By Sean McAdam
NEW YORK -- Six weeks into the regular season, the Red Sox had not seen much of the Clay Buchholz who compiled the second-best ERA among American League starters last season.
There were good starts, including his last, which came with an extra degree of difficulty: he first had to wait out a rain delay of more than two hours. There were flashes, certainly, but nothing as consistently dominant, from start to finish, that typified his outings last year.
But Friday night, the Buchholz of 2010 re-appeared. And he showed up in an unlikely place -- Yankee Stadium, where Buchholz had struggled historically.
Not Friday. Buchholz limited the Yankees to just two runs over seven innings. He fanned seven thanks to a lively fastball which featured plenty of movement, and just for good measure, he mixed in an effective changeup.
"I thought he was tremendous,'' said Terry Francona after the Red Sox held off the New York Yankees, 5-4. "He was really good. He threw the ball down and with movement and he had good velocity. We're all pleased, especially against a lineup like that.''
That lineup and this ballpark had been tough on Buchholz. Before Friday night, he had a 6.35 career ERA at Yankee Stadium. His career ERA against the Yankees wasn't much better (6.25).
But Buchholz aggressively attacked the Yankees from the beginning, registering his first 1-2-3 opening inning this season. Not until the fourth inning when Alex Rodriguez singled through the hole between short and third did the Yankees collect a hit.
"I just tried to stay on location,'' Buchholz said. "I was thinking that when I was throwing a two-seamer in to the righthanders to make sure I got it in and not leave it over the middle of the plate. I did that for the most part, then kept them off-balance with the off-speed pitches.''
Buchholz thought his season began to turn around last weekend against Minnesota when, out of desperation, the Sox sent him back out to the mound after a lengthy rain delay.
Thanks to an off-day and a rejiggering of the rotation, Buchholz was pitching with the benefit of some extra rest, but never felt out of sorts.
"The last two have been fun,'' he said. "It's a little bit easier to pitch when you've got all your pitches working. Tonight, I felt really good with everything. The cutter was a really good pitch, the changeup was good and my two-seamer was good, too.''
Not until the fifth was Buchholz was really challenged. Jorge Posada singled hard to right to start the inning and Russell Martin jumped on a mistake and drove it out to left-center to tie the game.
Until then, however, the Yankees had not hit the ball hard against him -- he had a total of 18 swings and misses, the most in any start this season -- and he closed strong.
After the homer by Martin and a single to Brett Gardner, Buchholz retired nine of the last 10 hitters he faced.
He took the Red Sox through seven complete for the first time this year and looked like he had something left.
The win was his third in a row, and the suspicion is, after a month in which he took some time to figure things out, Buchholz has turned the corner and may be ready to go on a long roll, like the one he rode through the final five months of 2010.