BOSTON -- In between starts, Clay Buchholz got a haircut. Based on the disparity of results between his previous outing and his latest one Friday night at Fenway Park, the Boston Red Sox clubhouse may begin to resemble a barber shop.
Buchholz has had many better starts in his career than the one he put forth in a 7-5 victory over the Cleveland Indians. He didn't need to throw a perfect game, though. He simply needed to have some semblance of a solid outing after a historically poor run to begin the year.
Mission accomplished. The freshly shorn Buchholz allowed three earned runs on eight hits and three walks in 6 1/3 innings. It was his first quality start in nearly one year at Fenway Park. He lowered his ERA from 9.09 to 8.31. He did not record a single strikeout but did manage to keep the ball in the yard -- Buchholz had allowed 10 home runs in his first six starts.
Prior to the game, Boston manager Bobby Valentine put it bluntly when asked what he needed to see from his rotation. "Pitch better," he said. Again, mission accomplished.
An indictment on win-loss records: Buchholz is 4-1 to begin a season for the first time in his career. In fact, he had been 3-1 only once and that was in his abbreviated debut with the Sox back in 2007. To think that the year that his ERA reads like a 100-yard dash time is the first year he wins four of his first five decisions says all you need to know about the merits of run support.
Buchholz entered leading all major league pitchers in that category. After the Red Sox jumped all over Indians starter Ubaldo Jimenez, Buchholz had received 42 runs in 39 innings this year, or 9.69 runs of support per nine innings.
Too slow with the hook? There was some talk in the press box that Valentine waited a batter or two or three too long to get Buchholz out of the game. It's a fair point. He began the seventh inning at 92 pitches and the bullpen has been severely overworked. Still, there was great incentive in allowing Buchholz to exit this one feeling good about things. He got the first out but gave up two singles and a walk before Valentine finally grabbed him after 111 pitches.
A walk, a single and an error allowed three more runs -- two earned -- to be added to Buchholz's line before he could hit the showers.
Pressure, for once: While the bullpen has performed beyond the wildest dreams of anyone who saw it stink up the joint during the first three weeks of the season, it has not had to protect many leads of late. The high-leverage situations were kept to a minimum.
Given a higher dose of intensity, the 'pen bent but didn't break on Friday. Five relievers combined to give up four hits and three walks in 2 2/3 innings and allowed each of the runners that Buchholz left behind to score.
Varitek's influence: Possibly. Jason Varitek was known for his many attributes behind the plate, among them the way he would stonewall incoming runners with a firmly planted left foot. It was as if the foot had taken root where he put it down, and players sliding into him would often never touch home plate.
That's exactly what happened in the top of the second inning, when Jarrod Saltalamacchia blocked Jack Hannahan's slide. Because of Saltalamacchia's leg, Hannahan was unable to get a foot on the plate. As he attempted to get back up and go touch the dish, Saltalamacchia tagged him.
Hannahan argued, but not nearly as vehemently as third-base coach Steve Smith, who was ejected in a matter of a few seconds. You may recall Smith as the man in the middle of a bench-clearing incident at Fenway Park on Aug. 3, 2010. He and former Red Sox manager Terry Francona got into a very heated conversation before Smith was ejected.
According to Indians media relations, Smith has been ejected 11 times in his career, a pretty hefty sum for a third-base coach.
Speaking of defense: It was in Thursday night's Rapid Reaction that we mentioned Daniel Nava's merit as a left fielder. He won't win a Gold Glove, but he does a solid job whenever planted in front of the Green Monster.
It was Nava's throw that cut down Hannahan at home plate. It was Nava's running catch headed toward the line that ended the top of the third with two men in scoring position. Before that it was Nava's clean play of a carom off the Monster that kept that runner at third from scoring.
Nava followed up the running grab with a leadoff double in the bottom of the third on a play that would've been a single for most. He later scored on a Pete Rose-like face-first flop at home plate. The hustle was notable for a team that needs a spark.