SEATTLE — Clay Buchholz started for the Red Sox against the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday night and the game was over in two hours and 40 minutes.
Without knowing any further details, that tells you Buchholz was sharp after spending a month on the disabled list trying to recapture the form that made him an All-Star last season.
Buchholz is maddening to watch when he loses the feel of his mechanics. Every pitch is a mini-drama as he fidgets on the mound before starting his delivery, or tosses repeatedly to first base to hold runners who do not have any intention of stealing. The infielders kick at the dirt, fans get restless and Buchholz slowly wilts.
But against a Seattle lineup that had abused Red Sox pitching for two nights, Buchholz threw pitches with a newfound certitude and at what for him was a rapid pace.
“Clay set the tempo,” manager John Farrell said. “A lot of strikes, a lot of early contact. Just an outstanding ballgame on his part … There wasn’t a whole lot of thought out there. He was in the flow of the game. There was a good feel for all four pitches that he was throwing; no hesitation on his part. That’s a sign of confidence and a good frame of mind.”
As for the details, they were pretty good. Buchholz pitched into the eighth inning in a game the Red Sox won, 5-4, before a crowd of 27,333 at Safeco Field.
Buchholz (3-4) allowed four runs on seven hits and struck out two without a walk. Of his 76 pitches, 55 were strikes. Buchholz was not at his best but given the 7.02 earned run average he dragged to the mound, it was a sign that his best can still emerge.
“It’s good to be back,” he said.
All of Seattle’s damage came on home runs. Kyle Seager had a solo shot in the second inning followed two batters later by a two-run blast to left by Mike Zunino. Brad Miller added a solo homer on the first pitch Buchholz threw in the eighth inning.
Beyond that, Buchholz largely shut down a team that had scored 20 runs on 24 hits in the first two games of the series. He retired 16 of 19 following Zunino’s home run before Miller connected.
“It’s fun to be out there and battle without battling yourself,” Buchholz said. “I want to battle the other team. It was a lot more like I did last year as far as the pitches that I was going to throw right when I gripped it.
“I didn’t think anything. I was just thinking to be down and execute rather than ‘If I don’t do this, then he’s going to hit it.’ I was more clear what I wanted to do.”
Buchholz handed a one-run lead to the bullpen with one out in the eighth inning. Andrew Miller struck out both batters he faced before Koji Uehara recorded his 16th save. Uehara put two runners on with one out before calmly escaping.
The Sox avoided a three-game sweep by the Mariners and improved to 2-5 on their road trip. They are off Thursday before starting a three-game series in New York against the Yankees on Friday.
Seattle righthander Hisashi Iwakuma lasted only four innings, giving up five runs on eight hits. Iwakuma (5-4) has faced the Red Sox three times in his career and allowed 12 earned runs on 24 hits over 12 2/3 innings.
The Sox scored twice in the first inning after Iwakuma got two outs. Dustin Pedroia reached on an infield single and David Ortiz drove a fastball down the line in right field for his 18th home run.
The home run was the 449th of Ortiz’s career, matching him with Jeff Bagwell and his old friend Vladimir Guerrero for 37th place all time.
The Sox added two runs in the third inning. Jackie Bradley Jr. — 7 for 24 on the road trip — led off with a hustle double to the gap in right field. Singles by Brock Holt and Daniel Nava drove Bradley in.
Ortiz singled to drive in Holt, but Iwakuma struck out Jonny Gomes and A.J. Pierzynski to end the inning.
Holt singled to lead off the sixth inning. The Sox loaded the bases when Nava singled and Pedroia drew a walk. With Ortiz up, Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon relieved Iwakuma with righthander Tom Wilhelmsen.
The Sox came away with only one run. Ortiz hit the ball up the middle against the shift and Miller made a nice play to adjust and start the double play as Holt scored. Gomes then struck out for the third time.
Farrell took heart in the offense, especially Holt and Nava going 5 for 9 at the top of the order and Ortiz driving in three runs. But Buchholz showing signs of being the pitcher he was last season had the clubhouse in good spirits before the overnight flight to New York.
“If we’re going to get back to where we need to be, we need our important guys to do what they do,” Jon Lester said. “Clay is as important as anybody and he looked a lot more like himself tonight.”