Commentary

Buchholz cowboys up vs. Indians

Updated: May 12, 2012, 2:39 AM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

"I hear you're lookin' for a cowboy to take you for a ride
Well baby, I think that I'm your man
'Cause I've been broken and busted
But these spurs still ain't rusted, and this saddle it's a wonder she'll still ride"
--"No Doubt," Casey Donahew Band

[+] EnlargeClay Buchholz
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesWhatever Bobby Valentine said to Clay Buchholz during a first-inning jam seemed to work.

BOSTON -- Granted, we don't get to hear too much Texas Country in these parts. So when Clay Buchholz walked into Friday night's postgame news conference wearing a baseball cap bearing the name of the Casey Donahew Band -- you can catch them Saturday night at the Wormy Dog Saloon in Oklahoma City -- it's safe to say it didn't register with his audience.

But it may have been the cowboy in the soul of the native of Nederland, Texas, that Bobby Valentine appealed to when he went to the mound in the first inning, Buchholz having just hit Shin-Soo Choo with a pitch, loading the bases with Cleveland Indians with one run already in.

"I just wanted Clay to understand I believed in him," Valentine said after Buchholz pitched into the seventh before leaving with a 7-1 lead, the Red Sox holding on for a 7-5 win. "And that everybody behind him thought he was a good pitcher, and to prove it to the guys in front of him."

The message evidently took. Buchholz got out of the first with no further damage, was spared a run in the second on left-fielder Daniel Nava's strong throw and Jarrod Saltalamacchia's block of the plate, and stranded runners on second and third in the third before departing with the bases loaded again in the seventh.

"It still wasn't easy," he said. "There were times when things still could have gotten bad."

But for once, they didn't, which may go a long way in allowing Buchholz to trust his stuff again.

That's the outcome Valentine was looking for when he strode to the mound and in forceful language informed the pitcher that he was not going to let this game get away from him.

"Basically he came out there and said, 'You know what, you've got to get your stuff right and go after these guys and get some outs, so we can get in the dugout and win a ballgame," Buchholz said.

Valentine had made it clear before the game how badly the Red Sox required a strong outing from him. The Sox bullpen was grossly overworked, the starters had foundered terribly at home (7.24 ERA), Josh Beckett had endured wince-inducing booing the night before, and the Sox had lost 11 of their last 12 games in Fenway Park.

And Buchholz had yet to take the ball this season without handing it back after yielding five or more runs in each of his first six starts.

"I think he has to take the responsibility," Valentine had said. "We're in a situation where we need him to perform the way he's capable of performing."

[+] EnlargeClay Buchholz
Bob DeChiara/US PresswireJosh Beckett, left, was every bit the good teammate Friday for golfing buddy Clay Buchholz, right, as his fellow starter exited in the 7th with a 7-1 lead.

And Valentine firmly asserted that Buchholz was far better than the results (9.09 ERA coming in) had indicated.

"I never give up on a player until he gives up on himself," the manager said. "I haven't seen that with Clay. He's still working hard. He and (pitching coach) Bob McClure are trying to solve this puzzle. I'm confident that the trust I have in my coaches is going to pay off, because they're going to solve the puzzle.

"But is it difficult? Yes."

The Indians, who had battered Beckett for seven runs one out into the third inning and are the surprise early-season leaders in the AL Central, posed a challenge. For one, every batter in their lineup either hit from the left side or was a switch hitter. "I don't think I've ever faced a lineup where every guy hit lefty," Buchholz said.

"And all their lefties aren't the same [type of] guy. You can't just have one way to go about it. It's pretty mentally draining, as far as trying to set up guys, and some guys in their lineup have some thump, too."

Until Johnny Damon flied out to center with the tying runs on base in the ninth, the Indians threatened to muck up Buchholz's night. But Alfredo Aceves held on for the save, Buchholz's record improving to 4-1, testament to all the runs the Sox have scored for him when he was on the mound.

"Now he can look at his record of four wins," Valentine said, praising the better movement on Buchholz's pitches that resulted in a woodshed full of broken bats, "and say he's really building on something."

Maybe they wouldn't have put it the same way as Casey Donahew, but the Sox were looking for a cowboy to take them for a ride. Broken and busted? Yeah, it hasn't been easy -- even Friday night, he wound being charged with a yield of four runs. But this should help to quiet the talk about Daisuke Matsuzaka replacing him in the rotation.

These spurs still ain't rusted.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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