While Hanley Ramirez & Rick Porcello have had comeback seasons from a year ago, Boston Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz comes back to championship form now.
The race has been red-hot for the American League East division title. Two games stood between the Red Sox and the troubled Toronto Blue Jays and the inconsistent Baltimore Orioles, before last night’s matchup with the surging New York Yankees. Every game counts at this point in the season; each loss could mean disaster. And, while prodigals sons Porcello and Ramirez have made comebacks from a disasterous 2015, Boston has seen the re-emergence of another one of their own who had lost his ways.
The difference is that Buchholz’s comeback came within the second half of this year, with so much riding on his performances.
Each time Buchholz took the mound, the Red Sox have been risking their playoff lives on a 32-year-old righty pitcher with control problems and, seemingly, mental fragility. On September 11th, in his last start, Buchholz got the hook after just three innings, allowing six earned runs on four hits against the Blue Jays in Toronto. His saving grace is the fact that Buchholz threw a great game against the San Diego Padres the start before that, allowing only one earned run on eight hits and six strikeouts in 6.2 innings.
His performance last night was just as big, as both the Blue Jays and the Orioles won their respective games. Buchholz went six innings, allowing only two earned runs on seven hits, two walks, and two strikeouts. Out of the 93 pitches that he threw, 60 were for strikes. Buchholz induced four groundballs, including two timely ones that served up for two double plays to get him out of two jams.
Even Han-Ram has been impressed. According to Deesha Thosar of MLB.com, Ramirez complimented Buchholz, saying, “He’s been doing a pretty good job. The good thing about him is his personality. He’s always the same guy in the clubhouse.” Concerning the amount of pitches Buchholz threw, Hanley stated, “That’s all we need. Keep us in the game, give us a good outing.”
Red Sox manager John Farrell had even more praise: “He’s come up big […] With the exception of one start, he’s been six innings and low runs, even no runs allowed. He looks comfortable on the mound. Pitching from the stretch has been a major adjustment for him to allow for some consistency, particularly with men on base.”
It’s not just big, however, it’s been unbelievable. Especially when one puts into context the season that Buchholz has had. He’s been demoted to the bullpen from the starting rotation multiple times this year. At one point, the only thing that was keeping Buchholz from being run out of Boston was the Red Sox president of baseball operations, Dave Dombrowski. He said months ago that Buchholz would be “protection” for the starting rotation, when many people thought that the trade could not come fast enough for a Buchholz move. Instead, the trade deadline came and went with Buchholz playing his role as a reliever.
That move is what saved Buchholz. It gave him a chance to prove himself, when so many people had given up on him. When many of the Red Sox relievers were bleeding runs, not to mention injuries to closer Craig Kimbrel and former closer Koji Uehara, Buchholz was doing the job by holding opposing teams to a .198 batting average. Buchholz is only second to Kimbrel in that department.
It kept Buchholz around long enough for one of the other starters, Steven Wright, to get hurt, thereby freeing a spot for him to try to protect the team. Much of Red Sox Nation would sit and fret about what disaster Buchholz would unleash from his hand with every pitch, even though he hadn’t done so in months. Every hit that came off of him would bring about fans’ paranoia that Buchholz’s mental state would then crack on the mound before their very eyes, forgetting that this was the same man who went 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA to help win the 2013 World Series for Boston.
The last two years were not kind to Buchholz, posting a combined record of 15-18 with a 4.30 ERA. For the first two months of this season, his ERA was passed six runs. One can see why Red Sox Nation had reason to worry. However, taking out the blip in Toronto for a moment, Buchholz has only given up eight runs in five of his last six starts. In three of those games, he only gave up one run apiece.
Buchholz is doing his job, keeping the Red Sox in every game that he pitches, whether as a starter or as a reliever. If he keeps this kind of performance up, Red Sox Nation will need to thank him for his services, especially if it helps them win their fourth World Series in 12 years.