BOSTON -- Clay Buchholz knew he'd be playing a dangerous game, especially against an aggressive bunch like the Royals. But the alternative would be hard to live with.
His choices: Stay around the plate against a bunch of free-swingers, as he had for his previous four starts since coming off the disabled list; or nibble, and run the risk of commiting self-inflicted wounds in the form of free passes.
Buchholz picked the former, and the results were a mixed bag. He was hit hard at times, and he allowed four earned runs on 10 hits in six innings. But for the fourth time in his last five starts, he did not allow a walk, and he managed to keep damage to a minimum in tricky innings.
Thanks to the help of some timely hitting from his teammates in the sixth, Buchholz came away with his fifth win of the season when the Red Sox beat the Royals, 5-4.
"The walks, it's not like I'm out there thinking about not walking somebody," Buchholz said. "It's just the teams that I've faced coming off the DL have been really aggressive teams and when they're swinging, you know you have to bear down with them and throw 0-2 locations off the bat rather than just throw fastballs down the middle for strike one.
"It's good not to walk anybody. It makes it a little tougher to be out there when the walks are scoring. If they earn their way on to the base and they score that way, it's a little easier to swallow."
Red Sox manager John Farrell praised his righty starter for being able to stay around the plate and stick with his game plan, regardless of how many hits he gave up.
"He's been outstanding I think," Farrell said. "One walk allowed in the five starts he's made. That's a good aggressive swinging team. He was on the plate so they're going to get some hits, but he didn't compound things by issuing any base on balls and potential additional runners.
"He's confident that he's going to execute the pitch. He may miss location inside the strike zone, but still he's been in a much better place in these five starts."
Since figuring out his delivery during a rehab assignment and being activated from the disabled list, Buchholz is 3-1 with a 3.28 ERA.
After winning his second consecutive start -- he pitched Boston's last game before the All-Star break in Houston -- Buchholz now also has the distinction of becoming the first Red Sox pitcher to start and win consecutive games in a season since Don Schwall did it on July 9 and July 13 in 1961, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
Buchholz was knocked around early after striking out Lorenzo Cain to start the game. Omar Infante's double was followed by a second-pitch RBI single off the bat of Eric Hosmer. After a hot-shot line-drive out on the first pitch to Salvador Perez, Buchholz got some help from catcher David Ross, who caught Hosmer trying to steal second.
In the fourth there was more trouble for Buchholz. He gave up four consecutive hits and two runs to start the inning. But with two on and no out, he got two ground-ball outs that saved runs on quick-thinking plays from Dustin Pedroia and Mike Napoli -- one was a rundown play that cut down Alex Gordon in between third and home -- to help put out the fire.
"While Clay was in the midst of [the Royals] bunching hits against him," Farrell said, "we were able to make some good heads-up decisions on the infield and prevent further runs from scoring."
"It was tough," Buchholz said. "They were swinging. I was trying to get ahead in the count, and they were swinging at all the pitches I was trying to get ahead in the count with and hitting them. We made a couple of good defensive plays that inning too to minimize the damage, and that's key is to minimize damage in those situations and not give up four or five runs in that inning."
Buchholz stuck with his plan and stayed aggressive in the fifth -- in which he gave up one more run on a Hosmer RBI single -- and sixth. His outing wasn't pretty by any standards, but he didn't beat himself, and he gave his teammates just enough to put a comeback within reach.
The way the game ended -- with the Red Sox knocking Royals ace James Shields from the game in the sixth inning, Jonny Gomes hitting a go-ahead home run, and the Red Sox bullpen posting zeroes the rest of the way -- gave Buchholz a familiar feeling.
"It happened last year," he said. "Same team . . . It's fun to sit in the dugout and be around a group of guys that obviously want to come back, but have the skill to actually do it against the pitcher they had out there tonight."