Clay Buchholz, ladies and gentlemen. The man never ceases to amaze me. His ERA is still under 2.00; his 1.73 leads the league. Watching him work is like watching the quintessential example of everything that pitching is supposed to be, in all its expert and masterful glory. He just keeps getting better and better.
We got on the board first and established a lead early. Granted, it was only a one-run lead, but when you have the right pitchers, that’s really all you need.
We really didn’t waste any time. Ellsbury grounded out on the game’s third pitch, but after that, Gomes got hit, Pedroia doubled, and both scored on Papi’s single. Napoli then walked, but Nava and Middlebrooks both struck out to end the frame. Although Papi did steal third in the process. You don’t get to see Papi steal a base very often. It’s always fun to watch, even if ultimately it doesn’t amount to anything.
Our offensive production was all very nonexistent after that. Ellsbury singled in the second. Napoli walked in the third. Ellsbury walked in the fifth. That was it through six. Salty and Ellsbury hit back-to-back singles in the seventh with two out, but it amounted to nothing.
We had a truly excellent scoring opportunity in the eighth; the best there is, really. Pedroia lined out to start it off, but then Papi and Napoli hit back-to-back singles and Nava walked to load the bases. We didn’t do anything major, but we did enough to provide some insurance, and in a game in which a one-run lead held until the eighth, scoring one other run alone would have been like scoring ten. Middlebrooks hit a sac fly, bringing Papi home. Drew walked to re-load the bases, and Napoli scored on a passed ball. The inning ended with Salty’s strikeout, but we managed to double our run total and triple our lead.
If there are two pitchers on this staff that you can feel absolutely one hundred percent confident in when it comes to a one-run lead, they’re Lester and Buchholz. Last night, it was Buchholz. Watching him pitch with a one-run lead is like watching him pitch with a ten-run lead: easy and efficient. His fastball and his off-speed pitches don’t miss. They mix up the hitters and get the outs. And he isn’t afraid to take the risks that allow him to keep batters on edge and win ballgames.
His second pitch of the game was actually hit for a single; fortunately, the runner was caught stealing second base. He then issued two consecutive walks, but he got out of the inning unscathed. He had a one-two-three second; his only blemish came in the third. He gave up a single, issued a walk, and induced a force out that resulted in runners at the corners. Then one run scored on a groundout, and the inning ended with a strikeout. That’s what I would call a smart run; it’s usually advisable to trade the run for the out, especially if it’s only one run. You should always be able to count on your lineup to score more than one run.
He gave up a single in the fourth, but thanks to a double play, he faced the minimum. He gave up a single in the fifth and sixth, which ended with another caught-stealing. The seventh inning was a thing of beauty: nine pitches, three up, three down. All told, he pitched seven innings, gave up one run on five hits, walked three, and struck out four. It was absolutely beautiful.
Uehara had a one-two-three eighth. And we padded our lead even more in the ninth. Ellsbury walked, Nava singled, and two outs later, Napoli walked to load the bases yet again. And yet again, it was nothing big, but it was a single that scored another two runs. Middlebrooks ended the rally with a groundout.
Bailey came on for the ninth; it was less than flawless. He got the first two outs fine, then made a mistake and allowed a solo shot, and then ended the inning with a strikeout. Fortunately, the score wasn’t still 2-1 at the time. We won, 4-1. We avoided the sweep and won the road trip. Simple enough.