BOSTON (CBS) — Clay Buchholz knows it’s up to him to keep the Red Sox season alive.
The enigmatic starter will toe the rubber on Monday night with Boston facing an 0-2 series hole in their ALDS tussle with the Cleveland Indians. And believe it or not, as hilarious as it may have sounded in the middle of the season, there is a reason to have some confidence in the 32-year-old righty heading into Game 3.
To say it’s been an up-and-down season for Buchholz would be an understatement. He started the year as Boston’s No. 2 starter, and was bad. Really bad. His 2-5 record and 6.35 ERA by the end of May led to John Farrell banishing him to the bullpen, reserved mostly for mop-up duties. It looked like the beginning of the end for a man that has caused so much frustration for Red Sox fans over the 10 years, showing glimpses of greatness at times while becoming a complete puddle at others.
But after that demotion, instead of crumbling like a piece of dry play-doh, Buchholz pulled it together. He had success in his new role, which blossomed even more when pitching whisperer Brian Bannister was added to the Boston coaching staff. And when Steven Wright injured his shoulder on the base paths at the start of September, it opened up a spot for Buchholz to rejoin the Boston rotation. Even more success followed, adding another chapter to the mystery novel that is Buchholz’s career.
He now heads into his sixth career postseason start on a bit of a roll, going 4-0 with a 2.63 ERA in his final seven starts in the regular season. Buchholz allowed just one earned run over his last two starts, further adding to that renewed confidence. In an almost poetic manner that you can only find in sports, the man who once appeared destined to be traded (or even DFA’d) in July now holds the fate of the 2016 season on his right shoulder.
Is that a terrifying concept? Certainly. We’ve been snake-bitten far too many times by the former top prospect to get too confident that he’ll be the team’s savior, even for one night. But it’s been a much different Buchholz we’ve seen over the last six weeks, and he’ll carry that approach into Monday night’s must-win tilt against Cleveland.
“The game’s no different,” the righty told reporters. “It’s just on a little bit bigger stage, and to get to the next stage, you’ve got to win three of these five games. We’ve won 11 in a row at one point this year. I think we’re set up in a good enough spot to do it again.”
Buchholz made a pair of appearances against the Indians during the regular season, way back in April and May, with Boston losing both games as he surrendered eight earned runs in 10 innings. He’s long since moved on from those rough outings, and will channel the Buchholz that has taken the mound since early September when he throws his arsenal at the Indians at Fenway Park.
“I’m going to try to do the same thing I’ve done in the last month and a half,” he said, “That’s to go out and throw the ball with conviction and for strikes.”
There’s just no telling which Buchholz we’ll see on Monday night. If he can continue to pitch like he did down the stretch and pick up the first postseason win of his career, the Red Sox will live to see another day. But if he reverts back into the Buchholz that has caused severe headaches and indigestion for Boston fans throughout his decade-long run with the team (or the Red Sox offense continues their disappearing act from Game 2) the season will likely come to a disappointing end.
A confident Clay Buchholz is Boston’s best chance at the moment. Let’s just hope that’s the one that leads the charge on Monday night.