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Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Updated: May 2, 10:48 AM ET
Clay Buchholz hard to match

By Gordon Edes
ESPNBoston.com

TORONTO -- The personalities, physiques and mound demeanor couldn't be more opposite.

Think about it for a second: Can you picture Roger Clemens sitting in front of his locker before a start, playing a guitar like Clay Buchholz? Put a guitar in Clemens's hands, and he'd be liable to go all Belushi in Delta House on you, smashing it to bits.

Clemens was Big Gulp Texan. Buchholz is Texas Lite, more stealth than swagger.

The snarling Clemens commanded a game like Patton. The laid-back Buchholz orchestrates a game like Lockhart.

Buchholz
Clay Buchholz has struck out 47 batters in his first 44.2 innings this season.

Clemens stuck out his chin and dared you to hit him, like Marciano. Buchholz is more feints and jabs and Ali shuffle.

Clemens was the Rocket. Buchholz is simply Buch.

But for all their differences, it's what they have in common that dominated the domed landscape Wednesday night in Rogers Centre, where the 28-year-old Buchholz ran his record to 6-0 and his ERA down to 1.01 after tossing seven shutout innings in Boston's 10-1 decimation of the Toronto Blue Jays.

"That was fun to watch, huh?" Sox catcher David Ross said after Buchholz held the Jays to two hits, a single by Munenori Kawasaki in the third and a single by Melky Cabrera in the seventh. "That was fun to catch."

The last Sox pitcher to win his first six starts with a lower ERA? A 28-year-old Roger Clemens, who celebrates his birthday 10 days before Buchholz celebrates his, grew up about an hour and a half away from Buchholz's birthplace of Nederland, and in 1991 was 6-0 with a 0.73 ERA after six starts.

"I'm not surprised," pitching coach Juan Nieves said. "This guy's talented. We have a lot of talented guys here. He's made some alterations in his delivery, he's focusing, he's attacking the strike zone, and now he's seeing the fruits of it.

"No matter what team he pitches against, the only way they can beat him is by swinging the bat. Go ahead and try it, because this guy can manipulate the baseball like nobody else. It's a command game, a location game, and he can do it with four pitches any time in the count. He can reverse guys. He can pitch backwards, he can pitch forward. His tempo's picked up, and he never seems rattled."

Inevitably, these things come to an end. Clemens had a no-decision in his seventh start before riding into Texas, where Brian Downing led off with a home run, Clemens gave up four more runs in the third and Bobby Valentine's Rangers chased him after a yield of nine runs in five innings.

Buchholz is well aware of how things can turn. Need we remind you, he's a guy who threw a no-hitter in his second big league start in 2007 and was sent back to Double-A midseason the following season. He shuttled back and forth between Boston and Pawtucket in 2009, won a career-best 17 games in 2010 -- his first full season in the majors -- hurt his back and missed the final 3½ months of the 2011 season with a stress fracture of his lumbar spine, then was clobbered at the start of last season (five runs or more in each of his first six starts) before settling down.

Yes, Buchholz knows all about reversals of fortune, which is why he's quite content to enjoy this while it lasts.

"It's fun pitching good," he said modestly. "There are going to be bumps in the road … but you try to ride the wave as long as you can."

The same can be said for the Red Sox, who have climbed on the back of Buchholz and Jon Lester to spring to a 19-8 record, the best in baseball. On Wednesday, the Sox supported Buchholz with five home runs, two by Mike Napoli -- whose balls traveled the combined distance of nearly three football fields (472 and 467 feet, according to ESPN's Hit Tracker).

The Sox have hit 16 of their 31 home runs this season in a span of five games in Rogers Centre, with Stephen Drew's first home run of the season, a two-run shot, the one that jump-started the Sox Wednesday night.

Back-to-back home runs by Napoli and Daniel Nava made it 4-0 in the fourth. Napoli hit a three-run home run into the third deck in left center during a four-run eighth, and Mike Carp capped the night with a pinch-hit home run in the ninth.

But going deep this season has connoted more for the Sox than hitting balls into the seats. Buchholz has pitched seven innings or more in all six of his starts and has yet to allow more than two runs in any of them. Wednesday night was the third time he has held an opponent scoreless as the Jays advanced only one runner as far as third while Buchholz was on the mound.

"Very consistent, very poised on the mound," manager John Farrell said of Buchholz. "The maturity, as we've talked about on a couple of occasions, continues to play out in those situations where he's got to make a pitch with men on base. Once again, it was the case here tonight. He wasn't really challenged like he was in other games. Not to take anything away from the Blue Jays, but he was just in that kind of command from the get-go."

Ross can rattle off a number of pitchers whom he caught when they were at the top of their game. Tim Hudson, Kevin Brown, Darren Dreifort, Jake Peavy. Hideo Nomo, Eric Gagne out of the bullpen, Kris Medlen, Derek Lowe.

"Clay's up there," he said. "When you're 6-0 in the American League with a one ERA, you're doing something. I don't care if it's two weeks, a month. You're doing something."