Feat Of Clay! Buchholz Twirls No-Hitter

BOSTON—Clay Buchholz admitted after he won his big league debut Aug. 17 that he was more nervous than usual prior to the start but hoped he'd be more composed and successful the second time out. "It's probably the biggest thing in my life up to right now," he said. "And the next time I come up, it'll be that much better."

Even he could not have imagined how right he would be.

Buchholz, Diehard's no. 1 prospect and the youngest player on the Red Sox roster, accomplished in his second start what no other current Sox pitcher has done in 1,197 starts by throwing a no-hitter in a 10-0 win over the Orioles in front of an electric sellout crowd of 36,819 at Fenway Park. It was the first no-hitter by a Sox pitcher since Derek Lowe in 2002 and the 17th in team history.

Buchholz, who was selected by the Sox with the 42nd pick of the 2005 draft and was making only his 62nd professional start, was as brilliant as the line score indicated as he mixed his signature pitch—a change-up so dominant it has been compared to the one thrown by the Twins' two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana—with his fastball, curveball and even a slider that he didn't break out until the eighth inning. He walked three, hit a batter and struck out nine, including Nick Markakis to end it.

"If anybody would ever said something like that to me, that I would come out and [do] what happened today, I would have called him a liar," said Buchholz, still wearing his uniform at a post-game press conference. "That's what you want to go out and do. You dream about things happening like this—perfect games and no-hitters."

The crowd, which stood and roared from the seventh inning on, grew hushed as Buchholz wound up and delivered his 115th and final pitch—a curveball that landed on the outside corner. Home plate umpire Joe West paused before he turned towards the home dugout and made a jabbing motion with his left arm to signal strike three and set off a postseason-sized celebration by the Sox.

Buchholz was a picture of composure throughout the evening—he folded his jacket and placed it neatly on the bench before heading out for the ninth inning—but he seemed to finally grasp the enormity of the achievement in the moment before he disappeared into a sea of exuberant teammates.

Jason Varitek, who caught his third no-hitter, lifted Buchholz, who arched his back ever so slightly, let his arms fall limp and allowed himself to sway before he was swallowed up by the Sox, who pounded him and chanted his name.

"I still can't believe he just threw a no-hitter," said Brandon Moss, who started in left field and played with Buchholz this season at Triple-A Pawtucket. "I know he's good enough, but that's just crazy. It was awesome. Unbelievable."

"I think that's about as nervous and excited as a lot of us have been in a long time," Terry Francona said. "That was something to see."

Buchholz got into trouble only in the fifth, when he walked Aubrey Huff and Kevin Millar to lead off the inning before retiring the next three batters. A former shortstop who played football in high school and is considered one of the best athletes in the Sox system, Buchholz did his share to keep the no-hitter alive by fielding a throw from Kevin Youkilis and beating Corey Patterson to the bag by a step in the fourth, picking Brian Roberts off first in the sixth and snaring Jay Payton's comebacker to end the eighth.

Coco Crisp also made a nice play running down a liner into the gap by Patterson in the sixth, but the one fielding gem that seems to occur in every no-hitter occurred in the seventh inning, when Miguel Tejada hit a scorcher up the middle that Buchholz deflected. Dustin Pedroia made a diving stop behind second base, whirled around and fired to first to beat a sliding Tejada, who waved his right arm in frustration at Pedroia.

"He made that play, I knew that something was meant to happen tonight," Buchholz said.

"The best thing I've ever been a part of," Pedroia said.

That Buchholz is only the second pitcher in major league history to throw a no-hitter in his second career start (Wilson Alvarez no-hit, coincidentally, the Orioles on Aug. 11, 1991) only begins to explain the extraordinary scope of his performance. Until sundown Friday, Buchholz figured he would start Saturday for Pawtucket. But when Tim Wakefield was scratched from his start Friday due to a sore back, the Sox moved Julian Tavarez—the scheduled starter Saturday—to Friday and notified Buchholz he'd be recalled.

"I found out probably in the third inning of our game," Buchholz said. "So I had to gather all my stuff, get up here last night. Really couldn't sleep all that well, so [he] got up early, ate breakfast, tried to do everything and get ready for the game tonight."

The Sox have proceeded cautiously with Buchholz even as he cemented his top prospect status by going 8-5 with a 2.44 ERA and 171 strikeouts in 24 games (23 starts) between Portland and Pawtucket this season. Before Saturday, he'd never pitched beyond the seventh inning nor hit 100 pitches in an outing.

So as nerve-wracking as the final few outs were for Buchholz, his teammates and the fans, no one was quite as anxious as Francona, general manager Theo Epstein and the rest of the player development staff.

"I just got wrapped up in it with everyone else, the excitement," said Sox scouting director Jason McLeod, who was in charge of the 2005 draft. "But then as we got deeper in the game, you start looking at the pitch count [and the] innings that he's got under his belt. So there was a lot of discussion up in the [luxury] box and going back and forth with Theo: ‘Gosh, what do we do if he goes out in the ninth at 105 pitches?' So there was a lot of worry too, if you want to say that."

Epstein said Buchholz would not be allowed to throw more than 120 pitches. Bryan Corey, recalled along with Buchholz and several others Saturday, began warming up in the eighth inning. But nobody—least of all Francona—wanted to be the guy to pry the ball out of Buchholz' hands.

"We feel that we have a huge responsibility to this young kid," Francona said, "but somebody else might have had to put a uniform on and come take him out, because that would have been very difficult."

Nor did anyone believe Buchholz would be lifted with the no-hitter still intact. "He's taking him out? My ass. Not with two outs," Mike Lowell said. "[Epstein would] have to answer a lot more questions than we would."

"I think whoever would have yanked him would have walked out of here with a noose," Varitek said.

"Tito said he would take him out and blame me," Epstein said. "Which is fine."

But Buchholz was at his best in uncharted territory—he recorded four of his strikeouts in the seventh inning or later and needed just 44 pitches to retire the final 11 batters he faced—and was unfazed by sitting through long Sox rallies in the sixth (four runs) and the eighth (two runs).

"The adrenaline was running," said Buchholz, who threw in the cage behind the dugout to stay loose. "I sort of tried to zone everything out, but it was sort of hard with 40,000 people screaming every time you throw. It was a little bit emotional, but I was out there just trying to get outs."

There would be no blame to go around, just acclaim for a pitcher has now accomplished something that none of the active 300-game winners (Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine) have ever done in 2,069 starts.

"For me, more than anything, I was just impressed with his composure and the way he handled himself tonight," McLeod said. "As much as we've always believed in his ability and his talent, to see him handle what went on tonight probably impressed me as much as actually doing it. And hopefully it'll take him a long way."

On the night he made history, Buchholz was 360 days removed from his last start at Single-A and 59 days removed from his last start at Portland. "I wanted this [reaching the majors] to happen this year," Buchholz said. "And I reached all my goals so far. I didn't see any reason why I couldn't reach this one."

On Saturday, he reached higher and went farther than anyone could have imagined.


Diehard managing editor Jerry Beach can be reached at diehardmag@yahoo.com. To receive a free issue of Diehard, call 888-501-5752. To subscribe to Diehard or diehardmagazine.com, please CLICK HERE.

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