Sunday, September 02, 2007

No Hitter in Beantown!

BOSTON -- For 23-year-old right-hander Clay Buchholz, whose understated Beaumont, Texas, drawl bespeaks a grasp of higher powers, the moment came around the seventh inning of his second Major League start.

"You know when everybody knows what's going on," said Buchholz on Saturday night, still wearing his Red Sox jersey, "and then you look at the scoreboard, and then say, 'Oh, Lord.'"
And so the 6-foot-3 rookie, whose Major League focus matched a singularly dominant repertoire on one historic night, finally noticed a lack of Red Sox sitting near him in the dugout. Then he went out and became only the third pitcher since 1900 to throw a no-hitter in his first or second Major League start.

By completing the 17th no-hitter in Red Sox history, Buchholz accomplished at such an early stage in his career what Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling never did in a Red Sox uniform.

Buchholz struck out nine, walked three and hit a batter as Boston won, 10-0, before 36,819 thrilled fans. And he threw 115 pitches before a workload-leery Red Sox front office, which gleefully celebrated with hugs and fist pumps on the last offering, a 1-2 curveball that froze Nick Markakis.

Buchholz joined Mark Buehrle of the White Sox (April 18) and Justin Verlander of the Tigers (June 12) among the pitchers to throw a no-hitter this season -- all of whom are American Leaguers. He also became the 21st rookie to throw a no-hitter, the first since Florida's Anibal Sanchez on Sept. 6, 2006.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Buchholz is the third pitcher since 1900 to throw a no-hitter in his first or second Major League start. Bobo Hollomon threw a no-hitter in his debut on May 6, 1953, for the St. Louis Browns at home against the Philadelphia A's, and Wilson Alvarez did it in his second start on Aug. 11, 1991, for the White Sox at Baltimore.

Considered one of the franchise's top pitching prospects since his arrival as a sandwich pick -- 42nd overall -- out of Angelina College in 2005, compensation for Martinez leaving as a free agent, Buchholz didn't take long to establish himself in the Majors.

For nine innings, Buchholz sparkled among thousands of flashbulbs. He commanded his fastball early, working in a devastating array of offspeed pitches.

After each out, typically the result of a gravity-defying curveball or an immaculately released changeup, the nervous Red Sox rookie nibbled on his glove, enjoying the scene. No later than the seventh inning, the crowd had reached a fever pitch.

Miguel Tejada led off the seventh with a hot shot up the middle. Second baseman Dustin Pedroia dove to his right, stabbing the bounding ball. He turned and threw. Tejada, hurtling headfirst into first, was late.

"To me," Tejada said, "that was the best play they made the whole night."

Buchholz's defensive reputation lags behind the Gold Glove candidate Pedroia's. Nevertheless, he came up with his own top play in the eighth, snaring a Jay Payton rocket on the mound and throwing him out.

Still, Jason Varitek took special care to note the impressive ground that center fielder Coco Crisp covered on a pair of Corey Patterson drives to the outfield gap -- one in the sixth, one in the ninth. That was the most "overlooked" performance, the Sox catcher said.

Answered Crisp, "All the credit goes to [Buchholz]."

"We're back there just trying to make plays for him," Crisp said. "We're his pawns ... and you know, we've got to come up with the plays. That's our job."

The night belonged to Buchholz. When he rang up the final out, a delayed punchout that sent the crowd and the home dugout into a frenzy, the Red Sox spilled onto the field, forming a bounding huddle around the rookie pitcher.

Crisp and third baseman Mike Lowell expressed disappointment that David Ortiz -- "camera hog," Lowell called Big Papi -- beat them to the punch.

"You're rooting for him," Lowell said. "You're absolutely rooting for him."
After the game, Crisp ticked off the many ways in which Buchholz took control.

"He was able to stay focused," he said, "and not allow too many hard-hit balls. And the ones that were hit stayed up in the air."

Perhaps most importantly, Crisp said, on a night when he began the fifth and sixth by walking leadoff men -- "a couple of big innings that can throw a pitcher off" -- Buchholz "was able to relax, go back out there, take a couple of deep breaths at times and stay in his rhythm."

Before the game, Red Sox manager Terry Francona spoke of a letdown in Buchholz's Triple-A performance after he made his Major League debut on Aug. 17. For two weeks, the prospect shuttled across upstate New York, losing his next two starts as a member of the Pawtucket Red Sox.

But, Francona added, "I think we still love this kid to death. And we're excited for a chance to run him out there and see how he does."

Kevin Youkilis added a three-run home run to the cause. Still, the Red Sox's 10-run outburst and the circumstances of the effort -- the Yankees won in the afternoon, staying five games back in the AL East -- remained secondary to Buchholz's singular brilliance.

"I don't even have a word for it," Buchholz said.

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