BOSTON - Clay Buchholz’s curveball was so sharp that he threw it for a strike when he didn’t even try.
Buchholz allowed just three singles in 8 1-3 innings, and Alex Gonzalez and Dustin Pedroia’s RBI singles made up for a Boston offense that sputtered in the early innings as the Red Sox beat the Toronto Blue Jays 3-2 on Saturday night.
Mixing fastballs with a changeup and his sharp curve, Buchholz struck out nine and walked two three days before the two-year anniversary of his no-hitter over the Baltimore Orioles in his second big-league start.
Buchholz’s first batter of the game may have been an indication that he had good stuff: Jose Bautista ducked out of the way as a curveball broke over the plate for a called third strike.
“I had a good one from my first batter to my last,” he said. “I had a good one in the bullpen. I was actually was trying to throw (the one to Batista) down in the dirt. It ended up catching part of the plate.”
The Red Sox won for fifth time in six games and maintained their 2½ game lead over Texas in the AL wild-card chase. The Rangers beat Minnesota, 3-0, on Saturday.
Buccholz gave up an infield hit to Kevin Miller in the second, one up the middle by Lyle Overbay in the seventh and Batista’s leading off the ninth.
“That was a terrific game,” Boston manager Terry Francona said. “I actually think when he establishes his fastball and makes hitters respect that, it makes his changeup that much better and you start adding two breaking balls for strikes, it gives them a lot of different looks.”
Hideki Okajima gave up Adam Lind’s RBI double that scored Batista and Overbay’s run-scoring single before Jonathan Papelbon got the final two outs for his 32nd save.
Toronto starter Ricky Romero (11-6) took the loss, giving up three runs on seven hits in 5 1-3 innings.
Buchholz’s strong pitching overcame a Red Sox offense that squandered three excellent chances in the first three innings. Boston had nine baserunners with six hits, two walks, a hit batsman and a passed ball mixed in, but it could only score one run.
“He was locating his changeup,” Overbay said. “He mixed up hit pitches very well.”
In fact, Buchholz felt he may have had better control Saturday than in his no-hitter two years ago.
“I think it was better tonight than it was that one night,” he said, before thinking it over a bit more. “I’d have to go look at the film to see how I was throwing.”
The Blue Jays, who managed to get just two balls out of the infield against Buchholz in the first six innings, were a close call away from being hitless entering the seventh. Millar was ruled safe by first base umpire Jim Wolf after shortstop Gonzalez went to his knees in the hole before firing to first.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
“We didn’t get hits until later in the ballgame so we weren’t a threat earlier,” Toronto manager Cito Gaston said.
The Red Sox led 1-0 after one, but it could have been a lot more. They had runners on second and third with one out after Pedroia’s RBI single, but he was picked off third and David Ortiz fanned to end the inning.
In the second, they loaded the bases with no outs but failed to score. Gonzalez bounded into a fielder’s choice, with Jason Bay cut down at the plate by first baseman Overbay’s throw before Jacoby Ellsbury grounded into a double play.
In the third, they put runners on first and third with one out, but Ortiz struck out and Mike Lowell bounced weakly to first after Bay walked to load the bases.
An RBI single by Gonzalez and bases-loaded walk to Victor Martinez made it 3-0 in the sixth.
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