The Ghost of Buchholz Past?

FenWestCorrespondent IOctober 4, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO - JULY 08:  USA Team All-Star Clay Buchholz of the Boston Red Sox pitches during the XM Satellite Radio All-Star Futures Game at AT&T Park on July 8, 2007 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

First inning: Valbuena homers for Cleveland on the third pitch of the game, but the next three batters are knocked out in quick succession. Boston brings around three runs of its own for an early lead. Buchholz looks good.

Second Inning: A ground out, a fly out, and a strike out, and Cleveland is out of the way again. Gonzalez homers, a solo shot, and it’s 4-1, Boston. Buchholz looks good.

Third Inning: A walk, a single, a strikeout, another single, another walk, another single, a strikeout, a double...And finally another strikeout. Cleveland takes a 6-4 lead. Bottom of the inning, Boston goes down in order. Buchholz...Looks like this is not going to be his day, after all.

Clay Buchholz left the game after this, so we don’t really know what would have come next. Would he have recovered? When you’re giving up six runs to the Indians in three innings, does it matter if you would have recovered?

From the very early days of Buchholz’s Major League career, we’ve always had two of him on the roster. 

One Buchholz was the guy we got at the very start, the light’s out young gun who threw a no-hitter in his second ever Major League start. We remember that Buchholz fondly.

The other Buchholz was the guy who turned up in most of 2008. That guy had a great arm, great stuff to offer, and a truly epic case of nerves that would kick in within the first few innings as surely as the Monster is green.

In 2009, a lot of the season had gone by before Buchholz was back in the big leagues.  When he did return, the refurbished starter was looking good. Brushed up, spic-and-span, and ready to get some outs, which he did with enthusiasm. Yeah, there were those seven runs to New York back at the start of August, and seven more allowed to the White Sox at the end of that month—four innings, and 4.2, respectively—but everyone has an off day now and then. Mere blips, easily forgotten. 

And then, there came these last two starts: Seven earned runs to Toronto, in five innings.  Six earned runs to Cleveland, in three. Five of those runs today came in the third, in a truly familiar return of the old big inning dilemma. 

Amidst his successes, Buchholz had gone so far as to hint in interviews that he blamed his catcher for past failures, which seemed an odd kick at the guy who caught and called his no-hitter. But now it's Martinez behind the plate for every one of his starts, and Buchholz has been shaking him off too with the same results. 

Which is the Buchholz the Red Sox will get in October?

This wasn’t exactly a high stakes scenario. By the end of the game, it was mostly the scrubs on the field: Kottaras was even playing third instead of catcher, which is a dead giveaway. But for Buchholz, this was a last start before the playoffs, and his final chance to show off what he’s got, to earn his place, and against a far from unbeatable foe. And still he left the game having squandered a three run lead, and in line for another loss.  

Today, the Sox won anyway. Drew homered twice, Pedroia and Gonzalez each belted one out, Papi turned in a very nice two run single...And of course Jed Lowrie’s grand slam didn’t hurt matters any. There was more than enough offense to comfortably finish the sweep. But what of the starting pitcher’s meltdown that so easily could have sent it the other way? 

Which guy will turn up in October? Was this last game of the regular season just another little blip, a Ghost of Buchholz Past, pulling off one last quick haunting before season’s end?  Or was this the preview of Buchholz Yet to Come? Is the old, 2008 Buchholz—the kid with a great arm if only he could get his head straight—back with us? 

There are two versions of Buchholz on this team. 

Will the real Clay Buchholz please stand up?