Facing elimination at Fenway Park on Sunday, the fate of the 2009 Red Sox now rests in the hands of 25-year-old Clay Buchholz.
The young pitcher spent the first half of the season pitching for Triple-A Pawtucket and has never pitched in the postseason. He now has the huge burden of extending the Red Sox season with one start.
Buchholz was called up to make a "spot start" to kick off the second half of the season. He came back for a second outing when Tim Wakefield had to go on the disabled list with back trouble, and Buchholz ended up filling a vital spot in the rotation, going through a stretch in August and early September where he was completely dominant. He was what the Red Sox brass always expected from him, and why no team has been able to get him out of their clutches in a trade.
But heading into the postseason, Buchholz had a mild setback, getting knocked around a bit in his final two regular-season starts. Was this a sign of him reverting to 2008 form, or was it just a rough patch that he will weather? The Red Sox don’t have the luxury of time to figure that out.
On the brink of elimination, Buchholz will likely be on a short leash. The Red Sox have Daisuke Matsuzaka, among others, ready to go in the bullpen at the first sign of trouble. The Sox already said they would like to start Jon Lester if they make it to Game 4, so that leaves Matsuzaka available Sunday if needed.
Like Buchholz, Daisuke has had quite an interesting year himself, but for different reasons. He started the year at the World Baseball Classic instead of spring training in Fort Myers, and struggled mightily early in the season, to the point that the Red Sox shut him down and started over in June. He has performed well since coming back, but I get the feeling the organization is still a bit cautious about sending him out there.
While the pressure is on Buchholz on Sunday, he’s not the only one who needs to step up his game. The Red Sox offense has been held to one run over the first two games of the ALDS, and there were a lot of 0-fers in the box scores in those two defeats. It’s a good thing the Sox are headed home right now — they’ll need that home-field advantage for this one.