Clay Buchholz believes Yankee Stadium is the "toughest place mentally to pitch," which explains why the Red Sox righthander hasn't had much success here in the Bronx. At least until Friday night.
A month after Buchholz couldn't get through the fourth inning against the Yankees in Boston, he rebounded in his rematch for what proved to be his strongest outing of his otherwise topsy-turvy season.
Buchholz allowed only two runs and five hits and walked one in seven innings in Boston's 5-4 win over the Yankees, finally giving the Red Sox (18-20) a glimpse of the pitcher who won 17 games with a 2.33 ERA last season.
For a team desperately trying to get on a roll, Buchholz's performance was the most positive development on an evening filled with them.
"Tremendous," manager Terry Francona said.
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"Awesome," Dustin Pedroia said.
The last time Buchholz faced the Yankees, he gave up five runs (four earned) in 32/3 innings April 9, the second start in a woeful April (1-3, 5.33 ERA in five starts).
Buchholz finally started righting himself in his last two starts, but the prospects of continuing that recent upward trend in New York weren't bright. In three career starts in the Bronx, he's allowed 12 earned runs in 17 innings, which amounts to a 6.35 ERA.
And even though the Yankees' offense has been scuffling lately, Buchholz paid no attention. "They always seem to come out of their struggles when we come here," he said.
That's one reason he doesn't like pitching at Yankee Stadium. The other reason why this place is "the toughest mentally" for a pitcher -- especially one in a Red Sox jersey -- is the fans.
"And they all hate us," he said. "It's tough sometimes."
But he made it look relatively easy Friday night. The only real trouble he faced came in the fifth inning when Jorge Posada led off with a single and Russell Martin followed with a home run over the centerfield fence, accounting for the only two runs the Yankees scored off Buchholz.
Otherwise, Buchholz's five-pitch arsenal kept the Yankees' hitter guessing all evening. According to PitchFX data, he threw 52 fastballs, 21 cutters, 20 changeups, nine curveballs and eight sinkers. Yankees hitters swung and missed at 16 of his 110 pitches, which is an impressive ratio.
"There are some guys in that lineup that have a history against him, some pretty decent numbers and he made some really good pitches," Francona said. "And he kept making them. He kept repeating them."
"I just focused on my location," Buchholz said. "In the bullpen, I felt my stuff was going to be there. So I was just thinking that if I was going to throw a two-seamer in to the righthanders, I had to make sure to get it in and not leave it over the middle of the plate. I did that for the most part."