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The Boston Red Sox had momentum coming into Sunday’s home game against the Toronto Blue Jays, having won Saturday night in extra innings when Jed Lowrie deposited an 11th inning pitch into the right field bullpen. The last thing they wanted was rain but, unfortunately, that was what they got. Sometimes it came in drizzles, sometimes in downpours. But rain was the constant. It washed out the 1:35 PM start time for the game and, as the afternoon drifted on, it looked like it might wash the game out entirely. However, around 2:45 the rain started to lighten up. It never stopped completely but, faced with a quickly-shrinking schedule, the umpires and both teams decided it would be better to at least TRY and play the game rather than face a potential double-header. So, after a 1:44 minute rain delay, play began.
The Red Sox sent ace Clay Buchholz to the hill, looking for his efiftenth win. The Blue Jays countered with11-6 Shaun Marcum. Both were coming off excellent starts, with Buchholz throwing seven scoreless innings against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and Marcum throwing a complete game of one-hit, one-run baseball against the Oakland Athletics. Both started strong, but only Buchholz finished strong.
There was an evident pattern in the opening innings of Sunday’s game. In each of the first three innings, Buchholz walked the lead-off batter. He would then settle down and get out of the inning without giving up a run (although he did give up a few hits, all singles). In the second, he struck out the side while pitching around a lead-off walk and a two-out single. Shaun Marcum, meanwhile, set the Red Sox down 1-2-3. He looked absolutely dominating, and it looked like it was going to be a long day for Red Sox hitters. However, the rain reached unplayable intensity in the top of third inning with one Blue Jay on and two out.
A 59-minute rain delay followed, and when the game resumed, Marcum was not the same pitcher. He pitched a 1-2-3 fourth inning, but then he began to tire. David Ortiz crushed an 0-1 pitch in the fifth to deep center and, thanks to the always-challenging angles of the wall in center field, the ball bounced around enough to let Big Papi leg out a triple. It was his first of 2010, much to the delight and amusement of his teammates. On the very next pitch, Adrian Beltre doubled to left, driving Ortiz in. Later in the inning, with two outs and Beltre at third, Bill Hall hit a towering shot to left that went over everything and landed in the parking lot across the street. The fifth inning ended with the Red Sox up 3-0, and that would be all they’d need.
Buchholz pitched through the sixth, allowing no runs. The Red Sox bullpen then covered the final three innings, allowing just one hit (an infield single), a walk, and a hit-batter. The Red Sox also scored two insurance runs in the eighth on successive RBI singles from Victor Martinez and David Ortiz with two men on. The Red Sox finished the game victorious, beating the Blue Jays 5-0. Buchholz picked up his fifteenth win (now tied for second place in the AL with several other pitchers), and Marcum was hit with his seventh loss.
While Bill Hall’s two-run home run punctuated the fifth inning, it was David Ortiz who really set the tone for the Red Sox offense. He went 2-4 Sunday with an RBI and a run-scored. His batting average now sits at a completely acceptable .283. As more and more mainstay Boston players go down to injury, Ortiz has emerged as a second stabilizing force in the lineup, along with Adrian Beltre. He has proven he still has life in his legs. He can hit when called upon and, given the right opportunity, can even still run. Ortiz triples may be as much due to luck as anything else (Ortiz can hit it deep and double with ease, but to triple, the ball has to take an odd-enough bounce that it takes an extra-long time for the outfielder to get to it), but when they happen they can’t help but inspire. The other five Red Sox hits Sunday (seven total) were evenly distributed among five players: Victor Martinez (1-4 with an RBI), Adrian Beltre (1-4 with an RBI and a run scored), Mike Lowell (1-3), Bill Hall (1-3 with two RBIs and a run, all via his fifth-inning two-run home run), and Ryan Kalish (1-3 with a double and run scored). The offense was not on except for two innings but, when combined with good pitching, sometimes that’s enough. The Red Sox took advantage of tired Blue Jays starters and relievers, and they did more than enough to win.
Throwing six innings of shutout baseball is commendable. Throwing such a shutout against the Blue Jays, who’ve hit more home runs than anyone else in the MLB, is even more impressive. But throwing a six-inning shutout against the Blue Jays when you’ve had to warm up twice and wait through an hour-long rain delay in the middle? Well, that’s borderline amazing! And that’s exactly what Clay Buchholz did on Sunday. He threw six innings of shutout ball, giving up just five hits (all singles), walking three and striking out seven. He has now won five straight decisions and has not allowed an earned run in his last three starts. His scoreless-inning streak now sits at a whopping 23 1/3 innings.
With Buchholz first in the AL in ERA (2.26), second in wins (15), and third in winning percentage (.750), it is time to start bringing his name up when talking about the Cy Young award. In a season marked by a boring team without compelling characters or stories, the emergence of Clay Buchholz as the pitcher we always hoped he could be has been the exception. Without the rain delay and extra warm-up pitches, he likely could have gone past the sixth (he was only at 97 game pitches at that point).
The bullpen also pitched well. Special props go to Felix Doubront, who pitched the final two innings of the game, only allowing an infield single and a hit-batter while striking out two. He has proven himself to be an able member of the Red Sox relief corps.
The Red Sox won Sunday. Unfortunately, both Yankees and the Rays also won, meaning that the Red Sox gained ground in neither the divisional nor Wild Card races. This is the problem with being as far behind as they are: gaining significant ground is difficult. The Red Sox have six games left against both the Rays and the Yankees. Without a sweep in at least one of those three-game series, Boston will likely miss the playoffs for the first time since 2006. Sunday night was a gutsy performance by the best starting pitcher on the 2010 Red Sox. A couple more, and some losses by his competitors, and we might get a Cy Young silver lining to the cloudy and dismal season of the 2010 Red Sox. Cloudy and dismal; kind of like the weather Sunday.