When Clay Buchholz couldn't even earn an inning in Wednesday night's 11-7 win over the Giants, a game which saw Matt Barnes toss three frames in relief of Drew Pomeranz, it left some fans wondering what exactly he was even in the pen for.
The response? Farrell was pretty open about the fact that Buchholz just wasn't meant for important games right now. An 8-3 deficit was the example Farrell used for a Buchholz game, but we also found out last night that the ninth inning of a 12-3 blowout win was an option. The message is clear: if the inning matters, Buchholz isn't in the mix.
This is a long, long way from those halcyon days in 2007. Buchholz was the king of the minor leagues at the time, Boston's next big homegrown arm, and then ultimately the no-hit hero against the Orioles. It's hard to believe that it's been 10 years since then, but also easy when you consider just how far from that point the Red Sox are in their rapidly dying relationship with Buchholz.
For some, the fact that said relationship has gone so far south is reason enough not to pity Buchholz for his current situation. And, admittedly, whenever we're talking about the sad situations of long-term baseball players, there are asterisks a-plenty to be found. In this case, for instance, Clay Buchholz has made more than $45 million over the course of his career. He'll never have to worry about making rent, paying for utilities, funding his kids' college tuition, or anything of the sort. For those of us with normal problems, questions of legacy and the like can seem a bit frivolous.
Still, though, millionaire or not, Clay Buchholz is someone that many of us spent many years pulling for. We dreamed on his potential, celebrated his dramatic arrival, and excused his growing pains in 2008, looking forward to the great times to come. Those seemed to arrive in 2010 and the first half of 2011, but that began what has now become the classic Buchholz cycle: a year of excellence cut short by injury, followed by a horrible year where he just couldn't get right. Rinse, repeat.
That cycle will finally end this year, one has to imagine. The Red Sox have a five-man rotation set for 2017 without him, and even in the bullpen, it seems likely that Buchholz will find himself replaced before the year is out by no less than Joe Kelly, simply because Kelly is in many respects a cheaper version of Buchholz with greater hope of making things work in a bullpen role. One almost hopes for some excuse to put him on the disabled list just to spare him the indignant end that would be a DFA or, indeed, simply continuing apace as the one-time ace now left on mop-up duty.
But there will be a team out there willing to give him a shot. Preferably one in the National League, because those of us who have watched him these past years will be not at all surprised when he spends the first few months looking like one of the best pitchers in baseball. And hopefully, just this once, he finds a way to make it all the way to the end of the year, even if that miracle comes with another team.
When Buchholz pitches his last inning, there will be no great retirement ceremony. His number won't hang in right field, and he will earn no statues. His no-hitter will pop up occasionally on NESN much as Hideo Nomo's might, but not at all in the way that Jon Lester's does. But if his departure will come without pomp and ceremony, it will still come with 10 years in a Red Sox uniform behind it. Ten enigmatic years as an average pitcher without a single truly average season to his name.
We'll be glad to see him go, and glad to see it end after so much frustration. But not glad to see it end like this. Even if it's hard to remember, Buchholz was once very much our guy, not so far off from where Eduardo Rodriguez or even Xander Bogaerts is today. If only his last season as a Red Sox could have come in an odd-numbered year, we might have been able to send him off with something of a celebration, rather than a slow, sad march off the roster.