It was all played for laughs a couple of weeks ago before Clay Buchholz, three days after his 23d birthday, made his big league debut for the Red Sox. Manager Terry Francona, speaking to a sleepy morning assemblage of reporters before the first game of a day-night doubleheader against the Angels, said: “Doesn’t matter if he throws a no-hitter. He’s going back down.”
The team indeed sent him back down after he became the youngest Sox pitcher since Juan Pena eight years earlier to win his big league debut. But last night, only 15 days from the time he first toed the rubber at Fenway Park, Buchholz made history and turned Francona into an accidental prophet.
Pressed into action because 41-year-old Tim Wakefield had a sore back and missed a start, the righthander born in the East Texas town of Nederland became the first Sox rookie to throw a no-hitter, beating the Baltimore Orioles, 10-0, at Fenway Park.
Buchholz struck out Brian Roberts on a 93-mile-an-hour fastball for the first out of the ninth. He fell behind Corey Patterson, 2 and 0, dropped a changeup in for a called strike, then retired Patterson on a liner to Coco Crisp in center.
The last batter was Nick Markakis, a lefthanded hitter. With a sellout crowd of 36,819 roaring and every player on the Sox bench hanging on the railing, Buchholz missed with a fastball for ball one. He threw a curveball for a called strike. Patterson checked his swing on the next pitch, a fastball, fouling the ball to the left of the plate.
Buchholz dropped the last pitch, a curve, for a called third strike, sending the old Fens into a frenzy, his teammates, led by David Ortiz, charging to the mound to engulf him.
It was the first no-hitter by a Sox pitcher since Derek Lowe beat Tampa Bay at Fenway April 27, 2002. The last no-no in the majors by a rookie was accomplished by Anibal Sanchez, the former Sox prospect who did it Sept. 6, 2006, for Florida against Arizona. The last AL rookie to do so was Wilson Alvarez of the White Sox against Baltimore Aug. 11, 1991 - also in his second career start.
Another Sox rookie, Dustin Pedroia, made the play they’ll show on highlight reels for years to come to save the no-no. The second baseman went sprawling behind the mound to stop Miguel Tejada’s grounder, scrambled to his feet, and fired a throw to first to beat Tejada, who slid headfirst into the bag.
Buchholz’s performance took on even greater resonance, coming in the middle of a pennant race. The Sox’ lead was down to 4 1/2 games at the start of the game because a Yankee rookie call-up, Ian Kennedy, already had beaten the Devil Rays, holding Tampa Bay to one earned run in seven innings in a 9-6 Yankees win.
Buchholz’s gem restored the Sox’ advantage over the Yankees to five games in the AL East with 26 games to go, and also ended the Sox’ four-game slide, the team’s longest losing streak of the season.
No Sox rookie had ever thrown a no-hitter. Forty years ago, a kid pitcher from Toronto, lefthander Billy Rohr, came within an out of a no-hitter against the Yankees in an April game in Yankee Stadium. A single by Elston Howard spoiled his with two outs in the ninth.
Last season, in the last day of the regular season, Oct. 1, Devern Hansack threw a five-inning no-hitter against the Orioles, a 9-0 victory abbreviated by rain.
It was the third no-hitter this season. White Sox lefthander Mark Buehrle beat Texas April 18 and the Tigers’ Justin Verlander beat Milwaukee June 12.
Buchholz walked the first two batters in the fourth, then set down the next dozen Orioles in order entering the ninth. He went to a full count on rookie Scott Moore before retiring him on a fly for the first out of the eighth, punched out J.R. House on a called third strike for the second out, then stabbed Jay Payton’s comebacker for the final out.
Buchholz finished with three walks and nine strikeouts and threw 104 pitches.
Tejada came closest to getting a hit in the first eight innings. The only other balls that came remotely close to hits were Tejada’s knee-high liner in the first that Pedroia caught, and Roberts’s bunt in the third, which Buchholz, a converted shortstop, quickly fielded, springing off the mound and throwing to first.
The Sox made Buchholz wait to come out for the ninth, stringing together four hits, including a two-run double by another rookie, Jacoby Ellsbury, to make it 10-0.
The Sox took a 1-0 lead in the second against Garrett Olson, and scored three more on Ortiz’s bases-loaded double in the fourth. The Sox tacked on four runs in the sixth on an RBI double by Mike Lowell and a three-run home run by Kevin Youkilis.