MIAMI - There is an 85 percent chance in a major league game that a run will score with a runner on third and no outs. The best a pitcher can hope for is to give up one run.
That was the goal Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz had in the first inning against the Marlins Tuesday night when Jose Reyes led off with a triple.
“When you get in that position you’re just trying to get out of that inning giving up that one run,’’ Buchholz said.
Instead, Buchholz struck out Omar Infante, Hanley Ramirez, and Giancarlo Stanton on 13 pitches. All three went down swinging, the first two at changeups and Stanton at a curveball that broke a foot away from his bat.
Buchholz bounced off the mound, his confidence never higher. It led to seven strong innings for the righthander and a 2-1 victory the Sox desperately needed.
“I thought Clay was absolutely fantastic,’’ manager Bobby Valentine said after his team snapped a four-game losing streak.
Catcher Kelly Shoppach, who said he fully expected a run to score, marveled at how Buchholz took command of the situation.
Reyes had a leadoff triple against Josh Beckett Monday and three runs ultimately scored. With the Sox struggling to score, another early deficit would have been emotionally crushing.
“What a boost that was for him, a leadoff triple and coming back to strike out the side,’’ Shoppach said. “The way he did it, with those three hitters, he was in control of each one of them. It looked like he felt no pressure with a guy on third base.
“I’ve seen it a million times. Guys get confidence and they have no fear. They go out there and execute pitches because they believe they can.’’
Buchholz allowed five hits, walked two, and struck out nine, his most since April 22, 2010 when he struck out 10 Rangers. Buchholz (7-2) has dropped his earned run average from a ghastly 8.31 May 11 to 5.38.
He has allowed one earned run over 16 innings in his last two starts and five in the last 31.
“A lot of work’s gone into it,’’ Buchholz said. “The first couple of weeks out were pretty tough. Had to find a way to battle past that and get through. I knew that I’ve done it before.
“The Red Sox stuck with me. They could have given up on me a lot quicker. I do appreciate that. It’s a little bit of work in the middle of everything.’’
Beckett taught Buchholz a split-finger fastball before his start against Tampa Bay May 16. Buchholz threw 11 of the pitches Tuesday, using the offspeed pitch thrown on a sharp downward plane to keep the Marlins from timing his fastball.
“It puts another pitch in the back of the hitter’s mind that I can go to in certain counts,’’ said Buchholz, who is 8-2 in 12 starts following a loss since the start of the 2011 season. “It’s been a good pitch when I’ve thrown it.’’
The Marlins have dropped seven of their last eight. Mark Buehrle (5-7) took the loss, his first in interleague play in 16 starts dating to 2007.
Buehrle was a pedestrian 6-6 with a 4.49 ERA in 17 career appearances against the Sox. But he dominated the makeshift lineup for six innings, allowing only two runners on base.
The Red Sox got to Buehrle in the seventh inning, scoring two runs on three hits.
Rookie Will Middlebrooks, who has been squeezed for playing time of late, singled to center field with one out. Adrian Gonzalez lined to deep center for the second out.
The third out was elusive. Shoppach ripped the first pitch he saw, a low fastball, into the gap in left field. Middlebrooks scored from first.
Shoppach is 7 of 16 against Buehrle in his career with 8 RBIs.
“I don’t know why. I’ve seen him well,’’ Shoppach said. “A lot of it’s in Chicago, which is a great place to hit.’’
After catcher John Buck couldn’t handle a foul pop near the Sox dugout, Mike Aviles singled to center, scoring Shoppach. Aviles has 37 RBIs, most among shortstops.
Darnell McDonald also singled to center. Aviles raced to third and McDonald took second on the throw.
Buchholz was allowed to hit and he punched a cutter into center. Chris Coghlan made a diving catch that saved two runs. But the Sox had a 2-0 lead.
Buchholz gave a run back in the bottom of the inning when Logan Morrison homered to right field. He also gave up his body to get an out, fielding a swinging bunt by Coghlan and tagging him.
Coghlan barreled into Buchholz and the pitcher stumbled before falling over. But he stayed in the game and got Buck on a fly ball to deep center.
“It sort of stung a little bit. It felt like old football days,’’ Buchholz said.
Vicente Padilla allowed two singles in the eighth inning, then struck out Stanton, a prodigious slugger, looking at a fastball for the third out.
“In that situation, up one run and a man on third base, you concentrate a little bit more to make good pitches,’’ Padilla said.
Said Shoppach: “That’s his best pitch. We’re not going to get beat with anything else.’’
From there, Alfredo Aceves worked around a single for his 15th save.
“Pretty big one for us,’’ Buchholz said. “It was one of those nights where saving a run really made a difference.’’