It’s common for a young pitcher to make a staff-saving spot start for a contending team in the regular season’s final weeks. It’s rare when the pitcher making that spot start is coming off a no-hitter.
That’s exactly what will happen Wednesday night, though, when the Boston Red Sox send rookie Clay Buchholz to the mound trying to avoid a sweep in their three-game series at Toronto against the Blue Jays.
This will be the first start for Buchholz (3-0, 1.50 ERA) since Sept. 1, when he threw a no-hitter against Baltimore in just his second career outing. He pitched three innings of scoreless relief against the Orioles five days later— allowing one hit while earning the win in a 7-6 Boston victory—but has not appeared in a game since.
The 23-year-old right-hander will now have to shake off the rust as he bids to join Johnny Vander Meer, who did it for Cincinnati in 1938, as the only pitchers in major league history to throw no-hitters in consecutive starts.
“It might take me a little bit longer to get ready as far as mechanics-wise,” Buchholz said on the Red Sox’s official Web site. “I think after I get back in tune, I’ll be all right.”
Buchholz is pitching on extra rest so a couple of other Boston starters can do the same. Red Sox manager Terry Francona, attempting to line up his rotation for postseason play, is giving Curt Schilling four extra days of rest before his start next Tuesday against Oakland. Daisuke Matsuzaka will have three days’ extra rest before facing Tampa Bay on Saturday.
“At some point, there was going to be a three-day extra rest period,” Francona said. “We elected to do it now, as opposed to before a playoff game. It just didn’t seem to make a ton of sense. Rest is great, but if there’s any rust you’d rather have it now.”
Before the Red Sox (90-62) get to the playoffs, though, they need to focus on wrapping up the AL East. Boston’s division lead over New York shrunk to 2 1/2 games Tuesday night after the Yankees routed Baltimore 12-0 and the Red Sox fell 4-3 to Toronto. That lead is the smallest for the Red Sox since before play on April 26.
“I don’t think anybody is thinking about that,” said second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who went 1-for-4 in Tuesday’s loss. “We need to play better than we have been.”
Boston held a two-run lead before the Blue Jays (76-75) rallied for three runs in the eighth inning off Eric Gagne. It was the third consecutive loss and the fourth in five games for the Red Sox, who have yielded 14 eighth-inning runs over their last four defeats.
If they complete the three-game sweep, the Blue Jays can salvage a split of their 18-game season series with Boston.
Jesse Litsch (5-9, 4.37) takes the mound for Toronto. The 22-year-old rookie right-hander has had a terrible September so far, losing all three of his starts while posting a 11.12 ERA and a .396 opponents’ batting average.
Litsch gave up seven runs and seven hits in just 3 1-3 innings at Boston on Sept. 3, taking the loss as the Blue Jays fell 13-10. He fared better in his starts against the Red Sox on July 15—also at Fenway—when he allowed one run over 6 2-3 innings of a 2-1 victory.