Clay Buchholz: Welcome to your defining moment.
Your teammates have put you in this ominous position. Pitch well and the playoffs continue. Pitch like Rick Porcello and David Price did, and you’re going to be able to watch the Clinton-Trump debate in peace and quiet.
If ever there was a time to show baseball that you’re still a top-echelon pitcher, it is now. Some smarty pants is probably thinking, “Yeah right. Clay Buchholz to save the day? Clay Buchholz to the rescue? Clay Buchholz to do what a 22-game winner [Porcello] and a former Cy Young winner [Price] couldn’t do?” There may not be a lot of logic in the thinking that he could do it, but what logic was there in the Indians beating two pitchers who combined for 39 regular-season wins?
There wasn’t much logic in that at all. So why should we apply any here?
Is Buchholz capable of beating the Indians? Of course. Is he capable of laying an egg? That too. The fact he’s pitching at Fenway in a do-or-die situation, before what should be an electric crowd, should amp up the moment for the usually calm Buchholz. We’ve seen throughout his career that when he starts to pitch well, he tends to stay on a roll. This is no time for that good pitching karma to end.
So Red Sox Nation turns its desperate eyes to Buchholz after Porcello and Price let them down. It would be embarrassing for the organization if the Red Sox were swept by former manager Terry Francona, who has a very good team, but one few expected to beat the Red Sox given the Indians’ injury situation with two of their top pitchers — Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco — unavailable.
“Like I’ve said before, everybody goes through some struggles at some point at the end of the year,” Buchholz said. “You know mine were a little bit [more] extreme than others, but that being said, we’re all here to win games, to play for a championship and whenever things are going wrong, especially in this atmosphere, this environment, this organization, you’re expected to be really good every time out and sometimes that can pile up on you,” Buchholz said.
It was Dustin Pedroia who predicted a couple of months back when Buchholz was at his lowest that Buchholz would pitch a meaningful game before the season ended. Well, here it is.
“I thought in my mind I would be on the mound in a deciding game as well,” Buchholz said. “It was a little far-fetched at one point this year, but you know, I’m still here. So I’m excited for the opportunity.”
Francona did a great job in Game 1, getting as much as he could out of Trevor Bauer, who was pitching on three days’ rest, and then strategically using Andrew Miller in parts of three innings — the fifth, sixth, and seventh — to combat the meat of the Red Sox order.
And then in Game 2, who knew Corey Kluber would turn into the 2014 Cy Young Corey Kluber? He had suffered a mild quad strain in his final regular-season start and it was thought he might not be able to push off properly. But he surprised everyone. He was his dominant self.
So Buchholz now has to act as the stopper and hope the Sox’ offense can find itself at Fenway much like the Indians’ offense found itself at Progressive Field. Yes, Buchholz will need help, but he has to help himself. No meatballs allowed. No pitches over the plate that Carlos Santana or Mike Napoli can drive over the Monster.
Buchholz, 8-10 with a 4.78 ERA, has never won a postseason game, but he should have. He’s 0-0 with a 4.21 ERA in five postseason starts. He should have won his first postseason start in Game 3 of the 2009 ALDS against the Angels when he pitched five strong innings and allowed just two earned runs. The Red Sox wound up losing, 7-6, and were swept when Jonathan Papelbon blew the game and the series.
“As for myself, it’s go out and make quality pitches. Like I said, this game is no different. It’s just on a little bit bigger stage and to get to the next stage, you’ve got to win three of these next five games. We won 11 in a row at one point. I think we’re set up in a good enough spot to do it again,” said Buchholz, who will face Josh Tomlin, his Angelina College teammate in 2005. Tomlin was a shortstop; Buchholz a pitcher.
Buchholz doesn’t think he’ll change his approach. He’ll come at it from the stretch, but also incorporate a windup now and then.
“We have our backs against the wall. We’re also at home and we have our fans behind us,” Buchholz said. “If we win one game, that puts some momentum back in our favor, and that’s all you can ask of your guys to go out and play hard and for me to go out and throw a good ballgame. Everybody knows what kind of team they have on the other side. If you have to pitch around a couple of guys at some point, do that and don’t give in and try to keep your team in the ballgame. If we’re able to do that with our offense, I think I like our odds.”
The odds seem stacked against Buchholz, but sometimes a player fights his way out of those odds and makes a command performance.
It will take all that. And maybe more in what will likely be Buchholz’s defining moment.