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Buchholz barely misses pitching no-hitter

The SportsXchange

BOSTON -- Clay Buchholz walked slowly toward the infield dirt, scooped up the sundered piece of lumber responsible for breaking up his no-hitter and handed it to the Tampa Bay bat boy.

That's the only thing Boston's right-hander gave the Rays all afternoon.

Buchholz flirted with his second career no-hitter and delivered another dazzling performance Sunday, allowing just two hits over eight shutout innings while striking out a career-high 11 batters in leading the Red Sox to a 5-0 win over the Rays.

"It seemed like the game was longer for me from the fifth to the eighth than it was from the first to the fifth," said Buchholz, acknowledging he was thinking about the pending no-no. "But I know that it's a rarity in this game for something like that to happen."

He was far from perfect, walking four batters and receiving a heaping of help from his defense.

Yet Buchholz (3-0) was more than sharp enough to stymie the Rays until Kelly Johnson led off the eighth with a broken-bat single into right field, spoiling the 28-year-old's quest to repeat the performance he put on in just his second career start Sept. 2, 2007 against the Baltimore Orioles.

"I had the captain behind the plate calling the pitches and I didn't want to shake him off because I was scared of him," Buchholz joked of longtime Red Sox catcher and captain Jason Varitek, who called the pitches that day. "I always tell people when they ask me about the no-hitter and everything, I tell them I've been trying to do it again since that day and it hasn't happened. So, that shows you how far luck goes with being able to go out there and throw a game like that."

Mike Napoli hit a two-run double and Andrew Miller pitched a scoreless ninth for the Red Sox, who have won two straight and improved to 6-0 this season when Buchholz and Jon Lester take the mound. They were just 28-34 last season when the pair of aces took the hill.

"To have a guy go out there with that kind of stuff and hit his spot whenever he wanted to and throw any pitch at any time, it makes it fun to be able to call any pitch," said Boston catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

Sunday was no anomaly, either. Buchholz has been nothing short of brilliant to begin the season, permitting just one run and 11 hits in 22 innings.

He kept Tampa Bay batters off-balance all day Sunday, throwing four pitches for strikes while facing just two batters above the minimum through five innings.

He walked the leadoff batters in the fourth and sixth, but wiggled out of both jams to lower his ERA from 0.64 to 0.41.

"His performance pretty much speaks for itself," said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "I think he struck out guys on four different types of pitches. After the seventh inning, the pitch count's climbing. I certainly didn't want to be a guy that's going to walk out there with him with a no-hitter intact.

"But on a day we needed a starter to go deep in the game, he did that for us."

He nearly finished what he started, too.

After a first-pitch curveball to Johnson, Buchholz threw another that the left-hander managed to lob over the infield.

Buchholz later surrendered a two-out double to Desmond Jennings but preserved the shutout by inducing Ben Zobrist to fly out, ending his day after 109 pitches.

"I was feeling I had to do something different," Johnson said. "I put my foot back a tad closer to home plate and picked up a Sam Fuld-model bat.

"The guy was nasty. I'm going up there with someone else's bat, thinking what can I change to put the ball in play."

Saltalamacchia seemed to feel worse than his pitcher after calling a second straight curveball.

"It killed me because I've seen Clay throw really well," he said. "But today was amazing."

Rays starter Alex Cobb (1-1) was overshadowed by Buchholz's gem. Cobb, a Boston native, allowed four runs -- three earned -- seven hits and two walks with six strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings.

Tampa Bay had just one runner advance past second base in losing for the fifth time in six games. The Rays have now scored just four runs in their last four games and eight in their previous six.

"Psychologically throughout the team, we've got to hit the ball better to get everybody's spirits up," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. "When you're not hitting the ball well, you get that bad vibe among the group. It's hard to really keep them pushing, moving or motivated. But we'll get going."

Buchholz breezed through the first five innings, striking out six of the first nine Rays he faced, and eight of the first 13.

His first true test came in the sixth when he walked Fuld to begin the inning but got a little assistance from his defense to maintain the no-hitter. Jennings lined a sharp grounder at shortstop Stephen Drew, the ball caroming off Drew's body toward second base. Dustin Pedroia was positioned perfectly nearby, though, scooping up the ball and firing to first in time to catch the speedy Jennings.

Fuld advanced to third on a popout to right, but Buchholz got Matt Joyce to ground out to first.

"It's fun to go out there and pitch when you have all your pitches working," Buchholz said. "It doesn't happen every day - probably five times a season it happens for a starting pitcher. It was definitely a fun day to be out there."

With just four runs in its last two games, Boston's bats finally came alive in third.

Consecutive base hits by Jacoby Ellsbury, Shane Victorino and Pedroia loaded the bases for Napoli, who drove a 1-0 changeup from Cobb to the deepest part of the park in center field, plating a pair of runs.

Drew later grounded into what should have been an inning-ending double play, but shortstop Yunel Escobar threw wildly back to first, allowing Napoli and Daniel Nava - who was hit by a pitch - to trot home for a 4-0 advantage.

That was all the support Buchholz would need.

Artistically blending his fastball, cutter, curve and changeup, Buchholz twice cruised through Tampa Bay's lineup, only walking James Loney in the second, Zobrist to begin the fourth and Fuld to start the sixth.

The Rays, however, still couldn't muster a key hit.

Loney was stranded after stealing second when Buchholz fanned Jose Molina, and Zobrist was left at second after Buchholz struck out Evan Longoria and Joyce and induced Escobar to fly out to right.

Boston made it 5-0 in the eighth when Pedroia doubled off the Green Monster and scored on a sacrifice fly by Will Middlebrooks.

NOTES: Farrell said before the game that closer Joel Hanrahan is day to day with a sore right hamstring. Hanrahan walked the only two batters he faced during the ninth inning Saturday and has allowed six runs, five hits and four walks in his last 1 2/3 innings. ... Fans lined the outskirts of the Fenway Park field before Sunday's game for a meet-and-greet with most of Boston's players and coaches. ... Saturday's game began a prolonged stint on the road for Tampa Bay, which is amid a stretch of playing 20 of 26 games away from Tropicana Field. ... Cobb thrived in his only two starts at Fenway last season, winning both after holding the Red Sox to a combined two earned runs and six hits in 10 innings. ... The series will conclude Monday with a traditional 11:05 a.m. start time because of the Boston Marathon.

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