BOSTON -- Nine starts into his season, it's as if a flip was switched for Clay Buchholz. In reality, he finally has a grip on things. After a no-decision in Baltimore on May 21, his ERA was a bloated 7.84, he had walked as many hitters as he had struck out and he was averaging more than a homer allowed per start. There was talk that he might be sent back to the minor leagues. At the very least, his spot in the Red Sox starting rotation seemed in jeopardy. Ever since then, however, Buchholz has looked much more like the pitcher who showed such great promise in 2010. Buchholz tossed a complete game shutout Thursday night against the Orioles, and over his last three starts, he's compiled a 1.50 ERA. He's averaged eight innings in those starts and has 19 strikeouts in his last three starts. Buchholz attributes the turnaround to a different grip on his changeup, which can be his best pitch. "The changeup is a big pitch for me,'' said Buchholz after the Red Sox blanked the Orioles, 7-0. "I'm able to throw that to get back into the count or get ahead in the count. The only adjustment was the grip. I think my grip was a little off. I've been able to free that up a little bit. It's just been a pitch that we've tried to work on for a long time and I noticed it wasn't the same grip that I had in past years. "Now it's coming back.'' So, too, is Buchholz. Through the first nine starts of the season, he had pitched through the seventh just once; in his last three outings, he's made it through seven each time. And thanks in part to the changeup, his strikeout totals are up. In his first nine starts, Buchholz never fanned more than five. In his last three starts, meanwhile, he's fanned at least six. Thursday's effort was his best yet. He threw 125 pitches, a season high, but was in command until the end. "It was spectacular,'' said an appreciative Bobby Valentine of his starter's outing. "He had all of his pitches from the get-go. I thought his changeup and his arm speed on his changeup was spectacular. He threw some splits and his curveball was very active. "When you have control of the fastball and you're throwing in 93-94 mph, the changeup, split and curveball, you've got a good chance of winning.'' Valentine noted that the movement on Buchholz's pitches has induced hitters to swing early in the count, giving the pitcher a big advantage. "They don't want to get behind with that curveball that he has,'' said Valentine. "When you're talented and your stuff's working for you, it's easy to be confident because it's tough to hit that stuff.'' A few weeks back, there wasn't much success and even less confidence. But thanks to some work and adjustments, Buchholz has that swagger back on the mound. "This game's not easy,'' said Buchholz. "There's a lot of guys really good at this game who struggle. And there's a lot of guys who are really, really good who don't struggle. It's been a few slight adjustments and trying to focus on the next pitch instead of what just happened to the last hitter.''
David Ortiz has hit 507 career homers during the regular season. Some of them have won games. Some have come in extra innings, sending the Red Sox to immediate victory.
But it's doubtful that Ortiz has hit a homer that's meant more to an individual fan than the one he hit Friday night against the New York Yankees.
Former teammate Kevin Millar told Ortiz about a young boy named Maverick who has been battling a life-threatening illness. The two sent Maverick a video before Friday's night game that closed with Ortiz pointing to the camera and saying: "I'm going to hit a home run for you!''
Then, in the eighth inning, with the Red Sox and Yankees tied 2-2, Ortiz did just that, driving a first-pitch curveball from New York reliever Dellin Betances into the Monster Seats in left field.
"I would say this is just God putting his hands on things like that,'' Ortiz said, "because we all know that it is not that easy to come through like that. I've been able to get things done like that on a few different occasions. I guess I've been lucky.
"I would say God is the one who takes over this stuff.''
Said manager John Farrell: "It's a storybook situation. You can say that the legend of David Ortiz is far-reaching. I don't know if players fully understand their impact and how far-reaching their impact can be. But to have it play out like that is really a cool thing.''
Ortiz recalled a similar situation from a few years ago, when he visited a young girl dealing with brain damage at Boston's Massachusetts General Hospital.
"When she got a little better,'' Ortiz recalled, "she came to Fenway and we celebrated her birthday here in the family room. We lit up some candles with the cake, sang Happy Birthday to her and that day I told her I was going to hit a home run for her. And I ended up doing it.''
Once the game began, Ortiz was focused on his at-bats. The fact that he was facing Betances in the eighth inning, against whom he was 0-for-7 lifetime with four strikeouts, didn't make it any easier.
"Everyone knows how good Betances has been through his career,'' Ortiz said. "When things like that happen, it makes you believe that there's something special out there that we should believe in.''
Ortiz said he wasn't focused on hitting the homer during the game.
"Listen, the promise is not a guarantee,'' he said. "This is baseball. This is not, 'I'm going to shoot a free throw' when no one's playing defense on you. Or 'I'm Steph Curry and I'm going to shoot a three-pointer.' You know that's going to happen regardless. This is baseball. What you're trying to do was make Maverick feel better, have that connection with him. And you throw that out there to make sure he has a friend that he can count on right here.
"But while the game is going on, I'm not thinking about it, to be honest with you. But I can get away with it because I'm a power hitter and if I put a good swing on it, it can happen. But everybody on planet earth understands that it's not that easy. But that when it happens, everyone understands. Me personally, I'm a huge believer in God and I think he had a lot to do with this.''
In fact, it wasn't until Ortiz rounded the bases, crossed home plate and was trotting back to the dugout that he saw Millar and Millar's own kids sitting right next to the dugout that he recounted his pre-game video to Maverick.
"That's when I started thinking about it,'' said Ortiz.
Maverick sent a video back to Ortiz -- via Millar -- after the game-winning homer.
"After the game,'' Ortiz recounted, "Millar came to me and he was crying when he showed me the video that Maverick sent. It was very touching. I started thinking about it right after. When I got home, I was like, 'I can't believe this really happened.' Millar told me that his parents haven't seen (Maverick) him that happy in a long time. He has been very sick. But I always say there's something special out there. I'm a huge believer in God.
"I'm crazy about kids. When you see a sick kid and see what he's going trough I can't imagine. I don't think I'm prepared to see my child struggle like that. It's good. It's a good thing when you can put a smile on a child."
Christian Vazquez is behind the plate catching Rick Porcello (4-0, 3.51 ERA), who looks to remain unbeaten, as the Red Sox continue their three-game weekend series with the Yankees on Saturday night (7:10) at Fenway Park.
The Red Sox won the series opener 4-2 on Friday night with a rally from a 2-0 deficit capped by David Ortiz' two-run homer in the eighth inning.
The full lineups:
Jacoby Ellsbury CF
Brett Gardner LF
Carlos Beltran RF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez DH
Brian McCann C
Starlin Castro 2B
Didi Gregorius SS
Chase Headley 3B
Michael Pineda RHP
Mookie Betts RF
Dustin Pedroia 2B
Xander Bogaerts SS
David Ortiz DH
Hanley Ramirez 1B
Travis Shaw 3B
Brock Holt LF
Christian Vazquez C
Jackie Bradley Jr. CF
Rick Porcello RHP
David Ortiz's exploits with the Red Sox over the years can easily be described as "Ruthian."
That description became more fitting and Big Papi's legend grew Friday night when Ortiz made like the Babe by promising and delivering a home run to young fan named Maverick.
Ortiz connected with a two-run shot over the Green Monster in the eighth inning to break a 2-2 tie and give the Red Sox a 4-2 victory over the rival Yankees.
Here's the video Ortiz and former Red Sox teammate Kevin Millar, now with the MLB Network, made for Maverick before the game.
And here's Maverick's response, via Millar: