Clay Buchholz struggles again in Bay

OAKLAND -- Three trips to the Bay Area this season, and it's as though all Clay Buchholz saw was the inside of Alcatraz. Nothing but punishment.

Friday night, the Oakland Athletics tried to pronounce the death sentence on Buchholz's chances of winning the American League's Cy Young Award. They chased the Sox ace with no outs in the second inning, five runs having already crossed the plate, while their own Cy Young contender, Trevor Cahill, coasted to a 5-0 win.

"Kind of flat,'' Red Sox manager Terry Francona said of Buchholz. "Four walks and never able to establish any sort of rhythm. ... Just wasn't a good night.''

One start does not define a season, but Buchholz's three outings here this summer have proven calamitous and could eventually mean an empty space on his mantel. On June 26 in San Francisco, Buchholz strained his left hamstring running the bases in the second inning, went on the disabled list and missed three starts.

He returned to the rotation on July 21 in Oakland, and lasted just two batters into the fifth inning, charged with a yield of five runs.

On Friday night, he was hit with another five-spot and was lifted by Francona in what became the shortest start of his career, not including the injury-shortened stint in San Francisco.

By the time he was through, Buchholz's ERA no longer led the American League, having inflated from 2.25 to 2.53. That now ranks second to the Seattle Mariners'Felix Hernandez (2.30).

"I feel like I've been off for seven days,'' said Buchholz, who was penciled in to pitch on three days' rest against the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday, wound up with an extra day's rest against the Athletics and said he felt "jumpy" in his delivery.

"Didn't really feel comfortable in the bullpen throwing, so I had to go at 70 percent down there to try and stay under control," Buchholz said. "Then in the game, adrenaline kicks in and I'm trying to throw some pitches, make pitches better than I needed to make them.

"The ones I missed, they hit 'em. I really didn't think I got hit all that hard. When I missed, they put the ball in play and found some holes.''

Cahill, meanwhile, pitched seven scoreless innings, allowing just three hits, to run his record to 16-6 and drop his ERA to 2.61. Cahill's night could not have begun more fortuitously, as former Sox outfielder Coco Crisp climbed over the center-field fence to take a home run away from Sox leadoff man Ryan Kalish. It was the kind of play Crisp made with regularity in Boston when he was healthy.

Crisp did his best to remind the Sox of better days, reaching base four times on three singles and a walk, stealing three bases and scoring once. He was still running with the Athletics ahead, 5-0, in the seventh, stealing second, which in the baseball code comes pretty close to unnecessarily rubbing it in. It remains to be seen whether Saturday's Sox starter, John Lackey, elects to make Crisp uncomfortable in the batter's box on the morrow.

Crisp lined a single past shortstop Jed Lowrie to become the first of five consecutive Oakland hitters to reach base against Buchholz in the first. Crisp took off for second on the first pitch for his first steal, Daric Barton walked, and Kurt Suzuki doubled both home. Jack Cust walked and Mark Ellis dropped a perfect bunt down the third-base line to load the bases.

"Suzuki, I felt good with the pitch that I threw [him], I think it was down,'' Buchholz said. "It might have been closer to the middle of the plate than I wanted to, but he went down and got it. That's just the way it goes. Not a good day.''

Jeremy Hermida, picked up by Oakland after his release by the Sox on Aug. 31, grounded into a double play as a third run scored.

Buchholz, who struggled with his command all night (39 pitches, only 17 strikes) went walk, single, walk, single to open the second and was done.

"I felt really good, felt my velocity and stuff was there, but I couldn't find the strike zone on a consistent basis," Buchholz said.

Four Sox relievers -- Dustin Richardson, Michael Bowden, Robert Coello and Robert Manuel -- shut out the Athletics on three hits the rest of the way. But the Sox had only one base-runner advance as far as third the entire night against Oakland.

As for the Cy?

"I'm not worried about the whole Cy Young deal,'' Buchholz said. "I'm worried about this team winning games. Not a good night to go one-plus out there."

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.