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The Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians continued their four-game series Wednesday night at Progressive Field. The Red Sox had won both of the first two games of the series and were going for the series victory. On the hill for the Red Sox was Clay Buchholz, who coming into the game was tied for the AL lead with eight wins and second in the AL with an ERA of 2.39. He was opposed by former-Red Sox prospect Justin Masterson, who has struggled mightily since coming to the Cleveland Indians. Both pitchers were coming off of recent victories, with Buchholz’s complete-game shutout dwarfing Masterson’s 5.2 innings of one run ball.
The Indians took an early lead on a series of small ball plays. They scored in the first on a sacrifice fly, the third on a double-play grounder, and the fourth on a wild pitch from Buchholz. That was all they could do, but it was more than enough. The Red Sox could do nothing with Justin Masterson, who did an excellent job of pitching to contact. He induced sixteen ground-outs, two of which went for double-plays.
In the eighth inning everything went awry for the Red Sox. The Red Sox bullpen, in dire straights between injury and overuse, faced off against 14 total Indians batters. Neither Red Sox pitcher pitched effectively, giving up numerous walks and hits. The inning was punctuated by a Travis Hafner grand slam. By the time the inning was over, the Indians had put up eight additional runs and the game was out of reach. Masterson finished the game with a 1-2-3 inning, and the Red Sox lost, 11-0. Masterson took the win, Buchholz the loss.
There’s not much to say about the Red Sox offensively. They were hurried at the plate and swung early and often. Against a pitcher like Masterson, who can pitch with great movement on his pitches, this was deadly. The Red Sox hit into ground out after ground out and never got anything going at the plate. The only players to hit were Victor Martinez and J.D. Drew, and both hit for mere singles. The only other Red Sox hitters to even reach first base were Jeremy Hermida and Kevin Youkilis, who did so via the walk.
In nine innings, no Red Sox hitter got past first base. In games like this, you have no choice but to tip your cap to the opposing pitcher and admit that he got you. The Red Sox were utterly defeated by Justin Masterson on Wednesday.
The stats for this game would suggest that Clay Buchholz pitched a quality start. He went seven innings and allowed just three earned runs on three hits. His four walks, however, hurt him greatly, as he struggled with control all night long. His pitches were too often low and out of the zone, and the Indians hitters remained patient, drawing walks when the opportunities presented themselves. While Buchholz’s speed was not an issue, his control was, and his secondary pitches just weren’t there tonight. Despite all of this, Buchholz did an adequate job of keeping the Red Sox in the game, and on most nights three runs in seven innings probably equals a win.
The problems came from the bullpen pitchers, Boof Bonser and Joe Nelson. Bonser failed to record an out and could barely throw a strike. Nelson threw some strikes, but they were all hit by the Indians. The bullpen gave this game away, and they did nothing to inspire confidence.
Who are these pitchers? Boof Bonser? Joe Nelson? When did the Red Sox bullpen become the spot injured pitchers go to rehab and recover? The Red Sox are far too competitive a team to be wasting their time with pitchers who can’t record outs. This was a winnable game until the bullpen got involved, and then it was all over in the eighth inning. Now, the Red Sox were UNLIKELY to win this game, having had no success hitting Masterson or driving up his pitch count up to that point. But all the same, the Red Sox must have reliable pitchers in the ‘pen if they want to win games. This wasn’t a bad start for Buchholz, it just wasn’t good enough. Still, a team that can hit as well as the Red Sox might’ve been able to overcome the deficit had it remained at just three runs. But on came the bullpen and and the game got out of reach. We can only hope one or both of these pitchers gets designated for assignment. A pitcher who can’t pitch has no place on a team trying to claw its way back into the playoff race.