Buchholz's no-no only adds to hype
Will Red Sox use milestone outing to vault into postseason?
In the extensive and unpredictable annals of baseball, no-hitters generally come with two morals.One, they frequently fuel championships. A no-hitter has a magical effect on a team, forging a bond and a common goal among its players, putting wind under their wings for flights deep into October. Two, a precocious no-hitter is not a license for a long and successful pitching career. It is a proverbial lightning strike and, for many, the only electricity they will ever generate. The Boston Red Sox are looking pretty good on the first count, getting their second wind of what has been a dominant season from a rookie's no-hitter Saturday night. As for the second point, Clay Buchholz is on his own. The 23-year-old Texan had to live up to the advance hype two weeks ago, when the highly regarded right-hander made his much-anticipated Major League debut. Now he has to live up to something a little bigger. Becoming the first rookie to pitch a no-hitter for a 107-year-old franchise is daunting enough. But being only the third pitcher in the post-1900 history of all the franchises to go no-no as early as his second big-league start is knee-buckling stuff. Buchholz's knees appear as unyielding as his confidence has been and as strong as his right arm will hopefully prove to be. This is an unsettlingly poised young man, to the point of appearing more collected in the eye of the storm he raised Saturday night than anyone on its periphery. He had held the Baltimore Orioles hitless, and rendered himself speechless. He had as great a command of his emotions afterward as he had of his fastball, slider and changeup during. He comes from prime baseball stock. From the hothouse of Texas. The 42nd choice in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft. Boston's Minor League Player of the Year in 2006. A cumulative record of 19-10 scaling the Minor League ladder. Leading all Minor League pitchers in strikeouts per inning in 2007. So there is no hint that Saturday night's magic was fleeting, that it was more mirage than magic. Of course, there never is. When Bobo Holloman became the only pitcher to throw a no-hitter in his first Major League start on May 6, 1953, there was no reason to suspect he would make only nine more starts, win only two more games and be out of the big leagues for good three months later. (The Holloman lightning struck for the St. Louis Browns, who the following year morphed into the Baltimore Orioles, who Saturday night became Buchholz's prey.)
Wilson Alvarez pitched a no-hitter for the White Sox in his second big league start on Aug. 11, 1991 -- against, naturally, these same Orioles -- and went on to log a decent career. The left-hander earned 101 more wins, and was still active in 2005.Yet, flashes in the pan are common, and serve to caution both Buchholz and those Red Sox Nation citizens hung over from the nectar of young promise fulfilled to excess. Rookie Anibal Sanchez authored last season's only no-hitter Sept. 6 against Arizona, added three more wins in September and two this April before being sidelined for the remainder of the season with a torn labrum. Joe Cowley had a decent run prior to his 1986 no-hitter against the Angels, but the White Sox righty never won another game. Oakland right-hander Mike Warren's 1983 no-hitter against the White Sox was merely the middle victory of a nine-win career. Bud Smith punctuated his strong rookie season for the 2001 Cardinals with a Sept. 3 no-hitter against the Padres, and the following season won one and was done. The pratfalls for the aforementioned, and others like them, varied. Some things are beyond the controls of even a person blessed with early glory. Others are not. "I hope I won't let my head get big," Buchholz said simply in his finest hour, "and remember that it's not that easy every time out." He had made it look remarkably easy (well, except on those occasions when only the flash of Coco Crisp's legs or Dustin Pedroia's leather kept the dream alive), considering he had never pitched so late. Indeed, Buchholz's biggest hope is that Terry Francona and his pitching coach, John Farrell, didn't commit the mistake that one suspects may have contributed to the shortened careers of other early no-hit artists: Getting caught up in -- and misled -- by the moment. The Boston organization has obviously been very protective of Buchholz's valuable arm. In 24 Minor League starts this season, he had never pitched beyond the seventh inning. When he made his big league debut in the Aug. 17 start against the Angels, he was under a strict pitch count and left after six innings and 91 deliveries. Saturday night, his leash was lengthened to 115 pitches. No. 115 was a breathtaking breaking pitch taken by Nick Markakis for the third strike that triggered the Fenway Park revelry. A couple of weeks earlier, only a few days past his 23rd birthday, Buchholz had said of his Boston introduction, "It was all I imagined it to be. I'll never forget it. And I hope to use the experience to come back in September and help out." September arrived, and along with it came Buchholz, this time with an evening no one will forget.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.