When Clay Buchholz left the mound after the top of the seventh inning having just thrown his 113th pitch, some members of the sold-out crowd at Fenway Park began to give him a nice hand, but it took time for everyone to catch on. Buchholz was firmly entrenched in the Red Sox’ dugout before several fans got to their feet to offer their appreciation.
One might understand their slowness to respond. There were plenty of other distractions to overshadow Buchholz’s latest gem, which led the Red Sox to a 6-0 win over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
The big draw at Fenway was the return of Dustin Pedroia, back in the lineup for the first time since June 25. There was the offensive showing by the impressive rookie Ryan Kalish, who made his first Fenway Park home run a grand slam off Jered Weaver. And Darnell McDonald chipped in with a solo shot into the back windshield of a car parked on the roof of a Lansdowne Street garage, shattering the early dominance of Weaver, who had set down the first eight men before the homer.
Last on the list of reasons to overlook Buchholz’s effort was the simple fact that he did not have his best stuff. He threw just 64-of-113 pitches for strikes and had to wiggle out of a couple of jams, including a bases-loaded situation in the sixth.
Yet, therein lies what made the start more worthy of praise than many others in Buchholz’s stellar season — even on a night in which he was not completely on his game, his opponent had nothing to show for it.
"He got himself into [some tough situations] but you look up and see a bunch of zeroes," manager Terry Francona said. "What you don’t see is just a little over 50 percent strikes. But he made a lot of good pitches."
Buchholz, who turned 26 on Saturday, was asked if the positive results on an off night are a sign of maturity.
"I think so," he said. "You pitch at this level it’s tough sometimes to go out there without your best stuff. You have to battle and work your way through it."
That battle began before many of those distracted fans had even settled into their seats.
Bobby Abreu took Buchholz’s second pitch of the night off the Green Monster for a leadoff double. The very next pitch saw Maicer Izturis hit a dribbler toward first. Covering the bag, Buchholz was inadvertently spiked by the runner and just minutes after the national anthem he had to receive a visit from the trainer.
A comebacker fielded by Buchholz caught Abreu off third base. That was the second out, and moments later the wiry right-hander was out of the inning unscathed.
Buchholz would give up a leadoff single in the second, stranded a runner in scoring position in the fourth and fifth and would load the bases on two singles and a walk in the sixth before escaping that situation with another grounder to first.
Two of his three strikeouts came to end the seventh before he strolled off to the late-arriving applause. Although he may have worked a little harder than he might’ve liked, Buchholz was pleased with the final results.
"To hold that team to zero runs any day, that’s a pretty big feat," he said.
Actually, the Angels are a slightly below average offensive team statistically, but you can forgive Buchholz for being wary of names like Abreu, Torii Hunter and Hideki Matsui. What is notable about the scoreless outing is what it does to a stat line that continues to impress.
Buchholz has not allowed an earned run in 17 1/3 innings dating back to an Alex Rodriguez RBI single in the fifth inning two starts ago in New York. His American League-leading ERA is now down to a miniscule 2.36. He is 4-0 with a 1.21 ERA in his last five starts. And with the victory Tuesday, Buchholz became one of five AL pitchers with at least 14 wins. The other four have each made more starts than Boston’s young star.
"It’s just awesome playing behind him," said Pedroia, who fielded five of Buchholz’s 14 grounders. "Ground ball after ground ball."
It’s an almost monotonous approach that won’t get Buchholz all the attention, especially on a night like Tuesday. But after some time to reflect, it’s time to take note of what he’s accomplishing, stand up and applaud.