Buchholz takes one for team and shines

BOSTON -- Clay Buchholz's cutter was impressive Saturday against the Twins.

So were all of his other pitches.

But what was most impressive about Buchholz's performance in the Boston Red Sox's 4-0 victory at Fenway Park was the maturity and tenacity he showed.

The right-hander endured a 2-hour, 7-minute rain delay between the bottom of the second and the top of the third innings, pushing himself through five innings, blanking Minnesota on two hits in a 61-pitch gut check that included one walk and six strikeouts.

Granted, the injury-ravaged Twins feature one of the weakest offenses in the majors, but Buchholz's stuff, combined with his determination to take some pressure off the Boston bullpen, was more reminiscent of his All-Star 2010 campaign than his inconsistent beginning to 2011.

Buchholz was aware that the Sox bullpen did not have any long relievers available because of recent games that featured a 13-inning marathon and a short start.

So the 6-foot-3, 190-pounder did all he could to stay loose during the delay, which kept stretching longer and longer as the weather forecast kept changing. Buchholz played catch with catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia in a batting cage behind the Sox dugout every now and then, and got stretched out by the training staff until it was time to resume the game.

After a quick session of long toss and then a brief bullpen workout, Buchholz was back on the hill more than two hours after the game had been halted. And he was still dealing, keeping the Twins off-balance as he mixed in every pitch in his arsenal, leaving with a 2-0 lead.

His game effort was rewarded, as relievers Rich Hill, Matt Albers, Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon each threw a scoreless inning and a two-out, two-run single by Jacoby Ellsbury (16-game hitting streak) in the eighth cemented the victory, which snapped Boston's three-game losing streak.

"It takes guts to take the ball after two hours," said Saltalamacchia. "Usually after two hours, they don't let you go back in."

Saltalamacchia was right, of course. In this day and age of pitch counts and treating pitchers' arms with extreme caution, it was unusual for a manager to allow his starting pitcher to return after such a delay. Minnesota's Ron Gardenhire did not bring back his starter, Brian Duensing.

But Boston manager Terry Francona had his reasons.

"He has an extra day [an off day Thursday] before his next start, and we cut him short [on 61 pitches], but it is a lot to ask," said Francona. "But if we didn't use Buck there, we have to use somebody else [out of the bullpen] too much."

After five innings, which qualified Buchholz to get the win if the Sox managed to stay ahead, Francona decided his pitcher had done enough.

"I wanted him to have a chance to get a win but not at the expense of his health," said Francona.

Buchholz, meanwhile, was doing what he could on two fronts -- saving the bullpen and helping Boston win a game.

"I needed to go out there and throw. I didn't want to tax the bullpen; I wanted to try to help out," said Buchholz, who won for the third time in his past four starts, improving to 3-3. "They've had a couple of rough days at it. I wanted to throw as many innings as I could before Tito [Francona] would take the ball from me."

So Buchholz said he went into the cage "three or four times" and threw 15 to 20 pitches each time in an effort to stay loose. Saltalamacchia got down in his catcher's crouch for those games of catch, but only because of the netting that hangs low in the cage.

"It was kind of like throwing on flat ground from a short distance, about 20 feet," Saltalamacchia said of the mini-sessions.

Once the tarp started to come off, Buchholz went back onto the field and found he was loose enough to continue. And Buchholz, who had thrown only 29 pitches over the first two innings -- a low total that was another reason he was allowed to continue by the Sox -- might have been even better after the delay than before. That's saying something because he was dynamite in the first two innings.

"He was lights out," Saltalamacchia said of Buchholz before and after the delay. "He hit the glove wherever I put it."

Buchholz agreed it was his best performance of the year.

"It was the first time all year I was able to throw all my pitches for strikes," said Buchholz. "You don't go out there every day and have that kind of stuff. It was a luxury. I was able to throw different first pitches for strikes. I felt I could have kept going, but the Red Sox are looking out for me."

And with Buchholz looking out for his teammates in the bullpen, and throwing the way he did in his All-Star season, it was a winning combination for the Red Sox, who were in serious need of the victory.

Steve Krasner is a contributor to ESPNBoston.com.