BOSTON -- Clay Buchholz showed not only outstanding stuff Saturday at Fenway Park, looking more like the All-Star pitcher he was last year than the inconsistent starter he has been this season, but he also displayed mental toughness and perseverance in working five shutout innings a 4-0 Boston Red Sox victory over the Minnesota Twins.
Buchholz endured a rain delay of 2 hours and 7 minutes between the bottom of the second inning and the top of the third.
The right-hander zipped through the first two innings, silencing the Twins on one hit, an infield single. He needed only 29 pitches to notch those first six outs. Then, with the Sox bullpen depleted the past few days, manager Terry Francona sent Buchholz back out to the mound for the third inning.
Buchholz reportedly stayed loose by throwing simulated innings in the tunnel behind the Boston dugout during the lengthy rain delay.
And when he returned to action, he still had the sharp cutter and pinpoint control with the rest of his arsenal. He surrendered only one more hit, a single, and blanked the weak-hitting Twins for three more innings before Francona lifted Buchholz, who left with a 2-0 lead.
Buchholz, who was 2-3 with a 4.81 earned-run average this season after going 17-7 with a 2.33 E.R.A. last year, walked one and fanned six. He threw 61 pitches in a gutsy performance that at least kept Francona from having to go to his bullpen, which didn’t have a true long reliever because of recent mound circumstances (long games, short starts), until the sixth inning.
Thanks to the bullpen quartet of Rich Hill, Matt Albers and Jonathan Papelbon, who each threw an inning, not to mention a two-out, two-run single by Jacoby Ellsbury (16-game hitting streak) in the eighth, Buchholz was rewarded with his third win in his past four starts.
HEATING UP? -- On Friday night, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez went down for a low pitch and drove it the other way, hitting one of the signs over the Green Monster for an impressive home run. On Saturday, Gonzalez turned on a pitch and drilled a rifle shot over the head of right fielder Jason Kubel for a ground-rule double. While his average has been relatively steady this season, those two shots illustrate how locked-in Gonzalez is beginning to feel at the plate.
“He’s got such great leverage,” said manager Terry Francona before Saturday’s game. “That [home-run] swing [Friday night] was a beautiful swing.”
“I found something on my last swing [Thursday, a flyout], and it’s something I wanted to take into [Friday’s] game,” said Gonzalez after Friday night’s 9-2 loss. “It’s getting there. I’m feeling a lot better. I’m hoping I can continue it [Saturday].”
His hot hitting continued in his first two at-bats Saturday. In his first at-bat, against left-hander Brian Duensing, Gonzalez again went the other way, hitting the ball right on the button but lining out to left fielder Rene Tosoni. Then, after the rain delay, he pulled the double off right-hander Kevin Slowey. Gonzalez, who recently signed a seven-year, $152-million contract extension with the Red Sox, wound up going 1-for-4 for the day, including a pair of whiffs. On the homestand, Gonzalez is 10-for-34 (.294) with 6 runs scored, 3 doubles, 2 homers and 7 RBIs. His overall average is .303.
HEATING UP, PART 2? -- Don’t look now, but Carl Crawford, who signed a seven-year, $142-million deal as a free agent in the offseason, has crept over the Mendoza Line for the first time all season. Crawford’s batting average jumped above .200 when he laced a single to left in the fourth inning Saturday, stretching his season-best hitting streak to seven games. He went 2-for-4, and lined out once. He is 11-for-27 (.407) in his streak. Over his past 13 games, Crawford is batting .320 (16-for-50), boosting his average from .135 to .210.
GETTING WARMER? -- Slumping Dustin Pedroia got a hit. In fact, he will go into Sunday’s game on a hot streak -- he’s 1 for his past 2. OK, so maybe his seventh-inning single through the left side isn’t an indication that he is about to become white-hot at the plate. But Pedroia hit the ball sharply twice Saturday and also walked once. His hit temporarily put a halt to his skid, but Pedroia is only 8 for his past 57 (.123).
BAD PLAY, GOOD PLAY -- When Justin Morneau hit a bouncer up the middle with two outs and none on in the first, it looked like the inning was over. Boston shortstop Marco Scutaro took a step or two to his left, cleanly gloved the ball and took his time in executing the crow hop and throw to first, figuring he had plenty of time to throw out Morneau, who does not run particularly well. But Morneau busted it out of the batter’s box, running hard. It was a bang-bang play at first and umpire Chad Fairchild gave the hustling Morneau the benefit of doubt over the nonchalant Scutaro. Fairchild called Morneau safe, though replays made it appear as if the throw did nip the Minnesota first baseman. The play had to be scored a base hit because it wasn’t as if Scutaro bobbled the ball. He couldn’t be charged with a physical error, but it was a mental error on Scutaro’s part. Scutaro redeemed himself in the second. He made a diving play, stopping a grounder from getting up the middle and then, while on his stomach, he made a one-hop glove flip to second baseman Dustin Pedroia that nailed Michael Cuddyer on a close play for the final out of the inning. Scutaro also went 2-for-3 at the plate.
DICE-K RETURNS -- On Sunday, Daisuke Matsuzaka (2-3, 4.33) will be making his first start since April 29, when he had to leave the game in the fifth inning because of tightness in his right elbow. Matsuzaka has pitched since then, however. He threw 20 pitches and took the loss in the Boston's 5-3, 13-inning defeat against the Angels on Wednesday. He had been scheduled to start Friday night’s series opener but was pushed back a few days to Sunday. He will be opposed by former Sox phenom Carl Pavano (2-3, 5.84).