HOUSTON — This was the Clay Buchholz who dominated during the first half of last season before losing that momentum to injury and three months on the bench. This Buchholz tantalizes and oozes ace potential.
The right-hander tossed his fifth career shutout, a three-hitter, while a balanced offensive attack helped carry the Boston Red Sox to an 11-0 victory over the Houston Astros on Sunday at Minute Maid Park.
Buchholz (4-5) struck out a career-high 12 batters and retired the last 17 Astros he faced. He allowed three singles and did not issue a walk while tossing 109 pitches, 76 strikes. Catcher Jason Castro was the lone Astro to reach third base against Buchholz, doing so in the fourth inning.
“The change-up was best that it has been all year,” Buchholz said. “The cutter had good bite to it. Whenever you’ve got four or five pitches working, it’s hard for a hitter to sit on any one of them.
“It’s night and day (having a full complement of pitches). It’s tough going out in a big league baseball game with just two pitches across multiple innings. It makes it a lot tougher on yourself with two pitches, and I’ve done a lot of work to get command of those pitches back.”
The Red Sox (43-52) initiated their offensive onslaught early, with Brock Holt, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz all reaching to open the first inning against Astros right-hander Brad Peacock (3-6). Two batters later Peacock was finished, having surrendered a leadoff home run to Holt while loading the bases with only one out recorded on his ledger.
“It was command,” Astros manager Bo Porter said. “You look at the at-bats; it’s not like he (Peacock) had command of the strike zone. At that point, again, you say to yourself, ‘Are you going to wait until it is four or five to nothing or are you going to try to give us a chance?’ I felt like we had a better chance to get another guy in there at that point.”
A parade of five Houston relievers could do little to stem the tide. Red Sox third baseman Xander Bogaerts walked and scored off Astros right-hander Anthony Bass in the second; first baseman Mike Napoli and left fielder Daniel Nava reached in succession and later scored in the third.
Boston tacked on two more runs in the fifth against Astros left-hander Darin Downs, with catcher Christian Vazquez delivering a two-out, bases-loaded infield single that scored Nava and lured Astros second baseman Jose Altuve into making an errant throw that eluded shortstop Marwin Gonzalez and allowed Jackie Bradley Jr. to score from second.
The Astros (40-56) committed a third error in the seventh inning, this one a throwing miscue by Gonzalez, which keyed a two-run frame by the Red Sox. Both Red Sox runs came without the benefit of a base hit: Vazquez drove home Bogaerts with a sacrifice fly while designated hitter Ortiz worked a bases-loaded walk that scored Stephen Drew.
The Red Sox won their second consecutive road series and closed the unofficial first half of the season with four victories in their last five games. Holt (5-for-6) finished with a career-high five hits leading off while Pedroia, Nava, Drew and Vazquez contributed two hits apiece.
“We need offensive production up and down our lineup, there is no doubt about that,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “Brock certainly sets the tone but the middle of our order, when they’re producing, that’s when we’ve been most successful. And we’ll continue to lean on that group.”
The Red Sox would love to lean on Buchholz, too, particularly if he can maintain the form he has flashed since returning from the disabled list last month. Over his last four starts, Buchholz has produced a 2.73 ERA with 23 strikeouts against just one walk over 29 2/3 innings.
“He did a great job,” Castro said of Buchholz. “He was mixing speeds all game. He did a great job with his command and keeping us guessing pretty much all game, so you got to tip your cap to him. He threw a great game.”
On Saturday, Castro homered while Jose Altuve doubled twice and scored two runs as Houston edged Boston 3-2.
Castro added a triple and Matt Dominguez recorded a pair of hits for the Astros.
Jake Peavy (1-8) was reached for three runs on six hits in seven-plus innings to run his winless streak to 14 straight starts. Rookies Holt, Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts and Bogaerts each recorded multiple hits while David Ortiz blasted his 20th home run to pace Boston’s offense.
Peavy’s big mistake came in the third, when Altuve delivered a two-out double and Castro followed with a two-run blast to right field that just got over Betts’ leap to put Houston on top. Ortiz led off the fourth with a solo shot deep into the stands in right but missed out on an opportunity to put Boston in front when he grounded into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded in the fifth.
The Red Sox put the first two on in the seventh and the Astros went to Josh Fields, who surrendered a sacrifice fly by Dustin Pedroia that knotted it up. Altuve doubled again leading off the eighth to end Peavy’s day and moved to third on a groundout before scoring when Chris Carter sent a slow grounder up the middle that went as an RBI infield single after Pedroia just barely took his foot off the bag trying to get a force at second.