If there were any doubts about Red Sox right-hander Clay Buchholz's legitimacy as a top-of-the-rotation starter, consider them erased.
In three starts against the Yankees, Orioles and Rays, Buchholz has allowed one run in 22 innings for a 0.41 ERA and posted 23 strikeouts, including a career-high 11 Sunday, when he took a no-hitter into the eighth inning against Tampa Bay.
Buchholz has been the right-handed counterpunch to Sox ace lefty Jon Lester, who has outdueled Cy Young Award winners CC Sabathia, R.A. Dickey and David Price en route to posting a 1.42 ERA in three starts.
And the success of Buchholz and Lester means everything to the Red Sox. Both pitchers had career-worst seasons last year, combining for a 4.70 ERA. The Sox were only 28-34 in their starts.
"Watching them throw, it's like back in the day, coming in here and being like, 'Man, we're facing these guys? It's going to be a tough test,'" said Sox first baseman Mike Napoli, who faced Lester and Buchholz for years with the Angels and Rangers. "It's nice to be on this side when they're throwing like this."
Sunday's performance was sheer brilliance from Buchholz, who turned in the best outing yet of an 11-game run in which no Red Sox starter has allowed more than three runs.
Buchholz mowed down the Rays with four-seam fastballs, bat-slowing changeups and the occasional knee-buckling curve. The Red Sox staked him to a 4-0 lead in the third inning, and by the fifth, he realized he hadn't allowed a hit.
"It was sort of a here-we-go-again feeling," said Buchholz, who threw a no-hitter on Sept. 1, 2007. "In that way I was thinking about it, but I know it's a rarity in this game for something like that to happen. I was just trying to make pitches."
Buchholz's bid to pitch the 19th no-hitter in Red Sox history was foiled when Kelly Johnson flared a broken-bat single into right field. Buchholz finished the eighth inning, allowing only two hits.
"I've seen Clay throw really well," catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said, "but today was amazing."