BOSTON -- It's never a good night when the most significant action in a Yankees-Red Sox game takes place at the hospital.
But that was the case Friday night, when Boston Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz left the game in the fourth inning complaining of elbow tightness and was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital for further testing, including a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) exam.
The 5-1 loss to the New York Yankees in the opener of this three-game series leading up to the All-Star break stung. It ended Boston's four-game winning streak and marked the fifth straight loss the Yanks have inflicted on the Sox. The Bombers, who took a 1-0 lead on Alex Rodriguez's 17th home run in the first inning and led wire to wire, have also beaten the Sox five straight times here at Fenway. Since Aug. 2, 2014, the Yanks are 8-1 in Fenway, a record that begs for a reprise of Pedro Martinez's "The Yankees are my daddy" utterance back in the day.
But the loss of Buchholz for any measurable length of time would have far more lasting consequences for the Sox this season. The Sox survived his absence in 2013, when he got off to the best start of his career (9-0, 1.71 ERA through 12 starts), then was shut down for three months with what was originally diagnosed as a neck strain and then called shoulder bursitis, which might have been a symptom of the rotator cuff damage he had.
But on that team, Buchholz was cast in a supporting role to Jon Lester and John Lackey. On this team, he has been carrying a staff that only recently has righted itself after stamping itself as the majors' worst rotation for the better part of three months. In his last 10 starts, Buchholz had a 5-2 record and 1.99 ERA, and had pitched seven or more innings in eight of those starts.
"At first, he was throwing the ball really well," Leon said. "The last pitch he threw was a cutter, which is normally 88, 89. The last one was 85. He called me and said there was something with his elbow.
"I said to him, 'You've got to be smart. We’ve got three months to go. I'll call John [Farrell]."
The Red Sox manager and trainer Rick Jameyson immediately came to the mound for what turned out to be a very brief conversation before Buchholz walked off the mound with the trainer.
"He was really straight," Leon said. "He said, 'My elbow is really tight and I don't want to keep going.'
"I hope he’s OK. I hope he can [miss] one week, two weeks, he'll be back in the rotation."
The Red Sox have seen it go both ways when a pitcher walked off the mound with an arm injury. Back in 2013, in his first start coming back from Tommy John reconstructive surgery, Lackey clutched his arm in agony in Toronto and immediately came out of the game, with catcher David Ross saying he was "praying" for him. But the injury proved to be more benign than it appeared -- a biceps strain that sidelined him for three weeks. He returned to the rotation April 28 and did not miss a start the rest of the season.
But just days after Lackey returned, newly acquired closer Joel Hanrahan also walked off the mound clutching his elbow. In his case, the injury was season-ending. He'd torn his ulnar collateral ligament and required Tommy John surgery.
Farrell warned that it was premature to speculate on Buchholz's condition.
"There’s some tightness, some stiffness in the elbow area," Farrell said. "He's undergoing the full workup with imaging. Until we get any further information, that’s all we have right now."
Farrell said Buchholz did not feel the effect of one particular pitch, even though Leon noted the last cutter the 30-year-old right-hander threw to Drew had a significant drop in velocity.
"Actually, from field level, the way he was throwing the baseball, he had good action on all his pitches," Leon said.
Farrell said Buchholz told him about the stiffness he was feeling in the elbow.
"[He] didn't feel like he could push through it at that point," the manager said.
Buchholz's durability has long been a subject of scrutiny in Boston. He has never made 30 starts in a season, nor pitched 200 innings, due primarily to the fact that he has been on the disabled list in each of the last five seasons. In 2011, he was shut down on June 19 with a stress fracture in his back and missed the rest of the season. In 2012, he had a frightening case of esophagitis -- which he acknowledged at the time was caused in part by his use of Toradol, a potent anti-inflammatory medication -- that sent him to the emergency room with internal bleeding. That sidelined him for three weeks. Then came the shoulder issue in 2013, which left him pitching in the postseason with velocity that barely cracked 85 miles an hour.
Farrell said he could not recall Buchholz ever having an elbow issue.
"Any time a player comes off the field, you've got concern for him and his health is a priority," Farrell said. "We'll take every measure to get information for him."