In a matter of two nights, the Red Sox have gone from the historical titans of the American League playoffs — a team that had dominated the L.A. Angels in the past — to a team on the brink of death, facing a must-win Game 3.
The Red Sox threw their two best starting pitchers out there, and they got nothing. Jon Lester couldn't keep the Angels down in the series opener Thursday, and Josh Beckett pitched well in Game 2 on Friday night, but not well enough.
Believe it or not, Boston's last hope is Clay Buchholz.
There's a lot to be said for hope these days — in fact, it can even win a Nobel Peace Prize. But for the Red Sox, it's a scary proposition that hope lies in the right arm of a raw 25-year-old making the first postseason start of his career.
Make no mistake — Buchholz is the right man for the job. He proved that with an outstanding stint in the major leagues in the second half of the regular season. In eight starts between Aug. 19 and Sept. 24, Buchholz was undefeated. He finished the second half 7-4 with a 4.21 ERA. If not for a rough final week of the season, he would have had Cy Young-type numbers.
But this is still a young gun who's never pitched a full season in the major leagues, and now he's being asked to take up the Red Sox' burden in a do-or-die Game 3 of the ALDS.
The Red Sox had all the faith in the world in Lester. The Sox' lefty had developed into one of the best power pitchers in the game, and he was ready to take on the Angels in Game 1. He was good, but not good enough.
They believed in Beckett, too. With a ring on each ring finger and one of the best postseason resumes in baseball, Beckett was more than qualified to bring home a win for the Red Sox in Game 2. But that didn't happen, either.
If the Sox' two aces couldn't secure a win over these Angels, then what chance does Buchholz have?
The odds are against him, to be sure, but never say never.
For Buchholz, this is the opportunity of a lifetime. He may be in a slump (six home runs allowed in his final eight innings of the regular season), but if he can break out of it, he has the chance to put the Red Sox back in the running for a spot in the American League Championship Series.
This thing's not over yet. Down 2-0 in a best-of-five series is never a good place to be, but four teams in division series history have pulled it off, and two of them were the Red Sox. They did it in 1999, when they lost the first two games to the slugging Indians, and again in 2003, when they started out 0-2 against Oakland. Both times, they won three straight and advanced to a showdown with the Yankees.
It's not out of the question that that could happen again.
But for a comeback to be anywhere near possible, the Red Sox will need one dazzling start from Buchholz. The Red Sox' offense has been stifled through the first two games of this series — in 18 innings, they've managed one run on eight hits — and Buchholz will know going in that just putting a decent outing together might not be good enough.
If the Red Sox want to win this thing, they'll have to win close, and they'll have to win ugly. Buchholz will have to work hard for every out, taking nothing for granted.
It's a lot to ask of a kid making his first career start in the postseason. But over the past three months, they've learned that Buchholz has a knack for meeting lofty expectations.
On Opening Day, no one ever expected that Clay Buchholz would be in this position come October. He's not only reached the major leagues, but he's found his way into the biggest start of his life.
The pressure will be on. We'll see if Buchholz is ready.
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