There was no music or joking or smiles. The only noise in the Red Sox’ clubhouse after their 2-1 loss Tuesday night to the Chicago Cubs was the sound of water hitting tiles in the showers.
The mood was cheerless, the players speaking of confidence and belief and not becoming overcome by frustration.
In the middle of the room, Clay Buchholz stood in a black T-shirt, hat on backward, hands in the pockets of his jeans. He characterized the atmosphere: understated, quiet, left wanting more and better.
Buchholz (3-4, 6.22 ERA), in his second start back from a dubious trip to the DL after a well-documented poor start to the season, was effective but not stellar against the Cubs, still distant from his oft-mentioned performance in 2013, when he was 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA in 16 starts. On Tuesday he pitched 6⅔ innings, allowed five hits and one run, struck out two batters, and hit two batters. He threw 100 pitches.
“Felt pretty good with just about all the pitches I threw,” said Buchholz, who matched his season low for runs and threw his first quality start since May 15.
“This is the second straight start since being activated,” manager John Farrell said, referring to Buchholz’s win against the Seattle Mariners last week, when he pitched 7⅓ innings and gave up seven hits and four runs. “He’s pitched very well. Into the seventh inning with one run allowed, getting to a pitch count that he hasn’t gotten to for the better part of this year. I thought he had good stuff. Probably one of the better fastballs he’s had the entire season. I thought he threw a number of really good curveballs.”
Buchholz said the only changes he’s made have been mechanical.
“That was the only thing I had to alter to try to move forward,” he said. “It’s tough going out there and having to do that and have to think of two or three different things while pitching in a game. The step back to try to get everything back to square one — it looks like it was the best decision. I’m confident when I go out there. I feel like I can throw all my pitches for strikes.”
Against the first batter of the game, Cubs left fielder Chris Coghlan, Buchholz threw seven pitches — three fastballs, three cutters, and a curve — and Coghlan singled to right field. Buchholz then induced a double play from designated hitter Ryan Sweeney before hitting first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Finally, he struck out shortstop Starlin Castro to end the early threat. The inning, in which Buchholz threw 21 pitches, both embodied and foretold the rest of the pitcher’s night: He would have to work hard, and there would be bumps, but the damage was minor.
Buchholz allowed no runner to reach base in the next four innings, mixing in a changeup with the fastballs and curve.
He said his fastball was effective and improving.
“It felt good today,” Buchholz said. “Still battling a little bit with the two-seam, but it’s a process — you sort of got to wait it out. The power to it, the angle, felt as good as it’s felt all year.”
The run came against Buchholz in the sixth inning. Cubs center fielder Justin Ruggiano doubled to right field, and second baseman Darwin Barney followed with a single to center. Ruggiano scored two pitches later on a fielder’s choice.
In the seventh inning, after Castro singled to left field past a diving Xander Bogaerts, Buchholz got third baseman Luis Valbuena to ground to second. Castro advanced to second on the play, then third on a passed ball by catcher A.J. Pierzynski. Buchholz hit Wellington Castro on his 100th pitch. His night was over.
“We’re in a situation where we’ve got to get some help in the seventh inning, which [Andrew] Miller came in and did a great job,” Farrell said of Buchholz’s reliever, who struck out the next two batters to end the threat.
Two innings later, Koji Uehara allowed the game-winning run, but Buchholz said he’s not worried about the closer’s form.
“You can’t not give up a run every time out,” Buchholz said. “As far as I’m concerned, he’s the best closer/reliever in the game.”
Earlier, when asked about the differences between last week’s start and Tuesday’s, Buchholz said, “I didn’t give up four runs,” and that response seemed the best way to illustrate the Red Sox’ night.