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 when he finished at 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 began the day with a 2.36 ERA and extended his streak to 23 1-3 innings without allowing an earned run. He won his fifth consecutive decision and gave up three runs or less for the 15th time in his last 16 starts. He allowed just five hits for the third straight game, struck out seven and walked three.
Buchholz has started 22 games this year, surpassing his previous career-high of 16 last season.
“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. That hit was a homer by Conor Jackson leading off the seventh.
On Sunday, the Red Sox unleashed their power in the fifth. David Ortiz led off 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.
“I felt like I came back stronger after the delay,” Marcum said. “My arm was loose. I stayed loose in the clubhouse, kept stretching.”
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 in three opportunities.
Toronto managed six hits, all singles, and had its best chance in the first. Fred Lewis led off with a walk and took third on Jose Bautista’s one-out single. But Buchholz ended the threat with an infield popup and a groundout.
He struck out the side in the second, when he allowed a walk and a single, and fanned two more batters in the third. He struck out Lyle Overbay leading off the fourth and allowed his next runner on a single by Jose Molina to start the fifth. But a flyout and a double play ended that inning.
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. But they were stranded there as Lind struck out, Overbay flied out and John McDonald lined out to second baseman Jed Lowrie.
Toronto won the series opener 16-2 then lost the next two to drop 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: Toronto 3B Edwin Encarnacion missed his third straight game with a sore left wrist. … Kalish’s double broke an 0-for-15 slump. … Hall is 3 for 4 with 3 homers and 5 RBIs in his career against Marcum.