Fenway Park, earning a no-decision in his final start before he will take the ball in Game 3 of the American League Division Series. He walked two and struck out six while throwing 70 pitches.
With the win, the Red Sox (95-67) matched a franchise record by securing their third consecutive 95-win season and sixth in seven years under general manager Theo Epstein.
Sunday had its share of positive developments for Boston, which will open its ALDS matchup against the AL West champion Angels on Wednesday or Thursday in Anaheim.
J.D. Drew clocked a pair of home runs in his first appearance since Tuesday after missing time due to left shoulder soreness, Alex Gonzalez went deep two days after taking a fastball off his right wrist, and in a sign that his left wrist could be gaining strength just in time for postseason play, switch-hitter Jed Lowrie belted a grand slam from the left side of the plate.
Five days after Toronto bludgeoned Buchholz for a career-high five homers, Cleveland's Luis Valbuena led off Sunday's game by taking the third pitch he saw from the right-hander out of the yard. It marked the sixth dinger allowed in a span of five-plus innings for Buchholz, who had yielded just seven long balls in 84 innings prior to Tuesday's start.
Buchholz is confident the issues that have plagued him recently will be corrected in time for his next outing, which will come at Fenway.
"The last two outings, I've felt good," Buchholz said. "My body feels good, but I've gotten away from the little things that I had been doing to get outs consistently. There are minor adjustments that I need to make, and they're definitely fixable. I just have to make a conscious effort to do that. I've got to get back to not thinking about too much and just pitching. Everything else will take care of itself."
The Red Sox scored four runs in the opening two innings. David Ortiz cracked a two-run single in the first before Jason Bay notched a sacrifice fly, and Gonzalez belted a second-inning fastball from Indians starter Tomo Ohka over the Green Monster to give Boston an early 4-1 lead.
Ortiz finished the regular season with 28 homers and 99 RBIs, numbers that appeared out of reach for the slugger earlier this year as he toiled through the worst slump of his Major League career.
"Like I told you guys, it's not how you start, it's how you finish," Ortiz said. "I'm a guy that fights back. My whole career, I've been a fighter. It's never been easy. This is a hard game to play, and sometimes, in bad situations, you have to learn something. I think I learned a lot this year."
Cleveland (65-97) roared back against Buchholz in the third. A bases-loaded walk to Matt LaPorta and an RBI single by Jhonny Peralta set the stage for Andy Marte, who roped a two-out two-run double off the left-field wall.
The Sox used the home run ball to do their damage the rest of the way, plating eight unanswered runs from the fourth through sixth innings thanks to swats from Drew (two solo blasts), Lowrie (first career grand slam) and Dustin Pedroia (two-run shot).
Though he admitted feeling pain swinging left-handed, Lowrie -- a candidate for Boston's ALDS roster -- believes the strength in his left wrist is progressing.
"I had been taking stronger swings from the left side the last couple days, but that's not to say it was without pain," Lowrie said. "All those swings didn't feel great. I had to choke up on the bat a little bit, and it worked out. I, obviously, hit the grand slam, but I have to continue to try to strengthen it and get through it."
Drew's left shoulder appeared strong as ever, as the right fielder notched the 15th multihomer game of his career.
"That's a pretty impressive day," manager Terry Francona said. "There's a reason why we didn't push him and gave him some rest. He has that ability when he feels good. It was really good to see."
In perhaps his final career game at Fenway Park, Jason Varitek received a rousing ovation from the crowd in the top of the eighth as he trotted back to the dugout after being replaced defensively.
The gesture caught Varitek off guard.
"It was a blur," he said. "It kind of freaked me out a little bit, but it was well appreciated."
Despite a less-than-ideal performance from Buchholz, Boston remains optimistic about its talented youngster.
"When he made his pitches, he was fine," Francona said. "We certainly would rather he pitch a gem, but he'll have another chance to get himself going in the right direction."
Buchholz is looking forward to it.
"You want to be in a make-or-break situation," he said. "If I go out and throw like I have the past month and a half, I'll feel good about myself."