In dire need of a strong outing from a starting pitcher, the Red Sox appeared on the brink of a first-inning meltdown against the Cleveland Indians when righthander Clay Buchholz gave up a two-out, run-scoring single to Carlos Santana, then loaded the bases when he hit the next batter, Shin-Soo Choo.
It wasn’t the start manager Bobby Valentine was looking for from Buchholz, who entered with the most wins among Sox starters but with the worst earned run average (9.09) in baseball.
That’s when Valentine decided to pay Buchholz a visit.
What was the message?
“That he’s a very good pitcher,” Valentine said after the Sox 7-5 victory at Fenway Park. “I didn’t want him to let that game get away from him because of anything other than him being as good as he could possibly be.”
It seemed to hit home. Buchholz overcame that shaky first by inducing Michael Brantley to ground to first.
“He basically came out there and told me ‘You need to get your stuff right and go after these guys and get these guys out so we can get in the dugout and win a ballgame,’” Buchholz said. “I didn’t feel like I was in any way, shape or form mentally out of the game at that point.”
“It was just that things happened,” Buchholz said. “I hit a guy to load the bases, but sometimes, I guess, it’s better to be lucky than good when I ended up getting out of the inning and giving up one run.”
Buchholz threw five scoreless innings of four-hit ball before departing with one out in the seventh after he loaded the bases. He was charged with all three runs (one unearned) and wound up with a line of four runs on eight hits and three walks but no strikeouts against an Indians lineup with seven lefthanded hitters and two switch-hitters.
“It’s a tough lineup to pitch to,” said Buchholz, who threw a season-high 111 pitches, 68 for strikes. “I don’t think I’ve ever pitched to a lineup of nine lefties. It was pretty mentally draining as far as having to set up guys.”
When he walked off the mound, head bowed, the Fenway crowd of 37,438 showered Buchholz (4-1, 8.31 ERA) with adulation for a job well done after he helped the Sox (13-19) snap a three-game losing streak and win for the first time at home since April 30, which coincided with his last win.
”He was going to pitch better, we knew that,” said Dustin Pedroia, who went 3 for 4 (extending his hitting streak to 12 games) with three RBIs to lead a 12-hit assault on a trio of Cleveland pitchers.
“He had some bad ones in the beginning,” Pedroia said. “But hopefully he can build on what he did tonight and start to cruise. We scored some runs and he went out there and attacked the zone and pitched well.”
After Buchholz survived the first inning, the Sox responded with two runs in the first on Will Middlebrooks’s double to left, two more in the second off Pedroia’s double to right, and one more in the fifth on Cody Ross’s double to left.
Although he gave up two more hits in the second, Buchholz held the line and got out of the inning when Daniel Nava gunned down Jack Hannahan at the plate after Jason Kipnis singled to left. Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia blocked the plate with his left leg and applied the tag for the third out.
Indians third base coach Steve Smith came steaming in to protest Derryl Cousins’s call, but was summarily ejected, leaving Cleveland manager Manny Acta to double as the third base coach.
Nava then made another big play to help Buchholz get out of the third with a running grab of Brantley’s shot down the line in left.
“Just trying to do anything to help,” said Nava. “You talk to anyone, we want to do whatever it takes to help the team get a win.”
The Sox erupted for three runs in the fifth to chase starter Ubaldo Jimenez (4 innings, 7 runs, 9 hits, 5 walks, 4 strikeouts).
Nava drew a leadoff walk to spark the outburst, then scored to make it 5-1 on Rosss double. After Nick Punto reached on a fielder’s choice, Ryan Sweeney drove in Ross with a single to right, which prompted Acta to lift Jimenez for Dan Wheeler, who pitched for the Sox last season.
Pedroia hit a sacrifice fly to center to make it 7-1.
After Buchholz’s departure in the seventh, Rich Hill took over and walked in a run. Carlos Santana then reached on an error by Middlebrooks, which pulled the Indians within 7-3 and prompted Andrew Miller to be summoned in relief.
Miller induced Choo to fly to left and gave up an RBI single to Brantley to make it 7-4, but got out of the inning by getting Casey Kotchman to ground to first. The Indians tallied another run in the ninth, but Alfredo Aceves struck out Hannahan and got Johnny Damon to fly to center to end the game.
”Now he can look at his record of four wins and say that hes really building on something,” Valentine said of Buchholz. “He’s coming off a good outing next time he goes out there.”