One can only imagine where Clay Buchholz might be if it weren't for a neck strain that held him out for three months.
Buchholz will shoot for a 12-0 record Saturday when the newly crowned AL East champion Boston Red Sox host a Toronto Blue Jays team he has long dominated.
The Red Sox (94-61) clinched their first division title since 2007 on Friday, beating Toronto 6-3 behind seven innings of one-run ball from Jon Lester .
"Winning the American League East is something everybody in here should be proud of," manager John Farrell said. "When we got in the playoffs last night - to see there was no response, there was no celebration, that to me spoke as much volume as anything we've done in the year. It's a focused group. It's their time tonight to go and enjoy it."
Dustin Pedroia , batting .356 during a 10-game hitting streak, added three hits for the Red Sox, who are a major-league best 19-6 since Aug. 24."People have got to believe we've got a good team," said David Ortiz , who has seven RBIs in his last eight games. "We're going to take this all the way there."
Buchholz (11-0, 1.51 ERA) hasn't shown any rust in his return from the disabled list, holding Tampa Bay and the New York Yankees without an earned run over 11 innings. On Sunday, he limited the Yankees to an unearned run and two hits in six innings of a 9-2 win.
"It's fun to play ball when things are going right. That's how this team's been all year," said Buchholz, who has won five consecutive starts around his DL stint. "To run back out there two starts in a row, that's what I want to do. That's where I want to be."
Buchholz will look to draw within two wins of Roger Clemens ' franchise-best 14-0 start in 1986. He has two wins versus the Blue Jays this year - limiting them to two runs and eight hits in 15 innings - and is 9-2 with a 2.21 ERA against them since 2009."He started out one of the best pitchers in baseball and unfortunately his season was interrupted with the three months' down time," Farrell said.
Buchholz has the lowest opposing batting average (.190) of any American League pitcher with at least 300 at-bats against.
While Buchholz has yet to lose, Mark Buehrle can't win of late.
Since going 6-0 with a 1.93 ERA from July 25 through Aug. 30, Buehrle (11-9, 4.17) is winless in three starts.
The left-hander allowed three runs - two earned - in five innings of a 3-1 loss to Baltimore on Sunday.
Buehrle has been up-and-down against Boston this season, twice posting seven innings of one-run ball, but allowing nine runs in 12 2-3 innings of his other two starts.
The Red Sox may get Shane Victorino , a late scratch from Friday's game with a jammed right thumb, back on Saturday.
"As he's been dealing with a number of things, yeah, this isn't something that's going to keep him out for a long period of time," Farrell told the team's official website. "He's a tough player. He does have a high pain threshold."
"He's in the hospital," Gose told the team's official website. "That tells you enough right there."
|Toronto Blue Jays|
|September 17, 2013||Edwin Encarnacion||Day-to-Day||Left wrist surgery - out for season|
|September 16, 2013||Edwin Encarnacion||15-Day DL||Left wrist surgery - out for season|
|September 13, 2013||Brett Cecil||15-Day DL||Left elbow discomfort|
|September 08, 2013||Moises Sierra||Day-to-Day||Left game - lower back tightness|
|August 21, 2013||Jose Bautista||15-Day DL||Left hip bone bruise - out for season|
|August 21, 2013||Maicer Izturis||60-Day DL||Sprained left ankle|
|Boston Red Sox|
|September 01, 2013||Shane Victorino||Day-to-Day||Left hip contusion|
|August 29, 2013||Mike Carp||Day-to-Day||Left shoulder irritation|
|August 17, 2013||Mike Napoli||Day-to-Day||Sore left foot|
|August 08, 2013||Brandon Snyder||15-Day DL||Ulnar neuritis, right elbow|
|August 08, 2013||Brandon Snyder||15-Day DL||Ulnar neuritis, right elbow|
|August 05, 2013||Matt Thornton||15-Day DL||Strained right oblique|
BOSTON (AP) -- Clay Buchholz feels like he's ready for the postsesason. He just won't have a perfect record when he gets there.
