15-11: Tough loss for Buchholz, 2-1

Reunited with the recuperating Jason Varitek, Clay Buchholz (1-2) shined in his first career start against the Tampa Rays, tossing a three-hit complete game. The problem is that one of those hits was a long 2-run blast by Akinori Iwamura in the bottom of the 8th that gave Tampa the victory, 2-1. Meanwhile, the Red Sox offense missed a lot of opportunities and struggled to produce just one run against the Rays tonight; they now have lost four straight, after winning six in a row.

Buchholz, in his best start of 2008, threw 113 pitches (76 strikes) and went 8 innings, but took the loss. He came out throwing 92-94 mph on his fastball, and after a momentary lapse with his off-speed pitches in the first when he walked B.J. Upton and Carlos Pena, he was throwing all of his stuff for strikes. It’s not coincidental that this happened on the night that Varitek came back to make his first start in about a week. He began really cruising after the fourth inning, and was almost untouchable all night. Almost.

In the 8th inning, Dioner Navarro got a pinch-hit single to right; if only Jacoby Ellsbury had been playing in just a little bit! Then Iwamura got a hold of a middle-in breaking ball to take Buchholz out of the park to right field. Such a shame, after pitching such a gem of a game. Sox Therapy brings up the question of whether Buchholz should have been left in, as he was at 94 pitches. I think Francona, as a player’s manager, might give in to a pitcher when they’ve tossed a great game; he feels they’ve at least earned the right to finish out the inning. But Buchholz had a one-hitter going, and was actually throwing better as the game went on, and Iwamura was 0-3 at that point, having struck out twice; he’s had a horrible start to this season. With the lefty up, the alternative would have been Hideki Okajima to finish the inning, and then Jonathan Papelbon in the 9th. Maybe he was thinking he’d save Okajima for tomorrow, with the early game. I think this is just typical second-guessing here; what Francona did was not unreasonable.

Said Iwamura after the game:

I took a pretty good swing against his changeup to center field [previously], and probably Varitek knew I had good timing on the changeup. And my first three at-bats, I had bad timing on the curveball, so I thought he would throw me a curve.

Despite some strong baserunning today, the Sox offense was again inefficient. We had the leadoff man on four out of the first five innings, yet managed just one run against Edwin Jackson. Two early double plays, one on a failed hit-and-run by Varitek with Coco Crisp on base. Sixteen men left on base.

Troy Percival came in and closed it out for his fifth save on the year. Frustrating, not being able to do more against this pitching staff.

Ellsbury continues to use his speed effectively. He had two infield hits in this one, and his second one drove in Boston’s only run. He now has hit safely in 9 consecutive games. In the top of the 5th, Coco took two bases on a bounced changeup by Jackson, and Jed Lowrie drew a walk. Julio Lugo struck out and argued with the ump, then Ellsbury slapped one down the third base line; Evan Longoria probably saved a double by diving over the bag. He got up in a hurry, and almost threw out Ellsbury at first. However, Ellsbury was safe, and that allowed Crisp to score.

The home plate umpire, Dan Iassogna, drew the ire of several Red Sox players during this one, as he had a fairly generous strike zone tonight. But I didn’t see anything really egregious there. If he was consistent, it probably helped Buchholz with his outing.

Some other notes: Cow bell night is REALLY annoying. Front offices everywhere, take notice. David Ortiz was a late scratch from the lineup with a bruised knee; one can only wonder how the game could have gone if he were DHing rather than J.D. Drew; but then, Ellsbury would have been absent from the lineup. Papi is reportedly not going to play Sunday, either.

Congratulations are in order to Kevin Youkilis, who broke the all-time record for consecutive defensive chances (in the regular season) without making an error with 1,701. Small consolation after dropping this heartbreaker.


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