The Hartford Courant
9:04 AM EDT, May 7, 2013
Last time, it was all about what was going on his left arm. This time, it was all about what was going on inside his head.
After Blue Jays broadcasters Jack Morris and Dirk Hayhurst claimed Clay Buchholz was throwing a spitter, Buchholz insisted nothing illegal was going on the baseballs he had thrown more effectively than anyone in Major League Baseball in 2013. His manager backed him 100 percent. His catchers backed him. So did Dennis Eckersley, Jerry Remy and virtually everyone within spitting distance of the Charles River. It's all bunk, everyone agreed.
After Buchholz had allowed more runs, more hits, nearly suffered his first loss of the season against a guy who was winless and had an ERA of 7.22, the question had to be asked Monday night. How much did all the blather, all the spittle, all the film analysis get under Buchholz's wet hair and into his head?
"Not at all," Buchholz said after he allowed four runs and seven hits over six uneven innings in a non-decision Monday night against the Minnesota Twins in a game that ended with a 6-5 Red Sox victory in the 11th. "It's not anywhere in my head."
Of course it didn't bother him. Not one itsy, bitsy bit.
Let's be honest. He would have admitted he threw a spitter before he admitted the sudden national obsession with the legality of his pitches bothered him. That's the nature of every competitor.
"I did the same thing I had done in all seven starts this year," Buchholz said. "For a couple of days afterward, hearing people talk about it in Toronto, that was a little different. That's the last thing I thought would have been said about me.
"It comes when somebody is doing good, a hitter or a pitcher, somebody is doing something out of the ordinary really good, everybody thinks you're doing steroids, doing something, you have to be put something on the ball."
Buchholz had not thrown more than 24 pitches in any inning before Monday night. He threw 36 in the first inning alone. He had not allowed a run in the first inning of his first six starts. He allowed two against the Twins. Most impressively, he hadn't allowed more than one run in any inning.
That streak ended quickly when Joe Mauer hit a two-seamer to the opposite field for a double and Josh Willingham drilled a two-seamer on a 1-2 count high off the Monster for an RBI double. Justin Morneau, who entered the game with a .500 career batting average against Buchholz [7-for-14], followed by lining a single off the pitcher's glove into center field for a 2-0 lead.
Buchholz began losing his control. He ran three successive batters to full counts. He walked Chris Parmelee. He walked Trevor Plouffe. The pinpoint control that given him 47 strike outs and only 16 walks in his first 44¿2/3¿ innings, suddenly wasn't there.
Just when it looked as if it was going to be a huge inning, however, Oswaldo Arcia helped out Buchholz. He chased a 2-0 pitch barely off the ground and he struck out on a high fastball that would have been ball four. Just as suddenly, Buchholz found his form. He struck out rookie Aaron Hicks on three pitches to the end first and got Pedro Florimon and Brian Dozier looking in the second.
He went on to retire nine in a row, his changeup especially sharp in striking out seven of those nine. In the fourth, however, Arcia doubled on a changeup into the right-field corner and Hicks hit an RBI double to the same spot. And in the fifth, Mauer bounced a fastball into the bullpen for a ground-rule double, Willingham lined a single off Buchholz's glove and Morneau lifted a curveball for sacrifice fly for a 4-1 lead. Buchholz lasted through the sixth, done after 116 pitches in his shortest outing of the season.
"Overall I felt good," Buchholz said. "The majority of the outs were strikeouts. That drove up the pitch count. I just left a couple of pitches up."
Manager John Farrell agreed: "He had very similar stuff to his six previous starts, in some cases even more powerful with his nine strikeouts."
He entered the game with a major league best 1.01 ERA. Opponents were hitting a miserable .178. His WHIP was a sparkling 0.96. He had gone at least seven innings and allowed two or fewer runs in all of his starts. Since 1987 the only major league pitcher who had done that was Roger Clemens in 1991. According to Elias, Buchholz was only the fourth pitcher since 1900 to win his first six starts while striking out 47 and allowing five or fewer runs.
He has had five pitches rolling. He has a two-seam fastball. He has a changeup. He has a cutter. He has a curveball. He can hump that four-seam fastball into the mid-90s. He was fooling hitters. He was blowing away hitters.
And maybe that has to make you wonder if the Blue Jays announcers — whose team has been decimated by injuries and has been a colossal disappointment — dropped a cherry bomb inside Buchholz's head.
"I think Jack Morris should zip it," Eckersley said last week on NESN. "I feel sorry for Buchholz to even have to deal with this. I'm styling here, and you're taking away from me, a guy that can't even make it to the Hall of Fame yet [Morris] — zip it."
Before the game Monday, a victory dimmed by an arm injury to closer Joel Hanrahan, Remy said on NESN: "We all know [there's no spitball]. It never happened. And it doesn't bother him."
If it doesn't bother him, why would Eckersley say what he did, why would Farrell be so agitated about it when it happened last week, telling reporters, "As soon as someone pitches well or does well, they're cheating?"
Buchholz? He keeps saying he has laughed it off. He joked he's doing the same things as in 2008, when he was sent down to Double A.
Buchholz has explained that he throws water on his head and puts some rosin on his forearm. When water or sweat mixes with rosin, it can produce a sticky concoction. Catcher David Ross has said Buchholz goes so far as to throw out scuffed balls. He doesn't need any more movement on his crazy-moving pitches He's just looking for grip. The question is did he have full grip on his emotions Monday with all the hoopla?
"The camera's going to be on my arm all night," Buchholz said before the game.
The funny thing after initially talking about it, NESN made virtually no point of honing in on Buchholz's left arm. Apparently NESN believes it's all bunk, too. Tom Verducci, the respected baseball writer for Sports Illustrated, thought otherwise. Verducci evidently feels the substance helps Buchholz with his two-seam fastball, which has been remarkable in 2013.
"Buchholz's left forearm glistens this year with some kind of substance that is not rosin or perspiration," said Verducci, who has studied Buchholz on film. "Rosin is white and has a matte finish. Something wet and mostly clear glistens from Buchholz's left wrist to his elbow, the moisture of which darkens the edge of his left undershirt sleeve. This is not perspiration on his left forearm. His right [pitching] forearm is dry. There is no darkening on the edge of his right undershirt sleeve."
Maybe it's all garbage. Still, we've got to ask. Was there some darkening inside Buccholz's head Monday night?
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