Sometimes, those achievements complement one another in a way that makes it impossible to see the game as anything other than a group effort. Such was the case Saturday at Fenway Park, where a weary Red Sox pitching staff picked up the slack for one another and pieced together a splendid 4-0 win over the Minnesota Twins.
Clay Buchholz was the stalwart, and a somewhat surprising one at that. Buchholz threw two quick innings before the skies opened up and the teams were forced to endure at two-hour, seven-minute rain delay that most figured would eliminate Buchholz from the game.
If that was the case, a bullpen that was without its two long men, Tim Wakefield and Alfredo Aceves, would be forced to use its five remaining arms to get through seven innings, a less-than-ideal scenario for a team that has seen its pitching staff get all out of whack in recent days.
When Buchholz not only went back out to throw three more innings, but did so in dominant fashion, it was a valiant effort that set the tone for those who followed.
"My feeling was that I needed to go out there and throw," Buchholz said. "I didn't want to tax the bullpen anymore than they've been taxed over the last three, four days."
It was Wednesday night's game that started the charade. A lengthy rain delay squashed Josh Beckett's start against the Angels, and seven pitchers — including starter Daisuke Matsuzaka — got the last 26 outs in the 13-inning loss.
John Lackey lasted only four innings the next game, which started just hours later, and Scott Atchison was forced to take one for the team with 3 2/3 of his own, before being optioned back to Pawtucket.
The man who replaced him on the roster, Aceves, was then called upon to toss 4 2/3 frames after Wakefield couldn't get out of the fifth on Friday night. A theme was developing, and the team knew that if Buchholz could not get through Saturday's delay, the situation could really fall apart.
"That's a lot to ask," manager Terry Francona said of Buchholz. "Saying that, if you don't send [him] out there, we're going to have to pitch someone else too much…Tried to get the best out of what we could. He did a great job. Actually went back out there, I thought the touch and feel on his pitches were better."
And because Buchholz was able to get through five with a lead, there was no need for a long man, even if one was available. Four relievers — Rich Hill, Matt Albers, Daniel Bard and Josh Beckett — each threw one scoreless inning, allowing only three Twins to reach in the process.
Two of those runners, however, came right away. Hill took over for Buchholz to start the sixth and proceeded to walk the first man he faced and hit the next. Up stepped Justin Morneau in a critical situation.
Hill got Morneau to ground into a 3-6-1 double play, and then he struck out cleanup hitter Jason Kubel. Boston had escaped the only real threat of the game for Minnesota, and Francona could keep everyone lined up in the right order for the first time in days.
"Rich Hill has a walk and a hit batter, comes back and gets a big double play," Francona said. "So we didn't have to go to Albers before we wanted to. Everybody did their job."
Buchholz, who stayed warm by throwing off and on during the delay in the tunnel behind the Red Sox dugout, said he felt as good as he has all year, despite the disjointed afternoon. That sensation, together with the remarkable work of the bullpen, gave him a pretty good feeling about things going forward.
"I think it was big," Buchholz said of the team effort. "The bullpen came in. We had some big plays defensively to save a couple of runs. Bullpen came in and threw four good innings. That's why this team is going to be so good, because we have every facet covered."
That's the true definition of a team.
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