BOSTON (CBS) — With a chance to set up a rotation after multiple days of rest, it’s rare that a manager would save his team’s best pitcher for Game 3. Yet due to a variety of circumstances, John Farrell decided to save Clay Buchholz for Monday night in Tampa, and thanks to two outstanding performances over the weekend, Farrell hands the ball to Buchholz with the chance to come away with a three-game sweep.
Buchholz will make his second-ever postseason start in Tampa, after Jon Lester pitched very well in Game 1 and John Lackey was good enough in Game 2. If Buchholz and the Sox can get the win, they’ll get four more days of rest before the ALCS would begin at Fenway Park on Saturday. If they lose, though, the dynamic of the series changes rather quickly, as the Rays have shown in the past week or so that they play their best when facing elimination.
Despite everything on the line, and despite his lack of experience in the playoffs, Buchholz is trying to treat it like a normal game.
“This is what baseball’s all about. Everybody wants to be in this position. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong sport,” Buchholz said. “I’m excited, a little anxious to get it started, but I’m going to try to just do the same thing I’ve done all year when I’ve been out there: pound the zone, throw strikes, keep your team in the game and try to get your hitters in the dugout as quick as possible.”
Working in Buchholz’s favor are his absurd numbers against the Rays this season. In 15 innings (two starts), he allowed zero runs on five hits and five walks, while striking out 17 batters. Buchholz, who missed half of the season with a nagging neck and shoulder injury, probably won’t put too much stock into those numbers, as he utilizes lessons learned from his one postseason start back in 2009.
“It was a couple of years ago, I was a little bit younger so I think I’ve matured a little bit as a player, knowing what I need to do in certain situations, minimizing damage, and you can’t take anything for granted or anybody lightly, because they’re here for a reason too,” Buchholz said.
Buchholz will be opposed by Alex Cobb, who beat the Cleveland Indians last week in the one-game wild card playoff. Cobb went 0-1 with a 5.16 ERA in four starts against the Red Sox this season, with Boston batters hitting .270 with a .350 on-base percentage against him.
The numbers are certainly in Boston’s favor, but they won’t help once the teams take field.
“You gotta think f it just as another baseball game. That’s what it is right now,” Buchholz said. “I know it’s a pivotal game where you could end up playing another one the next day or head back to Boston to wait and see who we play next. But once you step between the lines, it turns into another game, and you gotta go out there and try to compete and give your team a chance to win.”