CHICAGO -- Before each game, a detailed scouting report of that night's opposing pitcher is placed on the stool in front of every Red Sox player's locker.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that was not the case in Wednesday night's 6-2 win over the White Sox, in which undefeated Clay Buchholz raised his record to 7-0 despite an apparent case of Chicago chicanery.
Whatever the bottom four hitters in the Red Sox order were given, it could not have been the skinny on White Sox left-hander Hector Santiago, who was pitching on three days' rest because Chicago ace Chris Sale had been scratched with a case of mild tendinitis in his shoulder.
Daniel Nava, Will Middlebrooks, Stephen Drew and Jarrod Saltalamacchia faced Santiago for a total of nine at-bats: Nava three times, the others twice apiece. The first eight at-bats produced the same outcome: a strikeout. Nava fouled out to first in the last one.
Someone obviously left substitute reading material in place of the scouting report. The leading suspects are menus from Lou Malnati's Pizzeria, final exams from nearby Illinois Tech, or liner notes from Chicago Symphony maestro Riccardo Muti.
Who made the switch? Well, it can be reliably reported that el hombre grande, 87-year-old Minnie Minoso, was spotted in the tunnel of U.S. Cellular Field Wednesday afternoon, and he was smiling. White Sox officials say that's Minnie's normal demeanor, but conspiracy theorists know better.
Subterfuge? What do you think? Once Santiago departed after the sixth inning, a semblance of normalcy returned. Nava drew a walk to load the bases in the eighth inning. Middlebrooks followed with a sacrifice fly to right that padded Boston's lead by a run. Drew walked. And after a passed ball scored another run, Saltalamacchia struck out, but in his defense, he also fouled a pitch painfully off his instep before going down swinging (plus, he'd singled in his previous at-bat).
In the ninth, Nava broke the game open with a two-run single.
Besides, Buchholz didn't need any more help than he got from David Ortiz in the first inning, when Papi took a one-handed swing and plinked a ball into left field for a two-run single, the hit scoring Jonny Gomes, who had been hit by a pitch, and Dustin Pedroia, whose fly ball into the left-field corner fell safely for a double.
In the same inning, Papi also stole third base for the first time in his career, though his derring-do on the bases went unrewarded. It did, however, guarantee that Terry Francona will have something to say about it if someone thinks to ask him Thursday in Fenway Park.
The White Sox scored once off Buchholz, Tyler Flowers coming around to score after an infield hit, a walk and two ground-ball outs in the third. Flowers was the only White Sox runner to advance past second base in Buchholz's seven innings.
He gave up just five singles, all to lead off an inning. He walked three. Saltalamacchia threw out two would-be base stealers after throwing out one in 19 previous attempts this season. The Sox turned a double play.
Buchholz became the first Sox pitcher to open 7-0 since Josh Beckett opened 7-0 in 2007 en route to the only 20-win campaign of his career. Matt Moore of the Rays and Patrick Corbin of the Diamondbacks are the only other pitchers who have won at least seven without losing so far this season.
Buchholz has made 10 starts this season, and in only one of them has he allowed more than two runs. He has held the opposition scoreless three times, to one run twice. He has gone at least seven innings in all but one of his starts, and his ERA is now a league-leading 1.71, less than half the league average ERA of 4.14.
Thus the Sox return home from this three-city swing with a 6-3 record on the trip and a half-game behind the Yankees in the AL East. The Sox will be further buoyed by slumping leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury, who reached base four times Wednesday on two singles and two walks, and by the return of closer Andrew Bailey, who gave up a two-out home run to Paul Konerko in his first appearance since April 28.
They open a four-game set with Tito's Tribe, the Indians the unexpected leaders of the AL Central. Expect hugs, wisecracks, references to Millsy and Pedey, and a standing ovation for Francona. Just don't expect the Sox to show him any quarter.