I like Clay Buchholz. I know he’s had a bit of a checkered past, and some fans seem to either love him or hate him for the fact that he has a girlfriend who is quite attractive. And, a good number of fans have no problem with him whatsoever, but would also have no problem were he to be traded for Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.
Those three issues aren’t quite an issue at all to me (though if he were to be dealt to San Diego for a certain hulking first baseman, that wouldn’t be so bad.) What is at issue is that, speaking as a baseball fan first, he’s fun to watch. He’s tall and lanky, looking as if his erector-set elbows and knees could come undone at any moment, spilling his appendages out of his uniform and onto the base of the mound in a cluttered mess.
And, when he’s on his game, he has four pitches that can baffle opposing hitters, and at 25 years old, is at just the right age to have all the ability in the world, and not be old enough to realize he should really be more cautious with his arsenal.
Tuesday night, he was certainly on his game. The Red Sox’ bullpen was in dire need of a break, and sure enough, Jonathan Papelbon, Daniel Bard and Hideki Okajima wouldn’t even be available. And with a staff struggling as greatly as the Sox starters, a strong showing would go along way toward quieting an insane fan base and giving the whole team a pick-me-up.
Buchholz took the mound as he always does. Which is to say, he looks like he’s always a little shocked and just a tiny bit terrified to be there in the first place. He’s gangly, his hat always looks a little too big, his hair peeks out in weird places from under the sweatband. He squints in at Victor Martinez behind the plate, shoulders slumped forward, mouth open just slightly, as if he’s trying to read along with the catcher’s signs.
He nods, his shoulders swing back, his body whirls around, and his long, 12-to-6 motion delivers a ball that buckles some unsuspecting Toronto Blue Jay at the knees, resulting an awkward swing that pops a lazy ball back to Marco Scutaro at short stop. After giving up a run in the first, Buchholz is cruising, and another batter is left to think about his next at bat, his possible demotion or the next round of free agency in the fall.
Buchholz was throwing a gem, and in the eighth inning, Adrian Beltre suffers a mental breakdown and tosses a grounder to third long past Kevin Youkilis at first and into right field, settling Blue Jay Vernon Wells in at second base with one out.
Toronto has new life, and Buchholz, with the same look in his eye as in the first inning, looks in, and strikes out Lyle Overbay on four pitches. Old friend Alex Gonzalez doesn’t fare much better, lifting a fly ball to center field to end the threat of a tie and the inning. Ramon Ramirez makes quick work of Toronto in the ninth, and the Sox have a 2-1 win under their belts.
It wasn’t just a solid performance by an exciting young arm, it was the kind of game that draws me back to baseball like a fiend. This was the rarest of games, the ones that seem to exist in a vacuum, clear of division races, trade rumors and the blood-curdling screams of talk radio. A battered bullpen provided something of a back story, but that was a distant second to what was going on.
Tuesday night, Clay Buchholz went out and pitched a hell of a game. He was so much fun to watch that he became all that the Red Sox ever were or have ever been. In front of a four-fifths empty SkyDome (or whatever they call it these days), he just took the ball on his day to throw, and he threw. And threw. And threw, to the clip of a season-high 117 pitches. The only thing that could’ve made it even better and more old school would have been if Terry Francona had let him go out for the ninth to finish what he started.
But not everything operates within a vacuum. With Ramirez in to pitch, thoughts of pitch counts, inning totals, tired bullpens, the next turn in the rotation and, ultimately, a tough battle with New York and Tampa Bay for the division came back to the forefront. Ramirez threw a tidy inning, the Red Sox had a win, and I went to bed happy.
And it wasn’t just any old win. For eight innings, Buchholz wheeled through the Toronto lineup, growing up before our eyes while keeping his youthful and seemingly confused frame on the mound. He looked to not have a care in the world, and that gawky windup looked fantastic on every toss.
All the other thoughts that cloud a baseball season came back. But my first was on making sure to watch every start he makes for the rest of the year.