BOSTON – Over and over of late, Mark Buehrle has said he’s close to where he needs to be on the mound, the pitcher he’s been for the past 12 years nearly within reach despite his ongoing struggles.
Then Saturday afternoon, against a team that’s given him a tough time, at a place where he usually hasn’t done all that well, it all came together for the Toronto Blue Jays left-hander, who left with a lead but settled for a no-decision in a 3-2 win over the Boston Red Sox.
A seven-inning, one-run effort was by far his best of the season, and allowed him to outduel a strong Clay Buchholz, who pitched against the Blue Jays for the first time since questions were raised about a glossy white substance on his left arm May 1 at Rogers Centre.
Adam Lind made sure it didn’t go to waste by opening the ninth with a homer to centre off Junichi Tazawa.
“The three differences today were first-pitch strikes, getting ahead in the count, I kept the ball down, and to be honest, the third one was luck,” said Buehrle. “There’s a pitch I threw to (Stephen) Drew in the fourth inning that was probably exactly the same pitch when I faced him at home and he hit a two-run homer. I had the majority of my pitches working, movement down in the zone, but the times I did miss, they didn’t make me pay for it.”
Buehrle was roughed up for five runs in 6.2 innings by the Red Sox 10 days ago in Toronto, and was whacked around during a seven-run third Monday at Tampa Bay before settling down to grind out three more scoreless frames in a game the Blue Jays rallied to win.
In this one he left up 2-0 in the eighth after walking David Ross to open the inning, and the lead disappeared when Darren Oliver allowed an RBI triple to Jacoby Ellsbury and Munenori Kawasaki booted a Dustin Pedroia grounder versus a drawn-in infield that would have been the second out of the inning.
Oliver managed to keep things there, Lind fought back from 0-2 down to turn pitch No. 6 from Tazawa, a 78 m.p.h. slider, into his second homer, and Casey Janssen closed things out in the ninth for his 10th save to keep the Blue Jays from wasting a solid afternoon before a sellout crowd of 36,543 at Fenway Park.
“It’s just to fun to help this team to win,” said Lind. “Being on the bases, getting dirty, playing first, you’re really more involved with the game, you feel like you’re part of it.”
WHERE THINGS STAND: The Blue Jays (14-24) improved to 7-15 against the American League East this season and have a chance to win their second series thus far with a victory in Sunday’s series finale. Chad Jenkins makes his season debut against Canadian Ryan Dempster for the Red Sox (22-15), who lost for the seventh time in nine games.
Jenkins starts in place of Brandon Morrow, who was pushed back to Wednesday. With Josh Johnson and J.A. Happ down with injuries and Ricky Romero in triple-A for another tuneup, the Blue Jays will end up having using Ramon Ortiz, Mark Buehrle and Jenkins at Fenway this weekend.
“The whole injury thing, I haven’t seen anything like this, guys are dropping like flies, that’s obviously not good,” said Buehrle. “Injuries are going to happen, we just have to overcome those injuries and try to win as many games as we can.”
SLICK CLAY?: During that May 1 outing in Toronto, controversy erupted after Sportsnet broadcast cameras captured Clay Buchholz running his fingers through a glossy white substance on his left forearm and rubbing up the baseball.
Buchholz said it was a mixture of rosin and sweat, nothing more, although Sportsnet analyst Jack Morris didn’t buy it, fuelling a discussion that lingered to this contest. Morris spoke with Buchholz by the batting cage Friday and everyone moved on, although it was worth noting that the right-hander’s forearms were dry for this outing.
“That’s over, we’re tired of talking about that, to be honest with you,” said John Gibbons. “He’s a good pitcher.”
He gave up two runs on six hits and three walks, while last time he threw seven shutout innings, allowing only two hits and three walks.
THE ARMS: Mark Buehrle had two on and one out in each of the first two innings and gave up two hits in the third but struck out Mike Napoli to end that threat, the first of 13 straight batters he retired.
Over seven frames he gave up one run on five hits and two walks striking out five yet still missed out on earning his second win of the year. The Blue Jays haven’t had their starters grab control of too many games this season, but Buehrle certainly lifted his teammates in this one.
“I felt like every time I was throwing a pitch, it was almost like, ‘Hey, you guys aren’t going to hit this.’ I was that confident today,” said Buehrle. “When you throw up zeroes, especially going up against a guy like Buchholz, who you know isn’t going to give up many, you try to give them a chance to throw up some runs on the board. In the middle of the game when we’re leading, it gives everybody confidence that we have a chance to win against one of the better pitchers in baseball right now.”
Buehrle’s ERA went down from 7.02 to 6.19.
“That’s vintage Buehrle, right there,” said John Gibbons. “He had it all going.”
CLOSING TIME: Casey Janssen improved to a perfect 10-for-10 in converting save opportunities, working around a leadoff double by Will Middlebrooks that ended his run of 25 straight retired batters and was the first by a right-handed batter against him after 18 straight outs.
“You always want to try to get the leadoff guy out, but it doesn’t always work the way you draw it up,” said Janssen. “I was probably a little lucky and glad I was able to leave him at second.”
Janssen needed just six more pitches to do that,
“I’m not kidding when I say whatever is going to happen is going to happen fast, good or bad,” he said. “I’m trying to eliminate as many pitches as I can to be available tomorrow and the next day and continue on like that.”
The run of 25 straight retired batters fell one short of Dave Stieb’s club record established in 1989.
THE BATS: With Rajai Davis on the disabled list and no more promising options for the leadoff spot, manager John Gibbons simply moved the entire lineup up one spot, which meant Melky Cabrera batting leadoff, Jose Bautista second, followed by Edwin Encarnacion, J.P. Arencibia and Adam Lind.
It worked out as Melky Cabrera cashed in a Colby Rasmus walk in the second to open the scoring, and Rasmus knocked in Lind after a single in the fourth to make it 2-0.
Bautista had two hits and a walk while Lind’s homer was his third hit of the game.
“I kind of liked that, you get Bautista and Encarnacion to the plate in the first inning,” said John Gibbons. “Brett (Lawrie) is starting to swing it a little bit, we’ll see what happens down the road, but until Jose Reyes comes back, we may do that.”
Junichi Tazawa has allowed three homers this season, all to the Blue Jays. Jose Reyes and Encarnacion have the other two.
Lind is now 7-for-17 with two homer and two doubles over his last five games, managing to keep his timing despite starting for the first time since Wednesday because of a run of opposing lefties. He took over for the injured Rajai Davis on Friday and struck out twice against Jon Lester.
“That helped me today so I wasn’t just thrown into the fire, which I was (Friday) night,” said Lind. “(Friday), my first at-bat was a little tough but it wouldn’t have mattered if I was playing every day or not.”