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Buchholz looks to extend Sox's season

Buchholz looks to extend Sox's season

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BOSTON -- Appearing in the playoffs will be a new experience for Clay Buchholz on Sunday, but performing under pressure certainly isn't.

In his young career, the Red Sox's 25-year-old right-hander has been on the big stage. There was an Aug. 18 start under the glare of Yankee Stadium when he went head-to-head with CC Sabathia. Although Buchholz suffered the loss, he didn't wilt in under the spotlight, giving up two runs in six innings.

Buchholz also made a historic splash when he broke into the big leagues. In his second start, on Sept. 1, 2007, he no-hit the Orioles.

In all, the Texas native has 36 big league games, and 34 starts, under his belt. None will match the magnitude of what the slender 6-foot-3, 195-pounder will face on Sunday.

Down, 2-0, in their best-of-five American League Division Series with the Angels, the Red Sox face elimination in Game 3 at Fenway Park. Their task is simple when they take the field for the 12:07 p.m. ET start -- win three consecutive games or go home.

So Buchholz is being handed the ball with the season on the line.

"There's pressure there," Buchholz said. "It's more nervousness than anything. I'm sort of getting a little antsy now. This is a do-or-die [game]. You have to win to go on."

You have to go back to when he was at McNeese State in an NCAA Regional Tournament to find a game Buchholz pitched with so much on the line.

"It was in college, and nothing as big as this one is," he said on Saturday afternoon. "I threw in a pretty big game to start a tournament. That's the last [elimination-type] game I can think of."

Tale of the Tape: Game 3 Starters
Angels
Scott Kazmir
Red Sox
Clay Buchholz
2009 REGULAR SEASON
Overall 26 GS, 10-9, 4.89 ERA, 60 BB, 117 K 16 GS, 7-4, 4.21 ERA, 36 BB, 68 K
Key stat 9.31 SO/9 career .325 OBA
POSTSEASON
Career 5 GS, 1-1, 4.21 No record
AT FENWAY PARK
2009 2 GS 2-0, 3.27 ERA 8 GS, 2-2. 4.72
Career 13 GS, 6-4, 3.05 ERA 16 G, 15 GS, 6-4, 3.90
AGAINST THIS OPPONENT
2009 regular season 2 GS 2-0, 3.27 ERA No record
Career 23 GS 8-7, 3.59 ERA 3 GS, 1-2, 6.35
Loves to face David Ortiz (9-for-44, 11 K) Juan Rivera (0-for-5, 2K, 0 BB)
Hates to face Dustin Pedroia (15-for-29, .517) Vladimir Guerrero (4-for-9, 2 RBI)
Why he'll win He has a 1.73 ERA in six starts for Angels Nine quality starts in last 12 outings
Pitcher beware Pitching for 1st time in 8 days Allowed 6 runs in 3 IP 10/4 vs. CLE
Bottom line For a lefty, he pitches well in Fenway How will he handle first playoff start?

For Buchholz, 2009 has been a tale of two halves.

Coming out of Spring Training, he spent half the year at Triple-A Pawtucket. Since the All-Star break, he's become a fixture in the Red Sox's rotation.

Down the stretch, Buchholz was as effective as pretty much any pitcher in the AL. Because of his steady progress, he was tabbed as Boston's Game 3 starter.

"I know the nerves are going to be there in the first and second innings," Buchholz said. "I think after the first pitch and the first couple of batters, I'll try to take it back to where I was in the middle of the season. Just rely on [my] fastball to get ahead and go from there."

The numbers support manager Terry Francona's decision to put the ball in the hands of the Texas native.

In 16 big league starts this season, the hard-throwing right-hander was 7-4 with a 4.21 ERA. The sample size Francona was most impressed with is an eight-game stretch from Aug. 19-Sept. 24.

During that period, Buchholz was 6-0 with a 2.44 ERA -- yielding 14 earned runs in 51 2/3 innings. The six-game winning streak is the longest of his young career.

No other AL pitcher over that time frame won more games.

The way Buchholz has thrown since mid-August is a reason why he is making the start over Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Before being called up in July, Buchholz was dominant at Triple-A, posting a 7-2 record (2.36 ERA) with 89 strikeouts compared to 30 walks.

In terms of dealing with pressure, Francona said the routine of a starting pitcher regularly puts them in position to deal with big games.

"No use downplaying [Sunday's] start," Francona said. "But [pitchers] get so revved up every five days. Even in games where maybe things don't seem like the season is on the line, the starters get pretty revved up for their starts. So hopefully he doesn't get too revved up."

With a young pitcher on the mound, the Red Sox players are talking openly about doing their part and scoring some runs. At Angel Stadium in the first two games, Boston was limited to one run on eight hits.

"That's the biggest thing we didn't do in the first two games," second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. "We didn't really do anything offensively.

"I think if we come out and score a couple of runs for him early, maybe he will relax and settle in. That's, obviously, what we're trying to do."

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

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