BOSTON – Clay Buchholz has grown from a frustrated pitcher into one of baseball’s best in just two years.

The Red Sox right-hander pitched six innings of five-hit ball to lower his AL-best ERA to 2.26, and Bill Hall hit a two-run homer as Boston beat the Toronto Blue Jays 5-0 in a rain-delayed game Sunday.

“I think he’s gaining confidence with every start. He knows what he needs to do,” Hall said. “He expects to go out and be dominant, and he’s been that all year long.”

It wasn’t always that way for Buchholz (15-5).

He was 0-7 in his last 10 starts in 2008, finishing 2-9 with a 6.75 ERA.

“There’s a couple of times (I wanted) to go home, just chalk it up for a season and head into the offseason and forget about that year,” he said. “But now I feel like if I make a mistake I can come back and readjust. … It’s definitely a big confidence thing.”

The game began 1 hour, 44 minutes late and was stopped for 59 minutes by more rain with two outs in the top of the third of a scoreless tie. That delay didn’t bother Buchholz, who needed just two pitches after play resumed to end the inning by retiring Adam Lind on a fly ball to left field.

It was typical of the way he has been pitching lately. He extended his scoreless streak to 20 innings and hasn’t allowed an earned run in 23 innings. He won his fifth consecutive decision and gave up three runs or less for the 15th time in his last 16 starts.

Buchholz allowed just five hits for the third straight game, struck out seven and walked three.

“It’s easy to say (he’s maturing) when a guy gets everybody out,” Boston Manager Terry Francona said.

“That’s the normal course of growing up.”

Shaun Marcum (11-7) retired Boston’s first 12 batters after pitching a one-hitter in his previous game, a 3-1 win at Oakland last Monday night.

But David Ortiz led off the fifth with a triple to left-center that center fielder Vernon Wells, shaded toward right field, couldn’t reach despite a hustling attempt. On the next pitch, Adrian Beltre lined a double to left, scoring Ortiz.

Marcum set down the next two batters before Hall hit a towering shot over the left-field wall on a 2-1 pitch for his 17th homer of the year.

“He made three bad pitches” to Ortiz, Beltre and Hall, Toronto Manager Cito Gaston said. “He threw 91 pitches — three bad ones. Otherwise, he pitched a good game.”

The righty then retired seven of his remaining eight hitters and left after the seventh. He gave up four hits with six strikeouts and no walks.

Jason Frasor took over in the eighth and allowed two runs on a run-scoring double by Ryan Kalish and an RBI single by Ortiz.

The Blue Jays couldn’t get going offensively even after Buchholz left. Daniel Bard worked the seventh, and Felix Doubront, who entered with a 3-0 lead, worked the last two innings for his second save.

Toronto managed six hits, all singles, and had its best chance in the first inning. Fred Lewis led off with a walk and took third on Jose Bautista’s one-out single. But Buchholz ended the threat with a popup and a groundout.

Francona said Buchholz wanted to keep pitching after the delay and, “as long as he’s OK physically, it wasn’t an issue.”

Buchholz said he felt better when play resumed. But he tired in the sixth, when singles by Bautista and Wells put runners at first and second with no outs. They never advanced as Lind struck out, Lyle Overbay flied out, and John McDonald lined out to second baseman Jed Lowrie.

Toronto dropped to 4-11 against Boston.

“We just haven’t played well against these guys all year, not just Buchholz,” Gaston said. “We win one out of three. It doesn’t matter who they put out there against us.”


NOTES: Kalish’s double broke an 0-for-15 slump. … Hall is 3 for 4 with three homers and five RBI against Marcum.


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