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The Boston Globe

Sports

Dan Shaughnessy

Clay Buchholz keeps winning, somehow

Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz handed the ball over to manager Bobby Valentine after allowing 5 runs in the seventh inning against the Athletics.

Bill Greene/Globe Staff

Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz handed the ball over to manager Bobby Valentine after allowing 5 runs in the seventh inning against the Athletics.

Clay Buchholz Monday night became the first Red Sox pitcher to give up five or more earned runs in five consecutive starts in 72 years. He also improved his record to 3-1.

Amazing. The guy with the winningest record on the Red Sox has an ERA of 8.69.

The Oakland A’s are the Oakland F’s when it comes to hitting. The not-so-great grandsons of Charles O. Finley came to Fenway with a robust team batting average of .205 in 23 games, easily the lowest in the majors. You’re usually in trouble when your whole team is hitting 5 points north of the Mendoza Line. Where are Brad Pitt and Philip Seymour Hoffman when you really need them?

The A’s figured to be exactly what Buchholz needed to get out of his early season slump.

Wrong.

Buchholz was the winning pitcher in Monday’s 11-6 slopfest, but he was routed for five runs in the seventh inning and wound up being pulled after a three-run homer by old friend Josh Reddick. Buchholz turned an 11-1 lead into a virtual nailbiter - not what Sox fans wanted to see after the last game at Fenway, in which the locals blew a 9-0 lead against the Yankees and lost, 15-9.

What’s up with Buchholz? He’s put 57 men on base in 29 innings. He’s given up five earned runs three times, six Monday night, and seven in his first start of the season in Detroit. On a lot of teams, this would get you sent to the bullpen or the minors.

Not here. Manager Bobby Valentine said Monday’s outing was “something to build on.’’

Buchholz, in a postgame news conference that bordered on delusional, said, “I felt like it was my most positive outing, except for the line. I walked five guys, but I had my mind made up I wasn’t giving in to guys. I’ll take five walks. That’s how I felt I needed to pitch.’’

Hmmm. For the last 120 years the conventional wisdom in baseball has been to throw strikes when you have a 10-run lead.

Valentine admitted that Buchholz’s control is an issue.

“Five walks is a lot in seven innings,’’ said the manager.

Buchholz pitched in only 14 games before hitting the shelf with a broken bone in his back last season. Now he’s giving up almost a run per inning.

“He’s a good pitcher,’’ said Valentine. “He just hasn’t hit his stride yet.’’

Buchholz surrendered a run in the second on a walk and a couple of singles, but the Sox scored four in the second, two in the third, and five in the fifth to blow it open. David Ortiz hit a pair of homers and Darnell McDonald and Mike Aviles also went deep.

Buchholz cruised through six. He had his best changeup of the season. With help from the swinging A’s, Boston’s guitar-strumming righty needed only 72 pitches to get into the seventh with the 11-1 lead. But he blew up - again - and had to be pulled after Reddick’s three-run shot. Buchholz threw 99 pitches, gave up seven hits, walked five, and hit a batter.

“I only gave up one run for six innings, then five in the seventh,’’ said Buchholz. “That’s not a good feeling. But we’re scoring more runs than I’m giving up. That’s the best way I can put it.’’

The last Sox pitcher to give up five or more earned runs in five consecutive starts was Jack Wilson, who did it in 1940.

The Sox had a late lineup change when Kevin Youkilis had to be scratched because of continued stiffness in his back. Youk didn’t play Sunday in Chicago because of his back, but we chalked it up to three days of playing in incredibly cold weather on the South Side. Monday at Fenway, Youk was taken out of the lineup an hour before the first pitch.

When we heard the announcement that the Sox were changing the lineup, we worried that maybe Bobby V did some deep, late-afternoon research and discovered that Oakland starter Tommy Milone was a southpaw.

You may have missed it but last week in Minneapolis Valentine filled out his lineup card thinking the Sox were facing a lefthander in Liam Hendriks. When Jarrod Saltalamacchia informed his manager that Hendriks was a righty, Valentine tore up the old lineup and posted a new one.

To his credit, Valentine owned up to the mistake and had some fun with it. I’ll admit I never heard of Hendriks, either, but this was an astounding gaffe given that Valentine works for the most stat-conscious, thoroughly prepared organization in baseball. The Red Sox are owned by a man who loves statistics almost as much as Liverpool soccer. Boston’s baseball operations department provides the manager with enough daily data to bury the entire Back Bay in sabermetric megabites. Grady Little was fired because he dismissed the stat pack, and the Sox were considered hardball innovators when they put Bill James on the payroll from his home in Lawrence, Kan. Then came Tom Tippett - Boston’s director of baseball information services - the man who invented Diamond Mind, and Carmine.

All of the above explains why there must have been silos exploding in Kansas, and smoke coming out of the baseball ops basement at Fenway when the stat geeks learned that their new manager filled out his lineup card thinking the opponent’s righty was a lefty. Somehow this makes me think Bobby V’s not gobbling up those defensive metrics the boys put so much work into.

What about it? Is the Sox’ new manager dismissive of the life’s work of so many people at Fenway? Have the Red Sox gone soft on software?

“I didn’t take it that way,’’ said general manager Ben Cherington. “I thought it was an innocent mistake.’’

But your staff works round-the-clock to assemble mountains of information. Are you confident Bobby V is using the material?

“Yes, I am,’’ said Cherington. “You use the material in different stages. You get the big bulk of material and read it in advance of the series and have a meeting early in the day on the first day of the series. In this case, he may have set the initial lineup before that early meeting. A lot of times the advance report you’ll get a lot of information and maybe focus on opposing hitters or different aspects of the report and you get more later in the day. It can be a little piecemeal.’’

Twenty-three-year-old rookie Jarrod Parker starts for the A’s Tuesday night. I broke the code for Carmine, dug deep into the Sox database, and can tell you that Parker is pretty definitely a righty.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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