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Buchholz flirts with history as Sox blank Rays

Righty falls six outs shy of second no-no; Napoli sparks four-run third

BOSTON -- Clay Buchholz's hair is much longer now, his beard fully grown in with shaggy hairs wrapping around his face.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia replaced Jason Varitek behind the plate. John Farrell replaced Terry Francona in the dugout. John Tumpane replaced Joe West as the home-plate umpire.

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And Buchholz nearly made history again.

The 28-year-old carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning of the Red Sox's 5-0 win over the Rays on Sunday, coming six outs short of joining a list of 27 pitchers who have thrown multiple no-hitters in their career.

"It's fun to go out and pitch when you have all your pitches working," Buchholz said. "It doesn't happen every day. Probably five times a season for a starting pitcher."

Buchholz weaved his way through the struggling Rays lineup, which entered Sunday with fewer hits this season (70) than any other team in the American League. He picked his corners, perhaps nibbling a little too much at times as he walked four batters in the outing, but he wouldn't allow hard contact.

The first five innings went by like a swift breeze. Buchholz needed just 68 pitches, as nine of the first 15 batters were retired via the strikeout.

Then it hit him. He looked to the scoreboard after the fifth -- about the same time he realized what was going on during his first no-hitter more than five years ago. But the dugout didn't present the traditional baseball scene, with the untouchable pitcher segregated to the far half of the bench.

Mike Napoli sat next to Buchholz between innings and played the role of conversationalist, while Buchholz played the role of a DJ.

"I didn't feel as outcasted as usually seems to happen," Buchholz said.

Saltalamacchia was far more nervous.

"I was sitting in my same spot, I didn't want to do anything," the catcher said. "My shirt was untucked for seven straight innings.

As the game progressed, innings felt longer to Buchholz. He was at 90 pitches after seven and returned for the eighth to face Kelly Johnson, who Buchholz and Saltalamacchia had planned on pitching differently than anyone else in the Rays' lineup.

Traditionally a good fastball hitter, scouting reports suggested pitching Johnson offspeed. As it is, Johnson has seen an astonishing amount of curveballs and sliders this season -- about one out of every three pitches, which is about five percent more often than any other year -- and Johnson has struggled to keep his batting average above .200.

So for the first time all afternoon, Buchholz threw back-to-back curveballs. The first one dropped in for a strike. The second one wasn't supposed to.

"It basically was supposed to be a purpose pitch, fall right on top of the plate and see if we could get a swing," Buchholz said. "I didn't quite get it there, and he was able to put the bat on it. It's just one of those things."

Johnson's bat shattered on contact, and the ball fell into shallow right field as the 35,198 in attendance at Fenway Park gave Buchholz a standing ovation.

"He threw me two breaking balls; I really was not expecting that," Johnson said. "But I was in a good enough position the second time around to at least make some contact, even if it was a broken bat, obviously."

Had Buchholz gotten through the eighth without allowing a hit, it would've left Farrell in a tough spot with his starter's pitch count.

"This early in the season, you get into those 120s, you're starting to push it pretty good," Farrell said.

Reliever Clay Mortensen said no one in the bullpen had been warming until the no-hitter was broken up. The relievers thought Buchholz was going to do it.

"We only get up when skip calls us down and tells us to get up," said Mortensen.

Joining former Red Sox pitcher Justin Masterson as the only other Major Leaguer at 3-0, Buchholz hurled eight shutout innings, allowing two hits and four walks while striking out 11, a career high. He threw 109 pitches, 69 for strikes.

Buchholz has come a long way since Sept. 1, 2007, when he was still a clean-shaven rookie. At 23 and making just his second career Major League appearance, his career was full of promise then.

"Even last year when you look beyond the numbers, after start No. 6, I believe, he reeled off about 18 in a row that were very consistent," said Farrell, who didn't ring the bullpen until Buchholz finally allowed a hit in the eighth inning. "Back in 2010, he had an ERA in the low twos. He's very capable of what we're seeing right now."

The Red Sox took the pressure off Buchholz early when Jacoby Ellsbury, Shane Victorino and Dustin Pedroia connected on three consecutive singles, and Napoli launched a shot that fell about a foot away from the 420-sign in deep center field, resulting in a two-run double.

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

Boston Red Sox, Clay Buchholz, Mike Napoli, Dustin Pedroia