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Buchholz buckles down to earn second win

BOSTON -- Jon Lester is 2-0. Clay Buchholz is 2-0.

As of the final out in Monday's 3-1 win over the Orioles, the Red Sox possessed 40 percent of the 2-0 pitchers in the Majors.

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A year ago, Buchholz was answering questions about why he allowed five home runs in his third start of the season, or how he had a 9.09 ERA through his first six starts.

He's only pitched twice in 2013, but so far, Buchholz is dealing. Lester is setting the tone in front of him. And the Red Sox, atop the American League East at 5-2, are confident.

"They're special guys, man," said reliever Andrew Bailey, who relieved Buchholz in the eighth inning Monday and held the door shut for closer Joel Hanrahan to seal the win. "A one and two like that can really carry a team."

Neither the Rays, Giants, Phillies, Angels nor Blue Jays had a winning record as of the Red Sox final out Monday. Not coincidentally, each of those teams' No. 1 starters is winless.

David Price (0-2, 8.18 ERA), Matt Cain (0-1, 8.38 ERA), Cole Hamels (0-2, 10.97 ERA), Jared Weaver (0-1, 4.91 ERA) and R.A. Dickey (0-2, 8.44 ERA) have struggled out of the gate. Combined, those five teams were off to a 12-18 start by the time the Red Sox went to 5-2.

"It kind of just sets the tempo for the other guys," outfielder Jonny Gomes said. "Starting pitching, a lot of it is momentum. Obviously everyone is trying to succeed, but when the first three or four guys kind of hit some bumps in the road, as the fourth or fifth starter, you feel like you have to go out there and throw a no-hitter.

"Not necessarily the case here. You just have to get out there and do your job."

While Buchholz admittedly didn't have his best stuff on Monday, struggling to find consistency with his fastball, he managed to hold the second-hottest offense in the AL to no runs and three hits over seven innings.

His grit was really put to the test twice.

With two outs in the third inning, Buchholz allowed a pair of singles to Manny Machado and Nick Markakis, leaving Adam Jones and Chris Davis, who each entered with a batting average over .450, hoping to cash in.

Jones had already launched a Buchholz fastball to the warning track in the first inning. So Buchholz threw two more to start him off this time. Both were outside the strike zone, but it allowed him to work back in with his cutter and changeup, getting a pair of swinging strikes to even the count. After a cutter just missed, Buchholz turned to his looping curve and left Jones looking at a called third strike.

"That's a humongous pitch for him to be able to drop that breaking ball in there," said catcher David Ross. "I know that in the back of my head. I know he can throw that pitch for a strike anytime, so I save that. Jones is a strike breaking ball hitter, but he's not looking for that after we've thrown fastballs, cutters, changeups. He's not looking for that out of his hand.

"He shut it down. Credit Clay for making that pitch. That's a tough pitch to make."

Buchholz wasn't fluid throughout, but he was able to adapt accordingly. Twice he walked Davis, later saying that he'd rather give him nothing to hit than fall victim to one of the hottest players in baseball. After Buchholz walked Davis to open the fourth inning, he started pitching to contact, trying to induce ground balls for the easy double play.

In just three pitches, he got Matt Wieters to ground into a forceout and J.J. Hardy to ground into a double play.

Buchholz earned his win in the seventh inning. Forced to work a few miles per hour slower than he had been early on, with his fastball sitting around 90 mph (it hung around 93 for the first few innings), Buchholz worked through Hardy and Ryan Flaherty with help from the curve before throwing five straight fastballs that sent Steve Pearce down on strikes.

By the end of the seventh, Buchholz had thrown 118 pitches.

"He had finished the sixth with 90, and even though Wieters led off the seventh getting on base, that's Clay's ballgame," said manager John Farrell. "It felt like he earned that right to get through it."

The Red Sox don't think they're playing perfectly. But when their aces are dealing, it can help cover some blemishes.

Maybe even help them contend.

Jason Mastrodonato is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @jmastrodonato.

Boston Red Sox, Clay Buchholz