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Closing Time: Clay Buchholz, Red Sox dominate Yankees to close out sweep

09.15.13 at 11:27 pm ET
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In a September sweep of the Yankees at Fenway Park, there was no shortage of moments for the Red Sox to celebrate. The most important takeaway from Sunday’s 9-2 blowout, though, was the fact that Clay Buchholz looked strong in his second start back from the DL, offering further evidence that he has returned as a pitcher capable of being a postseason difference-maker for a team that is steamrolling towards the playoffs.

The Sox took advantage of a shaky outing from Ivan Nova, who gave up five runs (four earned) and exited in the fifth inning without recording an out in the frame. Nova walked four batters, threw a wild pitch and hit Mike Carp, the last batter he faced, with the bases loaded to bring home a run.

Buchholz gave up one run, unearned, on just two Yankee hits over six innings. The fact that he pitched into the sixth, and effectively, was a significant positive in itself, as he was held to just 74 pitches in his first outing after returning from the DL.

Buchholz did struggle with his command: in four of his six innings, he either walked or hit the leadoff batter. Double plays helped keep him out of trouble, especially in the third inning, when he put men on first and second with one out but got a grounder to second for an inning-ending twin kill.

Overall, though, the fact that Buchholz has now thrown 11 innings without an earned run since returning to the rotation is what matters most to the Sox. After missing three months with a shoulder injury, he’s stepped right back onto the field without any significant problems. Indeed, he’s dropped his ERA from 1.71 before landing on the DL to 1.51 now — the lowest mark by any starter with at least 90 innings pitched since Bob Gibson‘s 1.12 mark in 1968.

With Sunday’s win, the Sox finish 13-6 against Yankees on the year, making them the first team since the 1976 Orioles to win 13 games against the Yankees. That’s made a significant difference in the division race, as the Yankees trailed the Sox by 11 1/2 games entering Sunday.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

- Mike Napoli hit his 22nd home run of the year in the first inning, a towering drive that soared into the center field stands and brought home David Ortiz as well. That was his fifth homer in 13 September games.

Seven of Napoli’s 22 homers this year have come against the Yankees (against seven different pitchers). Three of those came earlier this month, when he went deep against Boone Logan on Sept. 6, then did it twice in the next day’s game.

Napoli is hitting .375 against the Yankees on the year, his second-highest average against any team he’s faced at least three times. Thanks to those seven homers and three doubles, he’s also slugging .818 against them.

This isn’t a new phenomenon for Napoli. Over the course of his career, he’s hitting .340/.454/.647 with 12 homers against the Yankees.

- Daniel Nava went 4-for-5, tying a career high with four hits for just the fifth time in his career. It was also his fifth multi-hit game in September. He’s now hitting .400 with a .461 OBP since August 8.

Nava’s .392 OBP on the year is the fifth-best in the AL, trailing only David Ortiz, Joe Mauer, Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera. Sox manager John Farrell had no shortage of praise for Nava before Sunday’s game.

‘€œI think any time there’€™s a willingness to take constructive feedback and work as hard as he has to overcome maybe a deficiency of the moment, it’€™s a guy you root for, because this is a story is like no other in the game,” Farrell said. “To perform at the level he is right now, this is something that no one could ever foresee. And the work that he’€™s put in, he’€™s the one is deserving of all the credit that comes his way.’€

- Leading 3-1 in the fourth inning, the Sox decided to be daring on the bases. Jarrod Saltalamacchia stole home as Xander Bogaerts stole second, giving them a 4-1 cushion.

The first time the Sox stole home this season, it was the speedier Shane Victorino executing the play on July 23. Saltalamacchia has just three stolen bases this season, and those three account for 75 percent of his career total. But the double steal worked perfectly – albeit with some help from Brendan Ryan, who bobbled the ball – as Bogaerts drew the throw to second, allowing Saltalamacchia to take home with no trouble.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

- Napoli broke Mark Bellhorn‘s single-season strikeout record, swinging over a slider from Adam Warren in the fifth inning for his 177th of the year and then watching a low slider from Joba Chamberlain for strike three in the sixth.

Napoli didn’t agree with the latter call, and his argument with home plate umpire Ron Kulpa got him ejected from the game for the first time in his career.

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