BOSTON -- When Clay Buchholz and Mark Buehrle squared off May 1 in Toronto, it was a mismatch. Buchholz, before accusations of doctoring the baseball temporarily clouded his early success, was on an absolute roll. The veteran Buehrle was at the top of the list of the big-name additions that were either hurt or struggling mightily for the Jays.
A 10-1 Red Sox win simply reinforced that separation. But so much has changed in the past 10 days.
While Buchholz was solid in a no-decision Saturday against Toronto, Buehrle -- who has often struggled at Fenway Park -- sparkled, allowing just one run in seven-plus innings to provide a sellout crowd with a bit of an unexpected pitcher's duel and to further support the assertion that the Red Sox offense is not what it was in April.
It is actually a shame that the bullpens figured so prominently in the final result. Darren Oliver took over for Buehrle with a man on in the eighth and almost immediately blew a 2-0 lead, and Boston closer Junichi Tazawa served up a go-ahead solo shot to Adam Lind in the top of the ninth. This one really should have been all about Buchholz and Buehrle.
"Both guys settled in and pitched extremely well on both sides," Boston manager John Farrell said. "Seemed after the second inning Buehrle really settled into a very good rhythm. As we know, he works fast. Lived on the edge the whole game."
On the other side, John Gibbons has been waiting for more positive results from guys like Buehrle, although he seemed to sense this kind of performance was coming.
"He was changing spots, changing speeds, had everything going," Gibbons said. "There were no mistakes. They say Mark's always been a slow starter but kicks it in when May gets rolling. Buchholz was good. It was one of those ballgames where it was unfortunate it got away."
Indeed, May has traditionally been a strong month for Buehrle. He sports a 3.35 ERA in 68 career starts during the month. Buchholz has also been a better pitcher as the season wears on (9-1 with a 2.49 ERA in June), and Saturday served as a nice recovery from his first nonquality start Monday against Minnesota. But unlike the last time he opposed Buehrle, there was no margin for error, and RBI singles in the third and fourth left Buchholz with a bit of regret.
"Felt pretty good about it but left a couple of pitches up early with runners in scoring position," he said. "They were able to put the bat on it. I've got to make better pitches at that part of the game."
Buchholz did begin to make better pitches, and the duel really took off once he got a 4-6-3 double play to escape the fourth. He would allow only a walk and a single over his final four frames, keeping the Sox in it long enough to rally in the eighth.
Buehrle, meanwhile, retired 13 straight until walking David Ross to begin the rally.
"It was one of those days I had the majority of my pitches working," Buehrle said. "Down in the zone and when I did miss they didn't make me pay for it. A big part of this game is luck, and I had that on my side today."
Luck, and 10 days of rather dramatic changes in Boston. The Sox have averaged just over three runs a game since that 10-1 pounding of Buehrle and the Jays. They are hitting .179 with runners in scoring position in that stretch. Several big bats have hit the skids. Meanwhile, the veteran lefty in Toronto seems to have found his form.
It all adds up to Buehrle ever-so-slightly outdueling Buchholz, a scenario that seemed impossible earlier this month when the former was a poster boy for Toronto's struggles and the latter was the symbol of Boston's phenomenal start.