Clay Buchholz recovered from a rough first inning to provide the Red Sox with seven strong, and the Sox took advantage to give him his first win Wednesday night, 5-2 over Chicago.
There have been a couple fantastic examples of Red Sox games decided as much by the men calling the pitches as the ones throwing them this year. On April 18th, it was the very same Clay Buchholz whose command seemed even worse off than usual. So Christian Vazquez moved his glove further from the heart of the plate, particularly against the most dangerous parts of a top-heavy Blue Jays lineup, and kept Buchholz' misses from having a chance at finding the zone. Just this past week, it was Ryan Hanigan calling anything but the fastball to guide Henry Owens through six strong when the heat was just clearly not there.
Add another game to the list tonight. Clay Buchholz came out and confirmed all of Boston's worst fears in the first, throwing a fastball to Jose Dariel Abreu that was begging to be hit out of the park. Abreu obliged, and put the White Sox ahead 2-0. Buchholz would allow two other long fly balls in the inning, both on the fastball, and it just seemed like another disaster was in store for Boston.
So Christian Vazquez took a page out of Hanigan's book, and called an off-speed game, especially when the likes of Abreu made their way to the plate. Buchholz got out of the second with a double play ball, and the third thanks to one of those occasional fastballs being snagged at short when it turned into a low line drive. There were still some command-based lowlights, but nothing of the disaster variety. The real pièce de résistance came in the sixth, when Buchholz opened the inning with eight curveballs and changeups to Jimmy Rollins and Jose Abreu. With only one pitch reaching as high as 88 MPH, Buchholz got an easy ground ball from Rollins, then struck out Abreu swinging at some big looping curves.
Credit is due where credit is due. This was not just Vazquez' performance. Buchholz had to give him the tools to work with--those off-speed offerings have always been magnificent when they're on, and tonight they were. The question is, with Buchholz' fastball not contributing much these days, can Vazquez make this sort of thing work when he doesn't have both? We can only hope.
One way or another, though, Buchholz managed to turn in seven innings of two-run ball. And while the Red Sox started slow against Carlos Rodon, they ultimately managed to give their starter the support he needed. The third inning saw the Red Sox piece together a run on some fluky hits from the bottom of the lineup and one more impressive one from Xander Bogaerts. And in the fifth it was David Ortiz once again proving his retirement is a matter of choice, not necessity, taking a fastball over the inside part of the plate and hitting a no-doubt shot to right for two, with Bogaerts once again on base ahead of him.
The Sox did not always make the most of their opportunities. There was some particularly untimely hitting from Vazquez in the fourth, grounding into a double play with the bases loaded and one out. But once Rodon was out of the game, David Ortiz and Josh Rutledge managed to tack on some insurance runs in the seventh and eighth respectively to give the Sox a three-run lead with just two innings of work to go for the bullpen. Mookie Betts made a phenomenal diving catch in the eighth to save a bloop for Koji Uehara, and Craig Kimbrel got a double play after pitching around Abreu to end things in the ninth.
As far as May wins go, this one's pretty big. Fresh off a night dominated by Jose Quintana, with their 0-5 starter on the mound, the Red Sox managed to take down the team with the AL's best record and retake first place in the East in the process. These are the sort of wins that convince you they belong there. If they can take the series tomorrow, that'll be a nice little early-season statement.