Rare indeed are the times when we play games that last three hours. Rarer are the times when we play games that last less than three hours. But when we do, it’s usually a sign of sparse run-scoring, which itself is a function of effective pitching. When both sides pitch exceptionally well, the batter turnover is pretty quick, so provided that the game is won within nine innings, it generally won’t take too long. That’s what happened yesterday.
This is the best start that Buchholz has had this year and, given how last season went, in fairly recent memory. Seriously. Every time he goes out there, the better he gets, and the more he pitches, the easier it seems. Obviously that kind of flies in the face of getting tired and therefore worse as the game goes on. I don’t really know how he does it. It just happens. And it’s awesome.
He made every batter he faced look like an absolute fool, like they couldn’t hit his pitches if they stopped right in front of their faces. Add one inning and take away two hits and four walks, and he would have had a perfect game.
So, yes, Buchholz pitched a full eight shutout innings, three outs shy of going the distance. But forget that. The man did not allow a single hit until the eighth inning. It was ridiculous. Imagine if someone at his age had successfully thrown not one but two no-hitters. The suspense was so palpable, I almost couldn’t take it. It was a remarkable display of baseball pitching genius.
Ultimately, he gave up two hits and two walks and struck out a whopping eleven batters. And he threw only 109 pitches, sixty-nine of which were strikes. Most remarkable of all, I’d say, was his composure. We have often seen, and I have often discussed, the fact that pitchers making a no-hitter bid who finally do allow a hit tend to unravel. And it’s conceivable that it’s the case that, the longer the bid is, the more he’ll unravel. This did not happen to Buchholz. He kept his cool, finished the inning, and then was taken out. Fine. Was it absolutely crushing that he gave up the bid so late? Absolutely. But we’ve seen other bids end even more crushingly. I’m just impressed with how he handled the whole thing from start to finish.
It was pretty amazing. He struck out his first batter on three pitches; the poor guy swung through a ninety-three mile-per-hour fastball. And he ended the inning with a similar fastball, taken for a called strike. Needless to say, he had a one-two-three first; his second out was a groundout that required a grand total of one pitch, which was also a fastball.
He gave up his first walk of the day in the second, which began and ended with called strikeouts, the first on a fastball and the second on a cutter. He had a one-two-three third, securing the first two outs with K’s, the first swinging on a fastball and the second looking on a cutter. He opened the fourth with a four-pitch walk but picked up two swinging strikeouts after that, one on a changeup and the other on a curveball. He ended his one-two-three fifth with a called strikeout on a cutter. He walked two in the sixth and didn’t strike anyone out. But his two strikeouts in the seventh, also a one-two-three inning, required only seven pitches. The first was swinging on a changeup, and the second was looking on a fastball. He gave up both of his hits, a single and a double, in the eighth, which was probably one of the only signs that he was actually capable of being human and getting tired. Perhaps not coincidentally, he didn’t strike anyone out that frame either.
Miller pitched the ninth, giving up a single but eliminating it thanks to a double play followed, appropriately enough, by a strikeout. The Rays totaled three hits all day.
Because Buchholz was so incredible, we obviously could have won with just one run. But it’s always fun to score more. Like I said, one of the reasons why the game didn’t last longer than it did was because neither team slugged it out. But that’s okay when you have a pitcher like Buchholz.
We got our big break, so to speak, in the third. The top third of the lineup hit back-to-back-to-back singles to load the bases. Napoli stepped up, and it was a fine opportunity for a grand slam. But we’ll settle for his double, which brought home two. Nava got hit, which reloaded the bases. Middlebrooks grounded into a force out, which kept the bases loaded but got Pedroia out at home. Then Drew grounded into a force out, but his scored another two runs. He moved to second base on a throwing error, but Salty struck out to end the frame.
Pedroia led off the eighth with a double and scored on a sac fly by Middlebrooks. Just for fun, I guess. Anyway the final score was 5-0. In most ways, this was everything a ballgame should be.