"I said it from Jump Street, I’m not going to go out there and do something that’s going to cost me the rest of the season. I want to be 100 percent the next time I get on a mound, so that’s what I’m going to do." -- Clay Buchholz the day before the All-Star Game
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The words uttered by Clay Buchholz July 15 started pushing a portion of public perception the other way.
There was a faction that had lost patience with the pitcher.
He was the guy who had been so good for the season's initial two months. Sure, the righty had hit a physical bump in the road in late May, but he had recovered enough to turn in a pair of starts (11 2/3 innings, two runs) to suggest any absence would be a short-term proposition.
A month went by. And then another. And then another. All the while, Buchholz stood his ground.
Just after the setback prior to the All-Star break, he visited Dr. James Andrews. A more defined explanation was presented, suggesting Buchholz would be able to make four or five starts before the end of the regular season.
That wasn't good enough for some. No matter the pitcher's explanations, they wanted Buchholz back.
"People can say anything they want because everybody has their own opinion. But like I've said, I know how my body felt, and just because I was having a good run doesn't mean I'm still going to be good if I'm 65 percent," he told WEEI.com Tuesday night. "I wouldn't be helping anybody. I would basically be hurting the team, because there have been guys who have stepped in and filled the role and done a really good job with it."
Then came his latest start at Tropicana Field.
Sure, the Red Sox had thrived in Buchholz's absence, heading into their series opener with the Rays 7 1/2 games up in the American League East race. The starters over the 94 days during the righty's absence had gone a respectable 31-22 with a 4.18 ERA.
But what happened in the Red Sox' 2-0 win over Tampa Bay was much more than just a solid, five-inning, three-hit, no-run outing by Buchholz. This was about some level of vindication by the pitcher who had the only answers that mattered.
"I know the timeline wasn't what I wanted, or anybody else wanted it to be. But that was the way it is," Buchholz said after his start. "There's no other way around it. It wouldn't have been good if I just tried going through it.
"This game is really difficult sometimes and it's humbling at times, too. I'm not happy I didn't get to pitch for two or three months this year, but I'm happy I stuck with what I was doing, listening to Dr. Andrews about the timeline and how I needed to go about things to be right. That's what I did."
There were no guarantees it was going to end up like this. Buchholz knew it. His teammates knew it.
"He comes back, he pitches well, it's the greatest move ever. He comes back, he doesn't pitch well, we've waited too long," rotation-mate, Jon Lester said. "I think the biggest thing for him is the peace of mind of knowing that he's healthy. Game plan as far as when or how, I think that goes out the window."
The restrictions (with his bursa sac) had subsided, and the rehab outings had put the pitcher in a place he felt comfortable pitching without hesitation. But there was a reason Buchholz described himself as being "a little nervous" prior to the outing against the Rays. ("Anxious, I guess," he said. "I got here a little earlier than I usually do today. It's been a long time coming for me.")
What Buchholz had to rely on was the process he continually referenced while some demanded a different course. He had been stung after suffering a setback during his first comeback. Then when it appeared a rehab outing was in the works just before the All-Star break, the discomfort continued to linger. That's when Dr. Andrews stepped in and offered the kind of timetable that was suitable for the pitcher, albeit not some of his fans.
In the end, the strategy served all parties well.
"I didn't forget how to pitch, but given the way my body felt at the time I wouldn't have been able to pitch," Buchholz said. "I don't mind a little bit of pain. I've pitched through a lot of stuff I never even brought up to anybody and just tried to battle through it. But it comes to a point if you feel it whenever you start your delivery, not even throwing, how is that going to work? That's sort of where I was at. It stinks it took so long, but a bunch of guys stepped in and did what they had to do to keep us on the roll we were on when I got hurt, and that's all I could ask for."
Now he has officially entered into that roll. He has rejoined a starting staff that, in the here and now, sure seems to possess an embarrassment of riches.
Buchholz's patience seemingly has won out.
"Having confidence that you're going to go out there and knowing you're going to do something rather than thinking or wanting to are completely different things," he said. "I have a short memory with a lot of this stuff because my name has come up in a lot of conversations."
It took a while, but, thanks to Tuesday night, those conversations might have changed quite a bit.