CHICAGO — Hector Santiago was impressive for the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday night, but Boston Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz was even better.
Powered by another strong outing by Buchholz, the American League ERA leader, the Red Sox avoided a three-game sweep by beating the White Sox 6-2 at U.S. Cellular Field.
Boston concluded a nine-game road trip with six wins. Combined with a loss by the New York Yankees, the Red Sox will open a six-game homestand at Fenway Park on Thursday just a half-game out of first in the AL East.
“You don’t want lose, but anytime you can go back home with the wins more than the losses, it’s a good thing,” said Buchholz, who held down the Chicago lineup despite allowing the leadoff runner to get on base in five of his seven innings. “Being able to have confidence is a big thing, wanting to go out there and pitch every five days rather than having a rough (outing) and wishing you could have time off.
“It’s fun pitching when you’re good, but there’s going to be bumps in the road, and you’ve got to know how to handle them.”
He handled them just fine against the White Sox, who were trying to complete their first series sweep of the season. Buchholz (7-0, 1.73 ERA) walked three and gave up five hits but allowed only one run before leaving the game to Boston’s bullpen.
The Red Sox (28-19) scored two runs in the first inning, two in the eighth and two in the ninth to make sure Buchholz became just the third undefeated pitcher in the majors with at least seven victories.
“I felt good overall,” Buchholz said. “I had that long first inning to wait and couldn’t really get into sync there and walked a couple guys. I battled (and) got through that one, (got) a couple good defensive plays, and after that, I felt pretty good.”
David Ortiz led the way offensively for Boston by going 2-for-5 with two RBIs, which he picked up with a single to left in the first.
Jacoby Ellsbury went 2-for-3 and was the only other Red Sox hitter with more than one hit.
Chicago’s Alex Rios went 1-for-3 and extended his career-high hitting streak to 17 games, the AL’s longest. He had a single to lead off the sixth.
Paul Konerko hit a solo home run in the ninth to complete the scoring for the White Sox, who got a good outing from Santiago.
Making an unexpected start for Chris Sale, who was scratched because of shoulder tendinitis, Santiago struck out nine and allowed two runs in six innings. He also saved the bullpen a long night by settling into a groove after allowing the first two runs just four hitters into the game.
“He was moved up, and the first inning was one of those that almost got away from him, but he battled and gave us a chance,” Chicago manager Robin Ventura said. “I think that’s the biggest thing. We had a couple chances, and (Buchholz) is a good pitcher. You have to take advantage of it, and we didn’t.”
In the first inning, Ortiz’s single to left plated Jonny Gomes and Dustin Pedroia, who’d been hit by a pitch and doubled to left, respectively. Santiago then walked Mike Napoli before settling down. He struck out Daniel Nava and Will Middlebrooks to end the threat.
“I just tried to save the bullpen and get out of there on short days’ rest,” said Santiago, who threw 63 of his 107 pitches for strikes. “I just wanted to go out there and throw six (innings). I got through six, and at least it wasn’t three. I kept us in the game and gave us a chance.”
Buchholz also had some control issues, particularly early. He allowed a hit and two walks in the first inning but emerged without allowing a run. A nice catch by Gomes on Konerko’s sinking liner to left with two runners on base highlighted the escape.
Chicago (21-24) cut the lead to 2-1 in the third, scoring on a groundout by Rios, but that was all the White Sox got off one of baseball’s hottest pitchers.
“When you look at the bottom line, he’s got a number of pitches he can go to in different spots,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said of Buchholz. “He’s not going to rely solely on his fastball. Nobody can sit on any one pitch in any count, and that’s what defines who Clay is.
“He has certainly set the tone for us on the mound.”
NOTES: The White Sox announced after the game that LHP John Danks will make his first start since shoulder surgery in August 2012 on Friday against the Miami Marlins. LHP Donnie Veal was optioned to Triple-A Charlotte to make room for Danks. …Ventura said he is not in favor of using a six-make Piazza for 44th all-time (427). …Red Sox RHP Ryan Dempster will make his regularln rotation to ease the workload on Sale. … Konerko’s home run tied him with Miy scheduled start against the Cleveland Indians on Thursday despite throwing 127 pitches in just 4 2/3 innings in his previous outing on May 18 in Minnesota. Farrell said Dempster won’t necessarily have his pitch count reduced as a result of the heavy workload against the Twins. … Red Sox OF Shane Victorino ran on a treadmill Wednesday afternoon and reported that his tight hamstring started to loosen up. He is day-to-day. … Boston C David Ross passed Major League Baseball’s concussion protocol and will make a start behind the plate Thursday for Double-A Portland. Ross will catch LHP Franklin Morales, who’s also in the minors on a rehab stint. Farrell said Ross might only have to make the one start before returning to the active roster.