Boston Red Sox: Clay Buchholz Can Give Them Hope in the Homestretch

Al DanielCorrespondent IIJuly 20, 2012

BOSTON, MA - JUNE 19: Clay Buchholz #11 of the Boston Red Sox throws against the Miami Marlins in the first inning during interleague play at Fenway Park June 19, 2012  in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

For the better part of Thursday night’s bout with the Chicago White Sox, right up through the middle of the ninth inning, Clay Buchholz was on smooth pace to becoming a bona fide sympathetic figure.

For the moment, he still is, to an extent.

Buchholz gave way to Alfredo Aceves after eight innings pitched and with a 1-0 deficit glowering down on his Boston Red Sox. When Cody Ross catapulted a three-run walk-off dinger in the bottom of the ninth to stamp a 3-1 triumph, the credit went to Aceves, who improved to an unflattering 1-6 on the year.

Buchholz was at least spared his second loss in as many starts since returning from an illness that kept him off the major league mound for nearly a month. With that said, he is still winless through two post-illness starts that saw him do what should have been enough to garner him a victory.

Even so, Thursday night’s final score firmly states that Buchholz did do enough to give the Red Sox a chance to win. The series as a whole, which saw Boston take three out of four games from Chicago, spoke volumes as to the state of the pitching staff with Buchholz back in the equation.

The only two figures in the active rotation not to start for a Red Sox victory over the White Sox were the polarizing likes of Jon Lester and Josh Beckett. Beckett will take the ball for Friday’s visit to Toronto while Lester let his record dip to 5-7 with a losing decision in Tuesday night’s 7-5 falter.

With no help from their two underachieving aces and much more commendable performances by the remainder of the rotation, the Red Sox claimed three out of four from the leaders of the AL Central. They are now one game behind, albeit trailing three other teams, for the second wild-card slot.

Buchholz, Aaron Cook and Felix Doubront each confined the White Sox to a single run in their respective starts this week. The only difference was that Boston’s higher-scoring bat rack did a slightly better job of rewarding Cook and Doubront with abundant output at the expense of drama.

Come what may, Buchholz is still 8-3 on the year while the team has improved to 10-6 when he starts, including a 5-1 run since the beginning of June. With a little more timely offense and better firefighting from the bullpen last Saturday in Tampa, Boston could have been on a six-game winning streak in Buchholz starts.

As it happens, dating back to mid-May, the Rays are the only team to have successfully pestered Buchholz. Over his last 10 starts and eight decisions, he has claimed credit for six of seven Red Sox victories and brooked the blame for two of three losses.

All three of those losses were relatively defensive, one-run final scores against Tampa Bay on May 16, May 27 and July 14.

But the 4-3 falter on May 27 marked a critical turning point in Buchholz’s 2012 campaign. It was only the second time in 10 outings, up to that point, that he made it through seven full innings.

Including that start, he has since lasted at least six innings on a consistent basis, including his first two eight-inning shifts and a complete game versus Baltimore on June 7.

The longer Buchholz shows he can last that long and continue to instill confidence, the longer the Red Sox should be reckoned with in the AL playoff derby. All it will take is supplementary output from his starting colleagues.