HOUSTON — Clay Buchholz grew up about 90 miles east of Houston in a town named Lumberton. But until Sunday, he never had pitched at Minute Maid Park. His only experience there consisted of a few innings in a high school all-star game at shortstop.
It was a memorable first impression as Buchholz pitched one of the best games of his career in an 11-0 victory for the Red Sox against the Houston Astros.
With his parents, wife, and a few dozen other friends and family watching from the stands, Buchholz allowed three singles without a walk and struck out a career-best 12. He needed only 109 pitches for the fifth shutout of his career.
Buchholz retired the final 17 batters he faced, eight by strikeout.
“Always did want to pitch here. That was a lot of fun,” he said.
The Red Sox have won four of five but go into the All-Star break at 43-52. They were 58-37 after 95 games last season en route to a World Series championship.
“The biggest disappointment is our record,” manager John Farrell said. “There are a few things that contribute to that. The biggest surprise is collectively to the level that we’ve produced runs.”
That wasn’t a problem Sunday. The 11 runs were a season high for the Red Sox and their 16 hits matched their most this year. If not for five double plays, the Sox would have scored even more than they did.
Brock Holt, who played at Rice University in Houston, was 5 for 6 with a home run and two runs scored. He was 10 of 15 in the series, improving his batting average to .327.
“I’m glad the break is coming up because the rest will be good for everybody. But we’re playing pretty well the last few days,” Holt said. “Hopefully it’s going to carry over.”
Rookie catcher Christian Vazquez continued to impress, going 2 for 4 with a double and two RBIs. He has five hits and five RBIs in his first three games, all victories.
Buchholz (4-5) pitched the kind of game that should create some optimism for the Red Sox for the remainder of the season. He had unerring command of his curveball and changeup and good velocity on his fastball, hitting 92 into the ninth inning.
That he was facing the inexperienced Astros has to be taken into account. But Buchholz looked like the pitcher he was last season when he made the All-Star team.
Buchholz has a 2.73 earned run average in four starts since coming off the disabled list. He has struck out 23 and walked one over 29⅔ innings.
“There’s been steady progression with each start that’s made,” Farrell said. “Command is where it all starts. He’s gained better feel for his curveball and his changeup, [and] it’s allowed him to make his fastball that much more effective. He’s moving in the right direction.”
Vazquez, who caught Buchholz during his rehabilitation assignment with Triple A Pawtucket, worked seamlessly with him.
“He’s really good right now and he’s going to be a great catcher,” Buchholz said. “He’s got really strong hands. He can catch the fastball down in the zone and sticks it. I got some low strike calls today because of it. If I don’t get those calls that might extend the inning for them and have a couple of more runners on base. He did a great job.”
An unusual first inning ended with the Red Sox leading, 1-0.
Holt, who has been the team’s best hitter since his return to the roster in mid-May, led off with a home run, pounding a full-count fastball from Brad Peacock into the second deck in right field.
It was the third home run for Holt and the first leading off a game for the Sox this season.
Dustin Pedroia followed with a single before David Ortiz walked and Daniel Nava was hit by a pitch with one out. Astros manager Bo Porter pulled Peacock out of the game after only 27 pitches.
Anthony Bass came in and ended the inning in two pitches, getting Jackie Bradley Jr. to ground into a double play.
The Sox would hit into three more double plays by the time the fifth inning was over. But they led, 6-0, thanks to the kind of relentless offense that has been missing most of the season.
Bradley continued his hot streak with an RBI single in the third inning right before fellow rookie Xander Bogaerts had a sacrifice fly that made it 4-0.
The Sox loaded the bases with no outs in the fifth against Josh Zeid, the fourth Houston pitcher. Bogaerts grounded into a double play as the Astros got an out at the plate. But Stephen Drew walked and Vazquez singled to drive in a run.
A throwing error by Houston All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve allowed another run to score.
Vazquez had a sacrifice fly in the seventh inning. Ortiz then drew a walk with the bases loaded for his eighth RBI in the last five games.
Mike Carp added a two-run triple in a three-run ninth inning.