Clay Buchholz shows off ace stuff

BOSTON -- Yes, the Olympics are on. And God knows, there are few things as entertaining as a Patriots practice, judging by the crowds they're attracting.

But be advised that the Olde Towne Team seems bound and determined to engage your attention again, just when you might have been tempted to write them off.

The Boston Red Sox made it three straight wins Monday night by beating the Detroit Tigers, 7-3, and in doing so heralded the arrival of a staff ace.

Unexpectedly, they also lost an outfielder: Ryan Sweeney, after grounding out in his last at-bat on an 0-for-4 night, punched a door near the dugout exit and injured his left hand. He is expected to go on the disabled list, a team source said, and the Sox will be adding an outfielder for Tuesday's game.

The Red Sox had been engaged in trade talks for Sweeney, most vigorously with the Cincinnati Reds.

Clay Buchholz, after nearly searing a hole in his food pipe last month, has returned from his bout with esophagitis to deliver three straight dominating performances. Austin Jackson hit Buchholz's second pitch of the night for a home run and Quintin Berry followed with a double. But Buchholz stranded him there, then limited the Tigers to four more hits and two more runs, one earned, in going eight innings. That's the third straight start in which he has pitched at least seven.

In that span, Buchholz has allowed four earned runs for an ERA of 1.57. A modest sample size, you say? Indeed. But going back to May 27, before he was sidelined almost a month (June 19 to July 14), Buchholz has a 2.44 ERA in nine starts. Only eight big-league pitchers have a lower ERA in that span.

"It's obvious that I thought he was spectacular," Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said. "He got his ball down, threw great off-speed stuff. Really good changeup, curveball, cutter, and gave us eight great innings."

The Red Sox, who have given up more runs in the first (87) than any other inning, quickly responded, Jacoby Ellsbury setting the tone by drawing a nine-pitch walk off Tigers starter Max Scherzer. Carl Crawford tripled high off the wall in left-center, Dustin Pedroia followed with an RBI ground out, and the Sox had their first lead three batters into their night.

The Tigers tied it in the third on Omar Infante's triple and a single by Miguel Cabrera, but with the bases full of Tigers, Buchholz induced a double-play ground ball from Delmon Young. After that, Buchholz clamped down, limiting the Tigers to an unearned run in the seventh, when Brennan Boesch reached on a throwing error by catcher Kelly Shoppach after striking out, and Alex Avila doubled him home.

Pedroia, flexing his muscles like the buff Tim Tebow, whose picture hung in Pedroia's locker in Yankee Stadium, smacked a two-run home run to break the tie in the sixth, Shoppach tripled and scored on Ellsbury's single in the seventh, and Will Middlebrooks followed Adrian Gonzalez's single in the eighth by crushing his 13th home run, a line drive off the left-field light tower.

"Me and Shopp had a pretty good flow going tonight. There wasn't a lot of shaking off tonight," Buchholz said. "So I think that was the guy that had a lot to do with it."

Shoppach has caught each of Buchholz's past seven starts, a clear indication that Valentine likes the pairing, and also a compelling argument for the Red Sox to hold onto the veteran backstop past Tuesday's trading deadline.

How potent was Buchholz's mix Monday? He threw 10 or more each of changeups, curveballs, cutters and splitters, and 11 of his 14 swings-and-misses came on his offspeed stuff.

At the top of his game?

"I feel good," he said. "It's just that you've got to have a little bit of confidence, and going out there and throwing well just builds confidence and adds to what you already had. So it definitely feels good.

"Everything feels in sync right now, and that's the working part of it. You've got to find a way, in the four days in between, to keep yourself where you're at and not lose anything."

It should come as some relief to Buchholz that fellow Texan Josh Beckett will not be traded before Tuesday's deadline, according to a team source. Buchholz seemed resigned to the possibility a move could happen, a prospect he did not welcome.

"I don't think anybody here wants to see him go," Buchholz said. "He's one of the main pieces of the foundation here. He has a track record, he's still one of the best pitchers in baseball.

"He's still that same pitcher that these guys signed and he's a guy that everybody gets along with in the clubhouse too. That's an organizational decision, that's no players' decision."