Red Sox righthander Clay Buchholz was 9-0 with a 1.71 earned run average in his first 11 starts this season. He was one of the best pitchers in baseball and a strong candidate for the American League Cy Young Award.
But a lingering shoulder injury put Buchholz on the disabled list for three months. Now Detroit’s Max Scherzer, who went 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA, is expected to win the Cy Young.
“That’s the frustrating part about this season, knowing that I never really dreamed of having a year to start that well in my career,” Buchholz said on Saturday.
“The frustrating part was I couldn’t go out and pitch and try to keep it going. So it was definitely a fun first half for me, which I would have given a lot of it up to pitch throughout the season.”
Buchholz will never get back what he missed. But he does have a chance to prove a point in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series on Sunday night when he faces Scherzer with the Red Sox down, 1-0, after a 1-0 loss on Saturday night.
Buchholz has not faced the Tigers since June 30, 2012 when he allowed three runs [two earned] on five hits over eight innings in a game the Red Sox won, 7-3. The righthander is 2-1 with a 3.58 earned run average in eight career starts against Detroit.
Buchholz has had good success against Detroit’s best hitters. Miguel Cabrera is 5 for 21 against him, Prince Fielder 1 for 6, Torii Hunter 4 for 24 and Victor Martinez 0 for 6.
For Buchholz, past performance does not guarantee future success when it comes to facing a hitter like Cabrera.
“He always finds a way to extend an at-bat and make you feel really uncomfortable in big situations while you’re throwing to him,” Buchholz said.
“He’s a guy that everybody seems to watch all the time. Taking BP out in the field, he’s always got a smile on his face and having fun. That’s the time you need to be afraid of what he’s going to do when he gets up at-bat. When he’s loose he feels good.”
Buchholz was 3-1 with a 1.88 ERA in four starts after he came off the disabled list in September. He then started Game 3 of the Division Series against Tampa Bay and allowed three runs over six innings. The Rays had seven hits and drew three walks in the game. But Red Sox manager John Farrell saw enough to move Buchholz up in the rotation for the ALCS.
“In the starts that he’s made since coming off the DL, there’s still been a little bit of a building component, building his stamina and endurance inside of a given day,” Farrell said. “But the touch and feel to secondary pitches are consistent to pre-injury.
“I think coming out of particularly the last three starts, where we’ve been able to get him over a hundred, 110 pitches on each of those outings, he comes away with greater confidence on the physical side of things.
“He’s always been a confident guy in executing a certain pitch or selecting a certain pitch inside of an at-bat and we’ll need more against [the Tigers]. This is as good a lineup as we’re probably going to face.”
For Buchholz, the postseason represents a chance to atone for all the time he was away.
“Obviously you want to be out there fighting, battling with your guys throughout the whole course of the season leading up to now,” he said. “But as I said a couple of times now, all the guys they brought in to fill in some holes in the pitching staff or bullpen came up and did a really good job and made it a little bit easier to sit and watch.
“This is what baseball is all about; this is where you want to be and it’s been fun so far.”
With Scherzer on the mound for Detroit, the Red Sox may change their lineup.
Mike Napoli is 1 for 13 with five strikeouts against Scherzer and hasn’t faced him since 2012. Napoli also is 2 for 16 in the postseason and has struck out seven times.
Daniel Nava is 1 for 9 against Scherzer, 0 for 6 this season.
If the Sox make a change, Mike Carp would play first base and Jonny Gomes left field. Carp is 2 for 8 with a walk against Scherzer and Gomes 2 for 6.
Rookie Xander Bogaerts was taking groundballs at third base before the game, a sign that he could get a start in Game 2. On Friday, Farrell committed to Will Middlebrooks only for Game 1.
Middlebrooks is 3 for 15 in the postseason and Bogaerts pinch hit for him in the seventh inning on Saturday.
At 21, Bogaerts became the youngest player to appear in an ALCS game since 20-year-old Francisco Rodriguez of the Angels in 2002 and the youngest position player since 19-year-old Alex Rodriguez of the 1995 Mariners.
Farrell joked — at least we assume he was joking — that lefthanded reliever Craig Breslow, a Yale graduate, uses words he’s not familiar with.
“But I think the intelligence clearly plays out on the mound. This is someone who’s been a very good performer for us, whether it’s against righthanders, lefthanders, and because of his ability to keep things emotionally under control on the mound is another reason why he’s so trusted, by all of us, late in the game and some high leverage situations,” Farrell said.
Not they always understand Breslow, who graduated with degrees in molecular biophysics and biochemistry.
“When he starts to speak . . . some guys might not think along with him,” Farrell said.
No. 5 back on the field
Nomar Garciaparra threw out the first pitch to Jarrod Saltalamacchia . . . Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell, who helped triage patients at the finish line and at Boston Medical Center after the Marathon bombings, sang the National Anthem . . . The Red Sox handed out red towels with the “B Strong” logo to fans entering the park . . . light rain started falling when the Red Sox were taking batting practice. The Red Sox cleared their pitchers off the field rather than risk somebody slipping on the wet grass and twisting an ankle . . . Former Red Sox infielder Lou Merloni joined Joe Castiglione and Dave O’Brien on WEEI for the game. Merloni will work all home games for the remainder of the postseason . . . Former Red Sox infielder Jose Iglesias received a cheer from the crowd when he was introduced with the Tigers before the game.Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.