BOSTON -- Despite the end result of another extra-inning loss for his team, Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz could take away a few encouraging signs from the past two times he’s taken the mound.
After he struck out eight Angels in eight quality innings the past Saturday, Buchholz upped his game against the Houston Astros on Friday night by striking out nine batters in seven two-run innings, only to leave with another no-decision. The Red Sox eventually lost 5-3 after 10 innings.
“Probably the two best outings I’ve had on the season,” Buchholz said of his recent efforts. “I can take a lot of positives out of it. But the main goal and focus is to win, and it didn’t happen.”
Although one could argue Buchholz’s 12-strikeout, three-hit shutout of the Astros on July 13 was clearly his best outing of the season, Friday represented a similarly impressive effort. Despite facing early trouble in the second inning after he put runners on the corners with no outs, Buchholz escaped the jam with a strikeout and double play grounder to keep the game from spiraling early on.
After the Red Sox scored two runs in the bottom of the fourth via Yoenis Cespedes’ first career Fenway Park home run, Buchholz quickly shut down the Astros with back-to-back strikeouts to begin the fifth, before he surrendered three consecutive singles to give up a run.
Although Buchholz’s slightly laborious sixth inning brought him to 101 pitches on the night, manager John Farrell entrusted him with the seventh, a decision that seemed the right one until the last batter.
With two outs, Astros leadoff man Robbie Grossman jumped all over a first-pitch cutter from Buchholz for a home run into the right-field corner and tied the game at two. It was a similar fate to what Buchholz suffered at the hands of Mike Trout’s game-tying home run with one out in his last inning of work Saturday.
“[It] looked like he was ether sitting on it or it was the location he was looking for so he barreled it up,” Buchholz said. “It happens. ... [I] felt pretty good throughout. If it wasn’t for that home run in that last inning, I felt like we would have had a better chance of winning.”
Although the Red Sox once again grabbed the lead in the bottom of the seventh to put Buchholz in line for the win, a bizarre base-running play in the eighth gave the Astros a chance in the 10th to win it on Jake Marisnick’s two-run, ground-rule double.
Overall, Buchholz was complimentary of his curveball -- with which he notched four of his nine strikeouts on Friday and mixed in frequently -- as the reason he’s had so much success in his past two starts.
“Last two times out, I’ve been able to throw curveballs behind or ahead in the count for strike one, or 2-0 -- flip a curveball there for a strike,” Buchholz said. “That’s how I pitched last year, just haven’t really been able to do it a whole lot this year. Last two times have been reminiscent of the 12 to 13 starts that I made at the beginning of last season.”
Farrell expressed similar praise of Buchholz’s curve and highlighted the pitch and his strike-throwing ability as the keys to yet another strong outing.
“Clay was outstanding once again,” Farrell said. “He was crisp, he had a very good curveball to put hitters away with, to lead guys off with strikes. A lot of strikes overall -- he was very efficient. Unfortunately, it seemed like they didn’t let up when they got two outs, and that’s where they were able to score pretty much all five of their runs -- with two outs here tonight.”