Ninety-four days is a long time.
That’s how long the Red Sox waited from the time Clay Buchholz walked off the mound at Fenway Park on June 8 to when he returned to it Tuesday night.
Buchholz’s three-month journey back from shoulder and neck injuries was debated and dissected ad nauseam among media members and everyday fans alike, but most agreed that for Red Sox to make a run deep into October, Buchholz had to return with the top-flight stuff that made him an All-Star earlier this season.
The right-hander took a huge step Tuesday night in proving that he has not lost his touch. Buchholz turned in a short, but very solid performance in his first game back with the big league club, holding the Rays scoreless on three hits and one walk over five innings in a 2-0 win for the Red Sox. The victory improved Buchholz’s record to 10-0 on the season and dropped his ERA to 1.61.
It was not a thoroughly dominant performance — that title went to David Price. Despite taking the loss, the Rays starter allowed just three hits over eight innings and was perfect in six of those frames. But Buchholz’s outing was perhaps more impressive to John Farrell and the Boston coaching staff because he showed the ability to pitch with poise in a variety of situations.
In fact, the start played out almost like a simulated game for Buchholz, who put runners on base in the second, third and fourth innings. No Tampa runner advanced past second, though, as Buchholz never went more than one batter without recording an out and was able to close out the first, second and fourth innings with strikeouts.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia helped out his battery mate by throwing out a pair of would-be base stealers, but Buchholz did a nice job of controlling the running game and keeping a speedy Rays lineup in check. (The two runners thrown out, David DeJesus and Matt Joyce, entered the game a combined 11-for-13 on stolen base attempts this season.)
The fact that this success came opposite Price, in a potential playoff preview, is also significant. The Red Sox have been maligned this season for their inability to pick up wins against the league’s elite starters. Price himself has had great success against Boston this year, allowing just one earned run in three of his four starts against the Sox entering Tuesday.
But with Buchholz’s win, the Red Sox have now defeated two bona fide aces in the past two weeks. These victories weren’t anomalies, either, where one team catches an opposing hurler on an off night. Price and Detroit’s Max Scherzer, whom Jon Lester defeated last Tuesday, both pitched as advertised, but Boston’s arms — on those nights, at least — were simply better.
That Boston’s purported top two starters can pick up key wins like these late in the season is an excellent sign for this team as October nears.