BOSTON (CBS) — Starting pitchers can often afford to make a mistake or two. Relief pitchers have much less wiggle room, as Clay Buchholz found out the hard way Tuesday night.
In his first “official” go as Boston’s eighth-inning setup man, Buchholz left a fastball over the plate that notorious Red Sox killer Evan Longoria deposited onto Landsdowne Street to break up a 3-3 tie. That monster swing, and mislocated pitch, were the difference in Tampa’s 4-3 victory.
Buchholz took all the blame following the loss, knowing that even one mistake will not fly (or rather, it will likely fly somewhere) in his new high-leverage role in the bullpen.
“I’ve thrown in a lot of games that were high leverage, it’s just a matter of making pitches. That was a pitch I didn’t make,” said Buchholz, who is now 2-2 in his 16 appearances as a reliever. “[Longoria] is a good hitter, one of the guys you shouldn’t let beat you. But I let him beat me, so that’s on me.”
“Part of that job late in games is if you miss, you’ve got to miss to the extreme,” said Boston manager John Farrell. “He’s trying to elevate a fastball on a 1-2 count. Didn’t get it up enough, obviously, and it ended up probably toward the inner half of the plate. Other than that, I thought Clay was throwing the ball very well in the eighth. A fastball that doesn’t get to the spot is the difference in this one.”
It was just a few hours earlier that Farrell tabbed Buchholz as Boston’s setup man, a role that has been undefined for some time in the Red Sox’ struggling bullpen. The job is now Buchholz’s, unless three righties are due up in the inning and the job will shift to Brad Ziegler (who was not available Tuesday after being sent home with the flu).
Buchholz, who has frustrated fans and the team alike with his inconsistencies over the years, has actually pitched well out of the pen this season. Opposing hitters are hitting just .196 off of him in 14.2 relief innings, and Longoria’s blast was the first homer he had surrendered as a reliever.
But while the title is different, Buchholz knows the need for execution doesn’t change. And in many ways, it’s even more important.
“It’s a different role, different title, but you still have to go out and make pitches,” said Buchholz. “Starters have been throwing the ball really well, so that leaves it to the guys in the back end to pick up the slack whenever yore called upon. Tonight was just a one-pitch mistake for me, and it cost us the game.”