This is how it feels to have a two-game cushion over .500.
No, the superfecta did not quite occur. With both the Yankees and Rangers winning in extras tonight, the Sox can still not claim to be leading any given playoff race. But they can lay claim to being one of the hottest teams in the majors thanks to a 1-0 win over the Detroit Tigers--their fifth straight victory.
As big a win as it was for the Red Sox, this game may mean the most to a man who conspicuously came away from this game without a 'W' to his name--Clay Buchholz. For Clay, the benchmark will always be set at his no-hitter back in 2007. I remember only one other time that Clay has looked as impressive--in 2008 when he lost another pitchers' duel in Tampa on a late homer. Other than some late-game troubles with more that 100 pitches on his arm, tonight's game fits that bill.
Tonight, it was Clay's offspeed stuff that set up what has been an improved if still inconsistent fastball. As per usual, Buchholz was willing to throw any pitch at anytime, making the late-count fastballs out of the zone tempting enough for opposing batters to offer at them. His curveball was perhaps as good as it has ever been, highlighted by a strikeout of Alex Avila which saw him deliver one perfectly spotted on the outside corner for a called strike two, and then earning the strikeout by bringing it right over the plate...right up until the point it hit the dirt. Avila swung through, and sat down. Meanwhile, Clay's changeup was doing its usual thing, baffling hitters all night. All-in-all, Clay picked up seven strikeouts in as many scoreless innings, with an impressive 15 swings-and-misses.
Credit where credit is due, however: the Tigers put up quite the fight. From the very first inning, Buchholz' pitch count was inflated thanks to a number of tough at bats worked by Tigers batters able to foul off pitches seemingly no matter where they were. Clay's 1-2-3 first inning took 26 pitches, and by the time the seventh inning rolled around with both teams still stuck in a zero-zero tie, he already had 100 pitches on his arm.
This was when the Sox found themselves in serious trouble. So far, Phil Coke had shut down Boston through a combination of good fielding, good pitching, good luck, and bad weather, leaving Clay Buchholz with no leeway. After getting Victor Martinez (who received a rain-dampened reception from the Fenway crowd) to ground out to start the inning, Clay's fatigue started showing, giving up a single and hitting two Tigers to load the bases. Up came Austin Jackson, ready to work another one of those long at bats. Working the count full after seven pitches, Jackson fouled off a fastball, but then went around trying to check his swing on another heater up and out of the zone, ending the threat.
With Daniel Bard dealing with some more long at bats en route to The Red Sox finally struck in the bottom of the eighth thanks to an unlikely combination. After looking foolish in his first two at bats, swinging at pitches well outside of the zone, Carl Crawford showed that he could see reliever Dan Schlereth better than starter Phil Coke, drawing a six-pitch walk to give the Sox a two-out baserunner. Up came much-maligned catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and away went the tie game. Reaching out to hook an outside 2-1 fastball, Saltalamacchia gave the speedy Crawford all the time he needed to come home all the way from first with a wall-ball double to center field. The Red Sox took the lead, 1-0.
Things got scary again for a minute when Victor Martinez led off the top of the ninth with a low line drive double to right field and then moved to third on Jhonny Peralta's ground out. But, as has been the case when Papelbon is on, these are the situations he thrives in. Strikeout number one came on three pitches, with Papelbon overpowering Alex Avila with a 96 MPH fastball for the K, and five fastballs later, Ryan Raburn became victim number two as Papelbon sealed the win for the Sox.