Buchholz lost for the first time this season, and the AL East champion Boston Red Sox rested a couple of regulars while falling to Mark Buehrle and the Toronto Blue Jays, 4-2, on Saturday night.
Having missed more than three months with a strained neck, Buchholz feels like his strength is where it was before the injury. He just needs to fine tune a few things.
"I feel good. Movement on all the pitches is there," he said. "It's just the command and location and where to start it, which is sometimes hard to get better. The velocity is there and the body feels good."
Buchholz (11-1) gave up two earned runs on six hits and two walks in six innings. He had pitched 11 scoreless innings in his previous two starts since coming off the disabled list.
A day after the Red Sox clinched the division title, they lost for just the sixth time in 21 games. Manager John Farrell didn't start second baseman Dustin Pedroia and first baseman Mike Napoli , and used starter Ryan Dempster for an inning of relief.
Buchholz was the first Boston pitcher to start a season 11-0 in his initial 14 starts since Roger Clemens went 13-0 in 1986.
"I thought Clay was pretty sharp and pretty crisp for the time he was out on the mound tonight," Farrell said. "He was fighting to get back out for the seventh, but seeing the progression he's on, I think was a comfortable number of pitches for tonight."
Buchholz broke into a slight grin when he was asked about how hard it is to go undefeated for an entire season.
"It probably could have easily have happened sooner than now," he said. "The guys that play behind me all year have found ways to come back in situations where I came out of the game behind in the game."
Boston's lead over Oakland dropped to 1 1/2 games for the AL's best record and home-field throughout the postseason.
Dempster made his first relief appearance since 2007, working a scoreless eighth. Boston third baseman Will Middlebrooks shifted to first for the first time in his career.
Jonny Gomes and David Ross each drove in a run for the Red Sox.
Adam Lind 's RBI double highlighted a three-run fourth that carried the Blue Jays.
Buehrle (12-9) held Boston to one run for the third time in five starts that he's faced them this year. He allowed five hits, striking out five without walking a batter. He reached 200 innings for the 13th straight season.
"Wish it was in a better situation," Buehrle said of reaching the mark again.
Manager John Gibbons was impressed by the left-hander's season.
"Steady Eddy," Gibbons said. "Doing what he has been doing his whole career. You get 25 Buehrles and you are probably gonna have a good year."
Casey Janssen pitched the ninth for his 33rd save in 35 chances.
Toronto's Munenori Kawasaki was ejected by first base umpire Eric Cooper in the eighth after slamming his helmet when he was called out on a close play.
The Blue Jays scored all three runs with two outs in the fourth after Brett Lawrie beat out a routine grounder to short for an infield hit. Lind followed with an RBI double, Rajai Davis added a run-scoring single and Moises Sierra scored from third on Buchholz's errant pickoff throw to first.
Gomes' RBI single cut it to 3-1 in the sixth. Ross' run-scoring grounder sliced it to 3-2 in the seventh after Xander Bogaerts reached second on Lawrie's fielding error at third base.
J.P. Arencibia snapped an 0-for-27 stretch with an RBI single off the Green Monster in the Toronto ninth.
NOTES: Pedroia had started 151 of the team's initial 152 games. He pinch-hit in the seventh and struck out. "The hardest thing is he's not going to know what to do," Farrell said, joking before the game. "He may end up back on the field because we want to get him the heck out of the dugout." ... Middlebrooks knew things would be a different in his debut at first. "I've never played first in my life," he said, standing on the field after batting practice. "The hardest thing for me is going to be how to try and hold the runners on, which way to stand with my footwork." ... Red Sox CF Jacoby Ellsbury , sidelined for his 14th straight game with a broken small bone in his right foot, ran and hit in the cage. The club is planning for his return before the end of the regular season. ... Felix Doubront (10-6, 4.15 ERA) goes for Boston against R.A. Dickey (13-12, 4.21 ERA) in the series - and Boston's home- finale Sunday.