For four innings, Clay Buchholz held the Angels to three base runners. The next thing he knew, he was surrounded.
Everywhere he turned in the fifth inning, someone was on base.
Finding the strike zone hadn’t been an issue for Buchholz. Suddenly, his fastball went on the fritz and everything else started malfunctioning after it.
It wasn’t that his pitches weren’t working, it was that they would go haywire when he needed them most.
To start the fifth, he got Erick Aybar in an 0-2 hole with his fastball and changeup, then Aybar fouled off a cutter and another changeup. Buchholz tried to finish him off with a fastball inside, but he missed. Then he missed with another that sailed above the strike zone. Then he missed with another that just missed the corner, up and in. The at-bat ended with Aybar tagging Buchholz for a line single to left.
Entering that inning, Buchholz had thrown 32 of his 45 pitches for strikes. Then, he said, “I lost a little bit of feel for a couple pitches.”
The same thing happened in the next at-bat, against Chris Iannetta. Buchholz got ahead, 0 and 1, but Iannetta worked a six-pitch walk.
“It wasn’t that I didn’t have a feel for any pitch,” Buchholz said. “It was just the big pitches that I needed to make, I didn’t make them.”
When Efren Navarro sent a line drive howling to right field, Buchholz had as many runners on base in one inning as he’d seen all night. And he had no outs. He worked himself into the kind of jam that was impossible to escape without some scuff marks.
“He was feeling for it out of the stretch,” said catcher David Ross. “He was rushing it a little bit. Usually his bread and butter — that breaking ball — he can get over any time, and he wasn’t able to do that. Just a little inconsistent. Sometimes we get that. I think he wanted to get out of it so bad and just started rushing it a little bit.”
Walking Kole Calhoun with the bases loaded was the first self-inflicted wound.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve walked a run in, so that didn’t help,” Buchholz said.
Daniel Nava and Dustin Pedroia misplaying a Mike Trout popup, allowing another run to score, was the second.
Buchholz described it succinctly as “misfortune.”
By the time it was over, the Angels hung up five runs, more than they’d need in their 8-3 win over the Red Sox, and the only body blows they had hit Buchholz with were an Albert Pujols RBI single, a Josh Hamilton sacrifice fly, and a Howie Kendrick run-scoring single.
“I felt good with just about every pitch,” Buchholz said. “Just whenever they load the bases, nobody out, and you have Trout up, get him to miss at one, and it didn’t go our way and it sort of snowballed after that.”
The Angels walked away with their third straight win at Fenway, improving their league-best record to 75-50. Meanwhile, the Sox, who came in a season-high 16½ games out of first place, dropped their fourth straight, falling to 56-70.
Buchholz was looking for his first win since July 18, and he again came up empty.
He started the night by striking out Calhoun on three pitches and winning a seven-pitch battle with Trout, getting him to wave at a changeup down and away. Buchholz set down 11 of the first 12 batters.
“Through the first four [innings], I thought he was sharp,” Sox manager John Farrell said. “He had good late action to his stuff.”
The Sox gave him early runs to work with. Pedroia sent a scorcher down the line that ate up Angels third baseman David Freese for a one-out single in the first inning. Pedroia then went first to third on a single by David Ortiz and scored on a sacrifice fly by Yoenis Cespedes to put the Sox on the board.
The next inning, Ross, fresh off the disabled list, came up with runners on first and second and cashed in with an RBI single to left in his first at-bat since Aug. 2.
An at-bat later, the Angels suffered a blow that might have more significant impact long term.
Starting pitcher Garrett Richards, arguably the anchor of the Angels’ rotation with a 13-4 record, 164 strikeouts, and a major-league best .168 opponents’ batting average, suffered a left knee injury while trying to cover first on a ground ball by Brock Holt.
Pujols fielded the ball at first and tried to start a double play. Richards was racing to the bag when he appeared to trip and tumble backward. As he tried to gain his balance, his left knee buckled under him.
Richards stayed on the ground for a long stretch while trainers came to his side. Teammates surrounded him, including Pujols, who knelt in front of Richards until the stretcher arrived.
Ross, who was forced at second on Pujols’s throw, could hear Richards screaming as he was coming off the field.
“I actually got pretty sick to my stomach, because you can tell,” Ross said. “You know, there’s a grown man out there screaming. It’s not a good feeling.”
With the Angels reeling, the Sox scored again in the third.
Ortiz laced the first pitch from reliever Cory Rasmus into right-field bleachers for his 30th home run of the season, continuing his two-week tear.
It marked Ortiz’s eighth 30-homer season, tying Ted Williams for the most in Red Sox history.
But Buchholz couldn’t make the lead stand up. He left after six innings, having given up six runs on seven hits.
For stretches since coming off the disabled list in July, Buchholz has looked like he’s rediscovered himself. At other times, he’s unraveled.
“I think this game can humble you when you start off rough and your confidence isn’t quite as high,” said Ross. “This game’s hard. It’s not that easy.”
In his last six starts, Buchholz is 0-4 with a 7.05 ERA.
“I wouldn’t say it drives you crazy,” Farrell said. “I think that you always look for ways to improve, to maintain the consistency throughout.”Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.