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Closing Time: Clay Buchholz tunes up, David Ortiz and Jarrod Saltalamacchia reach milestones as Sox crush O’s

09.27.13 at 10:24 pm ET
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BALTIMORE — As final tuneups go, Clay Buchholz‘s last outing of the 2013 regular season — in a 12-3 Red Sox romp past the Orioles that improved the Sox to 97-63, in the process permitting the Sox to clinch at least a tie for the best record in the American League — represented something of a mixed bag.

On the one hand, for the first time since his return from the disabled list, the right-hander was able to work into the seventh inning. He logged 113 pitches, tied for his second-largest workload of the year (behind only a 116-pitch outing on May 6). There were times when he showed the action on his pitches to generate either bad contact (such as a groundball double play on a 3-1 pitch to Nick Markakis) or swings and misses.

At the same time, on a night when Buchholz spotted his pitches reasonably well, he did not have the overpowering stuff that so often characterized his other efforts this year. His fastball was in the 87-90 mph range for much of the night, and at times, his other pitches lacked bite as well, resulting in a three-run yield in which Buchholz gave up a pair of homers — matching the total he’d permitted in his first 15 starts of the year. 

It certainly wasn’t an alarming outing. After all, he had the command to walk no one while punching out four, and he remained in control of a contest in which he was entrusted with a 5-0 victory before he stepped on the mound in the bottom of the first. And there was plenty to be impressed by over the course of his four starts after coming off the disabled list, as he forged a 1.87 ERA in those outings.

Put another way: If there are any doubts about whether Buchholz’s stuff has returned to the stature of a No. 1 starter, then the idea of having him as, say, a potential No. 2 — in a year where he finished the campaign with 12-1 record and a 1.74 ERA (more precisely, 1.744, the second lowest ever by a Sox pitcher (behind only the 1.742 mark of Pedro Martinez in 2000) who worked at least 100 frames since the end of The Great War) — in a postseason series suggests an area of obvious strength for the Red Sox as they prepare to embark on their October schedule.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

– Score early, score often. The Red Sox jumped on O’s starter Scott Feldman before the right-hander knew what hit him, smoking him for five first-inning runs and ultimately plating eight runs against a starter who recorded just seven outs. It marked the 10th time this year that the Sox have knocked out a starter before he’s completed three innings of work.

David Ortiz unloaded on an 89 mph fastball down and away against left-hander Mike Belfiore in the top of the eighth inning, sending a rocket screaming just just over the low fence in left-center for his 30th homer of the year. It was a textbook piece of hitting: Staying in against a lefty (tangent: Belfiore, a BC alum, was making his big league debut) and staying on a pitch in a location that probably wasn’t far from where the pitcher wanted it, and simply going with the pitch. It was Ortiz’s seventh 30-homer season (and his first since 2010), giving him seven campaigns in which he’s hit that mark — second most in franchise history, behind only the eight 30-homer seasons amassed by Ted Williams. Moreover, with seven seasons of 30 homers and 100 RBI with the Sox, Ortiz has matched Williams for the most ever by a Sox slugger.

– On the one hand, Jarrod Saltalamacchia was denied a home run when a video review of his deep fly to right found that it had remained in play after bouncing off the top of the fence in right. On the other hand, the double was the 40th of the year for Saltalamacchia, allowing him to set a new single-season record for the most doubles in a single season by a Red Sox catcher. Saltalamacchia had been in a three-way tie with Jason Varitek and Carlton Fisk. His 54 extra-base hits are tied for sixth-most in Red Sox history by a catcher, behind only Fisk (who surpassed the Saltalamacchia total three times) and Varitek (who did it twice).

Daniel Nava went 2-for-5 and slammed his 12th homer of the year while driving in three runs. The homer marked the 200th time he’s reached base this year. His OBP of .381 ranks seventh in the American League, and second (behind only Mike Trout) among AL outfielders.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

– In his second game back, Jacoby Ellsbury went 0-for-4, making him the only Red Sox starter without a hit. However, in his final at-bat he did line a slider from left-hander Zach Britton to short.

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