The stubborn resilience of Clay Buchholz

Clay Buchholz is still dealing, intermittently.

Clay Buchholz is still dealing, intermittently.

By all other accounting of my likes and dislikes in baseball, I shouldn’t enjoy Clay Buchholz as much as I do.

He has been famously inconsistent in his career, showing the ability to be among the very best pitchers in the league at times, unable to get to the mound at others, totally lost on said mound in between. He takes a long time to deliver the ball to the plate, he occasionally gets obsessed with runners at first and sometimes he’s finicky with his catchers.

He’s reliably unreliable, walking that line between ace and bottom-of-the-rotation fodder like it was a tightrope, occasionally spilling off and falling onto a trampoline below, only to spring back up.

But when he springs up, he can be a force, and that was the case again last night as he shut down the loaded Toronto Blue Jays lineup in one of the many games the Red Sox can’t afford to lose if they want to stay relevant in the 2015 pennant chase.

As he is so often in Toronto, he was a rock again, going eight innings and surrendering only one run to a team hitting .265 as a team and leading the American League with a .775 OPS and 421 runs scored. It gives the Red Sox four wins in their last five games and serves as a reminder that there’s still baseball worth watching this summer in New England.

Watching last night’s game was to watch the best of Buchholz. He’d get the ball back from catcher Sandy Leon, look in, nod and fire home another strike, one to be lazily caught by Xander Bogaerts at shortstop or adventurously tracked down by Alejandro De Aza in left field. If anything ever felt dangerous, like Josh Donaldson lone sixth-inning RBI, it was quickly tempered by another flair of the fire extinguisher. In just 96 pitches, Buchholz saved the bullpen and kept the Sox breathing.

Amid the inevitable trade talk that will surround a last-place team with valuable players, he’s recently come out and said he doesn’t want to go anywhere. And with more options on his contract, he probably isn’t going anywhere. That much should have been evident by the ridiculous shaved-sides haircut he adopted in a bout of team building.

But he is hard to pin down. He’s had any number of strange haircuts. He has a long, loping delivery. Sometimes he looks like he doesn’t belong on the field and sometimes he looks like the second coming of Bert Blyleven.

Maybe that’s why I’ve always liked him. It’s not so much the highs he reaches as it is the way that he can so often spring back up to grab them. No one knows when it’s coming, but he’s always interesting.

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