For a pitcher in the midst of a terrible season, Clay Buchholz sure does spin his fair share of gems. Sunday Buchholz went the distance, throwing nine scoreless innings against the Tampa Bay Rays, allowing just three hits in his second complete game shutout of the year.
We've seen two types of "Bad Buchholz" on the year. The first is completely out of control, falling behind in every at bat, giving up free bases, and ultimately suffering death by a thousand cuts. The other is very similar, but has a last resort of throwing garbage into the zone until he's knocked out on a dozen hits in two innings.
There was no sign of the that first Buchholz today. Constantly on the attack, only five of the Rays' 29 at bats on the day started with a first-pitch ball. All told, Buchholz threw 70% of his pitches for strikes, never facing a three-ball count until the seventh inning.
The Rays responded by getting aggressive, and often enough that's where the second bad version of Buchholz comes into the mix. Today, though, Buchholz responded, venturing further from the heart of the plate early on, and getting the Rays to foul off or swing through some pitches they should be taking. With the benefit of some generous corners, Buchholz was always ahead, but never looked as vulnerable as he has so often this year when pounding the strike zone.
The rare combination of accuracy and precision from Buchholz left the Rays entirely unproductive. While the first pitch Buchholz threw found its way through the right side of the infield for a single, Buchholz finished the first right on schedule with a fly ball and a double play. The next Tampa Bay base runner would not come until the fourth, when a two-out double from Matt Joyce led only to an inning-ending ground out from Evan Longoria.
The third and final Tampa Bay hit would come in the sixth in the form of a leadoff single. Buchholz' response? Eleven more pitches to strikeout the side. That was the end of Tampa Bay's resistance.
Had the Red Sox put up another zero like they did in Saturday's game, even Buchholz' excellent performance wouldn't have been enough to secure the win. But, if the Sox did not put up huge run totals against Alex Cobb, it was a quietly decent day at the plate for Boston. Xander Bogaerts and Christian Vazquez put together a couple of singles to start the top of the third, bringing Xander in to score Boston's first run with the help of an errant pickoff attempt. Their second and third runs would come thanks to Mookie Betts, who fit nicely into the second spot in the lineup by singling home Brock Holt in the fifth, then doubling and scoring on David Ortiz' base hit in the eighth.
After a Saturday of Forsythe - Pedroia dominance, an Allen Webster implosion, and nothing to speak of at the plate, the Red Sox put together a tidy game of baseball Sunday afternoon. Not a bad way to say goodbye to the summer months.