SAN DIEGO — Clay Buchholz returned to Boston’s rotation Tuesday night in San Diego and gave the Red Sox playoff hopes a major boost, holding the Padres to one run in 6 2/3 innings as Boston defeated the Padres 5-1 to move into a tie with Toronto for the American League East lead.
Back-to-back home runs by Jackie Bradley Jr. and Chris Young in the fourth broke up a scoreless game and gave Buchholz all the support he needed in his first start since Aug. 23.
Boston’s win, coupled with Toronto’s loss at New York, leaves the Red Sox and Blue Jays tied with 77-61 records as they prepare to meet in a three-game series this weekend in Toronto. Baltimore trails the A.L. East co-leaders by one game.
Buchholz, who had made three, one-inning relief appearances since his last start, gave up eight hits and no walks with six strikeouts to improve to 6-10. The only run he allowed came on a solo home run by Ryan Schimpf in the bottom of the fourth after Bradley and Young had powered the Red Sox to a 3-0 lead in the top of the inning.
“You have to give Clay a tremendous amount of credit for the mental preparation and being ready to go,” said Boston manager John Farrell of Buchholz, who has gone to a no-windup delivery and changed his arm angle in recent weeks.
“Along the way, he’s figured some things out … he’s been extremely consistent, no walks again tonight. You can’t give Clay enough credit for the role he’s been put into, some of it by his own doing early on.
“But again, it’s how you finish.”
Buchholz entered Tuesday’s game with a 5.20 earned run average. But in 12 outings (four starts) since July 27, he has a 2.20 earned run average and has allowed just one run in each of his last three starts.
“I was able to get ahead in the count for the most part,” said Buchholz, who needed only 89 pitches to complete 6 2/3 innings. “Good times, bad times, I still feel like I can pitch and help this team. Regardless of the role, whenever my name is called I try to go out and give our team the best chance to win that I can.”
The Bradley-Young back-to-back homers was the fifth set of back-to-back homers by the Red Sox this season.
Padres starter Paul Clemens (2-5) suffered the loss as he failed to complete five innings for the fourth time in eight starts as a Padre. Clemens was charged with five runs on nine hits, including the back-to-back homers, in four plus innings.
The game was scoreless when Boston’s Sandy Leon opened the fourth by beating the Padres’ shift with a perfect bunt to third bringing Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley to the mound to talk to Clemens.
“I took my foot off the gas pedal after that bunt,” Clemens admitted. “The bunt set the tone for that inning.”
Clemens’ velocity also played a role. It dropped from 94-95 in the first three innings to 90 tops in the fourth.
Bradley followed Leon’s bunt by lining a 2-and-1 fastball from Clemens 399 feet into the right-field stands. Young, who homered as a pinch-hitter Monday for the Red Sox’s only run in a 2-1 loss to the Padres, followed with a 344-foot drive to left on a 1-and-0 fastball.
“I don’t think I gave us a great chance to win,” said Clemens. “It’s not good. I was happy early, then I put myself in a bad spot.
Rookie second baseman Schimpf got the Padres on the board in the bottom of the fourth with a 389-foot home run to right off Buchholz. Schimpf was hitless in 16 at-bats — including 10 strikeouts — when he hit his 17th homer in just 206 at-bats.
The Red Sox went back to work against Clemens in the fifth, opening the inning with three straight singles by Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts and Hanley Ramirez.
Bogaerts scored on Ramirez’s line drive to left to make it 4-1.
Jose Dominguez replaced Clemens and retired Leon on a fly to right, although Betts advanced to third when Padres right fielder Oswaldo Arcia delayed on returning the ball to the infield. Betts then scored on Young’s bases-loaded grounder to third when Padres third baseman Yangervis Solarte failed in his attempt to get a double play rather than going for the forceout of Betts at home.