First pitch: Buchholz is Red Sox' king of the hill

791700.jpg

First pitch: Buchholz is Red Sox' king of the hill

MIAMI -- It may not have been how the Red Sox planned it, but two-and-a-half months into the season, Clay Buchholz is the team's best starting pitcher.

Such a notion would have been laughable only a few weeks ago, when Buchholz owned an ERA north of 8.00. But over the last four turns through the rotation, Buchholz has made the convincing case.

Tuesday night, with little backing and even less margin for error, Buchholz performed brilliantly, limiting the Miami Marlins to a single run over seven innings.

And while Buchholz may have had to pitch out of trouble late in the game, the key may well have come in the first inning.

For the second night in a row, Miami shortstop Jose Reyes began the game with a triple to right field and stood on third base, representing an almost inevitable 1-0 lead for the Marlins.

But Buchholz conceded nothing. He proceeded to strike out the next three hitters -- Omar Infante, Hanley Ramirez and Giancarlo Stanton -- each of one of them swinging at a third strike.

It was an impressive display of might by Buchholz, who would go on to rack up nine strikeouts, a 2012 high.

It also seemed a declaration of sorts. Knowing how little the Sox offense had provided of late -- it had averaged a paltry 3.1 runs per game over the previous eight games, seven of them losses -- Buchholz would not permit the opposition to take so much as a one-run, first-inning lead.

"I thought it was real big,'' said Bobby Valentine afterward. "It was a confidence builder for Buchholz and it probably took a little bit out of them. It's not like our offense came alive, but at least we knew we had a chance.''

"It was big,'' said Buchholz of his escape. "It was a pretty tough situation.''

Buchholz barely resembles the same pitcher of his first seven or eight starts this season. In April and through the first few weeks of May, Buchholz appeared tentative on the mound, perhaps not entirely convinced that the stress fracture in his lower back, which had robbed him of the final half of last season, had not fully healed.

"The first few weeks were pretty tough,'' he acknowledged Tuesday night. "I was down. I think anybody would be down. No one wants to give up runs and put their team in a losing situation. I had to find a way to get past that, and battle through it. I knew that I had done it before, so it wasn't going to not happen for me; it was just going to take a little bit of time coming off the injury.''

The turnaround has been fueled by an adjustment and a discovery. Buchholz changed the grip on his changeup a handful of starts back and it has gradually returned to being the weapon it was when he emerged in 2010 as one of the game's most promising starters.

But before the changeup returned, Buchholz stumbled upon another option with the help of teammate Josh Beckett, who suggested Buchholz experiment with a split-finger fastball.

"It's a pitch that I can, when my real changeup isn't there, puts another pitch in the hitter's mind,'' said Buchholz. "It's been a good pitch when I've thrown it. It's still new, I'm still working on it. But it's been a big pitch a few times for me.''

Mostly, Buchholz has been big for the Red Sox for the past month. While Jon Lester shows a continuing tendency to give back leads and Beckett can't seem to pitch well enough to win close games -- four wins in a dozen starts -- Buchholz, reagrdless of where he sits within the rotation, is the team's true No. 1.

Pedroia leads Red Sox to 11th win in a row, 3-2 over Rays in 10

red_sox_rays_pedroia_092516.jpg

Pedroia leads Red Sox to 11th win in a row, 3-2 over Rays in 10

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Dustin Pedroia used nifty baserunning to score from first base on David Ortiz's double in the 10th inning and the AL East-leading Red Sox beat the Tampa Bay Rays 3-2 on Sunday for their 11th consecutive win.

Pedroia singled off Eddie Gamboa (0-1) to start the inning. The relay throw on Ortiz's hit to right center beat Pedroia to plate but he avoided Luke Maile's first tag. Pedroia's momentum carried him past the plate and when he went back to touch it, Maile was charged with an error when the ball dropped out his glove on another tag try.

Pedroia hit a solo homer and Mookie Betts extended his hitting streak to 11 games with an RBI single for the Red Sox, who secured at least an AL wild-card spot Saturday night. Boston's magic number to clinch the division title dropped to two.

Joe Kelly (4-0) went 2 2/3 scoreless innings for the win.

Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez struck out a career-high 13 in 5 1/3 innings. The left-hander and Heath Hembree combined to strikeout 11 consecutive batters to establish a major league-record. The New York Mets held the previous mark when Tom Seaver struck out 10 in a row against San Diego on Apr. 22, 1970.

Boston also set a club record by striking out 21 through nine. Kelly added two more in the 10th.

There was a moment of silence before the game for Miami pitcher Jose Fernandez, who was killed in a boating accident early Sunday. Fernandez played high school baseball in nearby Tampa, Florida after defecting from Cuba.

The Rays planned to honor Ortiz before his final game at Tropicana Field but canceled the ceremony at Ortiz's request after Fernandez's death. He had three hits in five at-bats and moved past Frank Thomas for 107th place on the career list with 2,469 hits.

Ortiz has 35 homers and 90 RBIs at Tropicana Field, which is the most of any visiting player. Alex Rodriguez is next with 30 homers and 73 RBIs.

HONORING BIG PAPI

Rays 3B Evan Longoria and RHP Chris Archer informally presented Ortiz with an oil painting of his 500th home run, which he hit at Tropicana Field last season. Ortiz was also given 34 special handmade Diamond Crown Maximus cigars and $5,000 donations in his name to the Miracle League of St. Petersburg, Florida and the University of South Florida Latino scholarship program.

UP NEXT

Red Sox: Ortiz will play at Yankee Stadium for the final time during a three-game series against New York that starts Tuesday night. "Playing baseball in New York is something that is very special," Ortiz said. LHP David Price (17-8) will start for the Red Sox Tuesday night.

Rays: LHP Drew Smyly (7-11) will face White Sox RHP James Shields (3-11) Monday night in the first of four games in Chicago.

© 2016 by STATS LLC and Associated Press.

 

Ortiz, Red Sox express shock, sadness over Fernandez's death

boston-red-sox-david-ortiz-jf-16.jpg

Ortiz, Red Sox express shock, sadness over Fernandez's death

Like the rest of the baseball world, the Red Sox expressed shock and sadness over the tragic death of Marlins ace Jose Fernandez, who was killed in a boating accident in Miami. 

David Ortiz tweeted his thoughts before the game Sunday in St. Petersburg, where the Red Sox played the Tampa Bay Rays.

There was a moment of silence for Fernandez - who attended high school in the Tampa area after defecting from Cuba at 15 - before the game at Tropicana Field, and before all major league games on Sunday. 

There was to be on-field ceremony for Ortiz before his last game at the Trop, part of his retirement farewell tour, but it was canceled at Ortiz's request. A video tribute to Ortiz was shown during the game and the Rays gave Ortiz his retirement gifts privately.

Ortiz wiped away tears during the moment of silence. He wrote Fernandez's intitals and his uniform number 16 on his cap.

Fernandez had joked about how he wanted to give up a home run to Ortiz when he faced him as an N.L. pitcher in the All-Star Game this past July. 

"I told him yesterday that I am going to throw him three fastballs down the middle. I want to watch him hit a home run," Fernandez had said. 

Ortiz ended up walking against Fernandez, prompting this response from Big Papi:

First baseman Hanley Ramirez, who played for the Marlins, as well as other Red Sox players, also tweeted their reactions after hearing the news of Fernandez's death Sunday morning.