BOSTON — Clay Buchholz just keeps getting stronger.
The Boston right-hander flirted with his second career no-hitter and delivered another dominating performance on Sunday afternoon, allowing two hits in eight scoreless innings while striking out a career-high 11 batters in leading the Red Sox to a 5-0 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.
Buchholz (3-0) did not give up a hit until Kelly Johnson led off the eighth inning with a broken-bat single into left field.
The 28-year-old Buchholz became an instant sensation when he threw a no-hitter against the Baltimore Orioles in just his second career start on Sept. 2, 2007.
Mike Napoli hit a two-run double and Andrew Miller pitched a scoreless ninth for the Red Sox, who have won two straight and improved to 6-0 this season when Buchholz and Jon Lester take the mound. They were just 28-34 last season behind the two starters.
Buchholz was downright nasty. He kept Tampa Bay batters off-balance all day, throwing four pitches for strikes while facing just two batters above the minimum through five innings. He walked four, including the leadoff batters in the fourth and sixth, but wiggled out of both jams to lower his ERA from 0.64 to 0.41.
Buchholz has been nothing short of brilliant to begin the season, permitting just one run and 10 hits in 22 innings.
Rays starter Alex Cobb (1-1) was overshadowed by Buchholz’s gem. Cobb, a Boston native, allowed four runs — three earned — seven hits and two walks with six strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings.
Tampa Bay had just one runner advance past second base in losing for the fifth time in six games. The Rays have now scored just four runs in their last four games and eight in their previous six.
Buchholz breezed through the first five innings, striking out six of the first nine Rays he faced, and eight of the first 13.
His first true test came in the sixth when he walked Sam Fuld to begin the inning but got a little help from his defense to maintain the no-no. Desmond Jennings lined a sharp grounder at shortstop Stephen Drew, the ball caroming off Drew’s body toward second base. Dustin Pedroia was positioned perfectly nearby, though, scooping up the ball and firing to first in time to catch the speedy Jennings.
Fuld advanced to third on a popout to right, but Buchholz got Matt Joyce to ground out to first.
With just four runs in its last two games, Boston’s bats finally came alive in third. Jacoby Ellsbury opened the inning with a single to center, moved to second on a bunt single by Shane Victorino and took third on a base hit to right by Pedroia.
Napoli then drove a 1-and-0 changeup from Cobb to the deepest part of the park in center field, bringing home Ellsbury and Victorino.
After hitting Daniel Nava with a pitch to reload the bases, Cobb saved a run when he fielded a grounder up the middle by Will Middlebrooks and fired home just in time to catch Pedroia.
The defense behind Cobb wasn’t as sharp, though.
Drew grounded into what should have been an inning-ending double play, but shortstop Yunel Escobar threw wildly back to first, allowing Napoli and Nava to trot home for a 4-0 advantage.
That was all the support Buchholz would need.
Artistically blending his fastball, cutter, curve and changeup, Buchholz twice cruised through Tampa Bay’s lineup, only walking James Loney in the second, Ben Zobrist to begin the fourth and Fuld to start the sixth.
The Rays, however, still couldn’t muster a key hit. Loney was stranded after stealing second when Buchholz fanned Jose Molina on an 89 mph cutter. Zobrist also stole second but was left aboard after Buchholz struck out Evan Longoria and Joyce and induced Escobar to fly out to right.
Boston made it 5-0 in the eighth when Pedroia doubled off the Green Monster and scored on a sacrifice fly by Middlebrooks.
Red Sox 2, Rays 1: On Saturday, Shane Victorino’s infield single in the 10th inning scored Ellsbury for Boston’s first walk-off victory of the season.
With one out in the 10th, Ellsbury singled to center off Brandon Gomes. With Victorino batting, Ellsbury stole second and a throwing error by catcher Jose Lobaton allowed him to reach third.
With Tampa Bay using a five-man infield, Victorino beat out a grounder, with Ellsbury scoring the game-winning run.
Aces David Price and Jon Lester matched each other nearly pitch-for-pitch, but neither left-hander recorded a decision.
Price rebounded from a difficult outing in his last start to hold the Red Sox to one run over six innings, with four hits, two walks, and eight strikeouts.
Lester went seven innings, giving up one run on five hits, a walk, a wild pitch, and five strikeouts.
The Rays opened the scoring when Desmond Jennings singled to lead off the third and scored on Sean Rodriguez’s double that caromed around the left field corner.
Boston tied the score in the fourth on David Ross’ first home run of the season.
Joel Hanrahan, whom Boston acquired in an off-season trade with the Pirates to be their closer, walked the first two batters in the ninth, including lead-off batter Evan Longoria on four pitches.
That was enough for Red Sox manager John Farrell, who replaced Hanrahan with Koji Uehara, who got Boston out of the jam unscathed.