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Closing Time: Clay Buchholz takes first loss as Mark Buehrle, Blue Jays stifle Red Sox

09.21.13 at 10:20 pm ET
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Perfect, he’s not.

Clay Buchholz looked absolutely dazzling in retiring the first nine Blue Jays he faced through three perfect innings, but the right-hander faltered in the fourth, permitting a string of two-out hits that saddled him with a three-run yield and, ultimately, his first loss of 2013, as the Blue Jays defeated the Sox, 4-2. Buchholz permitted only two earned runs, but with the Sox offense being subdued, he saw his record drop to 11-1 — missing out on the chance to set the record for the most wins in an undefeated season in major league history. (Buchholz entered the game 11-0, one shy of Tom Zachary‘s record 12-0 season in 1929 with the Yankees.)

Still, while the loss trimmed the Sox’ lead in the race for the best record in the American League to 1 1/2 games over Oakland, Buchholz took a step forward by building his pitch count to 106, his highest total since May 22. And, for the 14th time in his 15 starts this year he limited his opponent to two or fewer earned runs. Despite missing three months, Buchholz has just two fewer outings in which he’s permitted two or fewer earned runs than team co-leaders Jon Lester and John Lackey, who have recorded 16 such outings apiece.

In addition to losing a game in the race for the best record in the AL, the Sox also now have eliminated their margin for error in their pursuit of 100 runs. The team needs six victories in its final six games to reach that landmark.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

— On a night when they were without two of their foremost right-handed hitters (Dustin Pedroia and Mike Napoli), the Red Sox offense proved flat against left-hander Mark Buehrle and the Blue Jays. The Sox managed just five hits (all singles) and did not walk against the veteran, plating just one run and striking out five times in his six innings of work.

Ryan Dempster‘s stuff did not play up in his first appearance out of the bullpen since 2007. The right-hander, who entered with the Sox trailing, 3-2, in the top of the eighth, permitted a ringing out to deep center by Jose Reyes (the first batter Dempster faced), a hard groundout off his glove that ricocheted to Pedroia at second, a single up the middle and a walk before punching out Moises Sierra to end the inning. His fastball sat at 87-89 mph, bumping 90 twice. He did get two swings and misses, both on sliders. It is worth noting that, while Dempster’s stuff did not play up out of the bullpen on Saturday, the right-hander was pitching on three days’ rest since his six-inning start against the Orioles on Tuesday.

Matt Thornton, on the bubble in his pursuit of a spot on the playoff roster, struggled with his control, allowing a run on a single and a pair of walks in two-thirds of an inning. The outing marked just the second time in his last 17 appearances with the Red Sox that the left-hander had issued any walks, and just the third game in that stretch in which he’s permitted a run.

— For the second straight game, Buchholz committed a throwing error on a pickoff attempt at first that resulted in an unearned run.

Xander Bogaerts has dazzled Red Sox officials throughout his initial exposure to the big leagues generally and, more narrowly, third base (a position he’d never played in his life until this year). However, on Saturday, he betrayed for perhaps the first time in the big leagues his newness to the position.

The 20-year-old committed a costly defensive miscue, albeit one that wasn’t ruled an error. In the top of the fourth inning, he double-clutched on a two-out grounder from Brett Lawrie, with the slight delay permitting the Toronto third baseman to reach on what was deemed officially an infield hit. That was the first of four straight two-out hits by Toronto, a bunching that — in concert with an errant pickoff by Buchholz — led to three runs.

Bogaerts also went 0-for-3, dropping his average to .263 with a .326 OBP.

— Dustin Pedroia, after entering the game as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning, struck out in his only plate appearance, thus ending a 10-game hitting streak.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

David Ross single-handedly dominated the Blue Jays running game, gunning down all three runners who attempted to steal second against him. He cut down Jose Reyes, Rajai Davis and Anthony Gose, and Ross has now thrown out 10 of 29 runners attempting steals against him. His 34.5 percent caught stealing rate is tied with Kelly Shoppach for the best by a Red Sox catcher (min. 10 attempts) since Mike Macfarlane threw out 35.4 percent of attempted base stealers in 1995.

Stephen Drew, batting leadoff for the first time all year, went 2-for-4.

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