BOSTON – Clay Buchholz’s first no-hit bid, back in 2007, was stopped after five innings by Theo Epstein, who was sitting in the Hadlock Field box seats.
Since then, Buchholz’s career has dipped and peaked, much like the Red Sox team he pitches for.
Buchholz would eventually get his no-hitter in 2007, and he came close to another one Sunday afternoon at Fenway Park.
From then to now — nearly six years — the Red Sox have on their hands a bona fide top-line starter capable of helping to carry this Red Sox team back to the promised land or at least back into the playoffs.
Manager John Farrell, who was Boston’s first-year pitching coach when Buchholz came up in 2007, uses words like “maturity” and “knows himself as a pitcher” when talking about the difference between the rookie Buchholz and the veteran in his prime.
Buchholz simply said, “I had to evolve.”
That evolution process brought Buchholz to Fenway on Sunday, where he carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning, before Kelly Johnson’s broken-bat single to right field ended the bid. Buchholz walked away after eight innings of work, allowing two hits and four walks while striking out 11 in a 5-0 victory.
In three starts, Buchholz is 3-0 with a 0.41 ERA.
“He’s very capable of what we’re seeing right now,” Farrell said.
We have seen the potential for these kind of numbers for so long. Buchholz arrived in Portland at the start of the 2007 season with a solid four-seam fastball, curveball, slider and change-up. He cruised through the first half of the Sea Dogs’ season with a 1.77 ERA. On June 30, with Epstein in the stands, Buchholz had a no-hitter through five innings against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.
But Buchholz was at a point where Epstein wanted his prized prospect rested. He instructed Buchholz to be pulled after five innings and only 65 pitches, regardless of the game situation.
“It’s unfortunate that he had the no-no working,” Epstein said at the time.
Buchholz was promoted to Boston on Aug. 17 and was the winning pitcher in an 8-4 victory over the Angels.
“Oh, you can see that he’s got great stuff,” Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said back then. “With a little refining, this guy looks like he’s going to be good for a long time.”
The refining had actually already begun — in a humorous way. When catcher and team captain Jason Varitek signaled for Buchholz to throw a two-seam fastball — a pitch Buchholz had never thrown — the rookie was too afraid to shake off the veteran.
So Buchholz threw a two-seam sinking fastball. It turned out to be pretty good.
Varitek caught Buchholz one more time that season, when he no-hit the Orioles on Sept. 1.
Here is the big difference from that no-hitter in 2007 and the near no-no on Sunday:
In 2007, Buchholz was shut down after his no-hitter. The Red Sox said Buchholz’s arm was weakening (hinting that he needed to do a better job conditioning himself) and that they did not want to risk injury.
In 2013, Buchholz is one of two anchors, along with Jon Lester, on which the Red Sox are relying heavily. Boston is 6-0 in their starts.
Farrell praised Buchholz for his work ethic between starts and for being a student of the game.
On Sunday, Buchholz controlled all four of his pitches — now a two-seam fastball, a cut fastball, a curve and a change-up. He struck out eight in the first four innings.
“When he was getting that number of swings and misses early, those were indications he had a chance to be in complete control,” Farrell said.
Buchholz said he was perfectly calm, unlike the 2007 experience when “I had the captain (Varitek) behind the plate and I didn’t want to shake him off because I was scared of him.
“I was relaxed all the way through (Sunday). It’s fun to go out there and pitch when all your pitches are working.”
The sixth inning featured two walks, and Buchholz’s pitch count spiked to 90. What if that count got too high?
“I certainly didn’t want to be the guy walking out there (to take Buchholz out) with the no-hitter intact,” Farrell said. “When you get into the 120s (in a pitch count), you start to push it pretty good.”
If Buchholz got into the 120s with a no-hitter going, would Farrell have yanked him?
“I don’t think we’ll ever know, will we?” Farrell said, smiling.
In the top of the eighth, Buchholz threw a curve for a called strike to Johnson. He came back with another curve inside — “a quality pitch,” Farrell said. But Johnson got just enough of his bat on it and drove the ball into right field.
No no-no this time.
But there is still excitement. Unlike the giddiness over a rookie’s no-hitter in 2007 — which turned out to be his last start of the season — there is genuine optimism for what Clay Buchholz can mean for this season, for this Red Sox team.
“Glad I could help the team win a game today,” Buchholz said.
Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or: