BOSTON -- The Red Sox are one win away from returning to the World Series for the first time since 2007. First, though, they must face Max Scherzer in Game 6 on Saturday night at Fenway Park and then, if necessary, Justin Verlander in Game 7 on Sunday. While the Sox won both games started by the two right-handers already in the series, can they do it again?
If so, they will need Clay Buchholz at his sharpest on Saturday. The Sox escaped with a win in Game 2, with Scherzer starting for the Tigers and Buchholz for the Sox, when the Tigers bullpen had a meltdown. In that start, though, Buchholz was far from his sharpest.
Buchholz’s regular season presented a sharp dichotomy: The pitcher who was nearly flawless in 16 outings, going 12-1 with a 1.81 ERA, and the pitcher who spent three months on the disabled list with lingering neck and shoulder injuries. So far his postseason performance has given rise to questions of health or fatigue. He has gone a combined 11 2/3 innings in two starts, giving up eight runs on 15 hits and three walks with 11 strikeouts, three home runs, a wild pitch, and a hit batter. The Sox have won both games, but he has two no-decisions with a 4.80 ERA.
“I think every game this time of year is a big one,” manager John Farrell said. “He'll have the benefit of having recently faced this lineup. And he's also had a chance to watch not only [Jon] Lester pitch Game 1, but [watched him in Game 5]. I think he learned some things watching John Lackey the other day [in Game 3] with some pitch selection and areas in which to try to exploit or execute to. And I know he's ready and primed when Saturday gets here.”
Buchholz believes he has learned by watching the recent outings by his fellow starters.
“I told [Farrell] that in the dugout after Lack came out of the game, because that's one of the reasons Lack is here,” Buchholz said. “It's easy to learn from somebody that's been through and experienced it in the past.
“Just the way he worked the counts, was able to get his curveball in for a strike on a consistent basis. I didn't throw too many curveballs last time out. If you have a feel for that pitch, I think that's a good pitch for the group that's as aggressive as the Tigers are. There are multiple things I can do differently, and I definitely want it to go a little bit better.
Four of the five runs Buchholz gave up in Game 2 came in the sixth inning, when he allowed two home runs -- a solo homer by Miguel Cabrera and a two-run shot by Alex Avila.
Asked if he thinks Buchholz is dealing with some fatigue, Farrell replied:
“Well, he gave up a three-run homer to a pretty good hitter in [Evan] Longoria [in the ALDS], which he didn't get a pitch to a certain spot. I don't think it's just a matter of fatigue. Consistency to execution against these types of lineups is never more important. And when you mislocate, you're going to pay the price. And he has in that four-run inning the other night, where in the matter of 11 pitches it was four runs on the board. And recognizing that the momentum, particularly the momentum inside an inning is what's got to be kept under check a little bit more, and particularly in Clay's situation.”
But facing a lineup that can be as formidable as the Tigers for the second time in a short time span presents its own special challenges, Buchholz acknowledged. He will have to make adjustments.
“There's quite a few, less for them but more for me,” he said. “Pitching in your division multiple times you could see guys, they know what pitches I throw. I know what their hitters’ tendencies are. It's all about control command of each pitch. And then if that goes well, then being able to put them away in the counts that you need to be able to put them away in.
“This is what baseball is all about. There's four teams still playing. We're one of them. And being put in the situation, losing the first game at home, and being able to come back and get that win in Game 2, it made it a lot less stressful to come out here and play here in their home turf for three games. There's a lot that goes into it, but I'm excited to get back out there, and it feels like it's been three weeks since I pitched. Doing all the work in between right now, trying to find ways to get better.”