Buchholz buckles down, lifts Red Sox
With Boston's bullpen drained, righty goes eight innings
TORONTO -- With the Red Sox's bullpen taxed over the past few days, Boston needed Clay Buchholz to chew up innings, deliver a strong performance and give the club's overworked relief corps a breather Tuesday night.
Buchholz delivered, as he turned in his best outing of the season.
"That was a gutsy performance," manager Terry Francona said.
And a winning one, too.
Buchholz threw a career-high 117 pitches, with 80 strikes, over eight innings as the Red Sox defeated the Blue Jays, 2-1, on an eighth-inning bases-loaded walk to Mike Lowell, who was pinch-hitting for David Ortiz.
Buchholz had to be good, because Toronto starter Shaun Marcum was also on his game, holding Boston to one run over seven innings.
The Red Sox needed Buchholz's strong start, because before the game, Francona said he was trying to avoid using three of his best relievers -- closer Jonathan Papelbon, left-hander Hideki Okajima and flame-throwing righty Daniel Bard. All had been used frequently due to Boston's propensity for playing close games, even after it scored 13 runs in the series opener.
Tuesday's game was the Sox's sixth consecutive one-run game, and this time it was left to Ramon Ramirez to pitch the ninth to pick up his second career save and his first since 2008.
"Obviously we all talked before the game about what he needed to do, get some length," Francona said. "[Buchholz] did a great job tonight. He understood where we were. Throwing 80 strikes -- and I'm not talking about here, down the middle. He was really good.
"He left a couple of breaking balls up to right-handed hitters that they hit to left field, but other than that, he started throwing that two-seamer, threw his changeup. He was really effective."
Buchholz (2-2, 2.19 ERA) said he felt no additional pressure to go deeper into the game.
"I train every five days to go out and throw six, seven, eight innings," he said. "That's what you want to do every time out. Sometimes it doesn't happen. Everybody on the staff has the ability to go deep into games like that. Our bullpen needed a rest, and I was fortunate enough to throw some strikes and get some outs and help them out a little bit."
Buchholz gave up a first-inning run on a leadoff single by Fred Lewis and a two-out double by Vernon Wells. But the Red Sox tied it in the second on a two-out walk to Ortiz and singles by Adrian Beltre and Jeremy Hermida.
The winning run was charged to Scott Downs, who loaded the bases in the eighth with two outs before Kevin Gregg walked Lowell on four pitches.
Buchholz was not assured of the victory yet. With one out in the eighth, Wells reached on an infield single and took second on Beltre's throwing error.
Buchholz caught Lyle Overbay, who entered the game batting 6-for-14 against him, looking at a four-seam fastball and then threw offspeed stuff to induce a flyout from Alex Gonzalez.
"I [had] been throwing both of the guys a lot of offspeed stuff all day," Buchholz said. "Overbay is a guy who hits me better than anybody I've ever faced, and I was able to throw a four-seamer in there to strike him out. And Gonzalez, I know he swings the bat. I didn't want to give him anything in the heart of the plate too hard, because he'll turn on it. I think I threw three or four changeups and got him to fly out."
Francona raved about Buchholz's eighth-inning perserverance.
"He's thrown a lot, we gave them two bases and he buckles down and threw as good a stuff that inning as he was throwing early in the game," Francona said. "That was a really good performance."
The young righty took it all in stride.
"I felt fine," Buchholz said. "I looked over at the dugout a couple of times, because I thought [Francona] was going to come out. I saw 105 pitches. I'm glad he left me in. I felt good. I felt like I had more in the tank, even though it was the most I've thrown all year."
Actually, it was his highest pitch count since he made 115 on Sept. 1, 2007, in his no-hitter against the Orioles.
"You've got to tip your hat to Clay," Marcum said. "He did a great job tonight of keeping us off balance and getting ahead and throwing strikes."
But it might have been for nothing if Gregg hadn't give up his first walk of the season to Lowell.
"You've got to make him earn his way on base right there," Gregg said. "That's why I have the job I do. They trust that I'm going to come in and throw strikes in that situation."
As for hitting for the struggling Ortiz for the second time in a week, Francona said, "We have a lot going on. We're just trying to win games as best we can."
Boston has won the first two games of the three-game series against Toronto, which has lost four in a row. But there were no similarities in the Red Sox's two wins other than the one-run margin. It was 13-12 one night and 2-1 the next.
"Isn't that the way?" Francona said. "It's a funny game. Last night, we're thinking about onside kicks and field goals. Tonight, there's not much to show for it -- expect for the win."
Larry Millson is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.