Well, here we are. It will be enigmatic Clay Buchholz against Cy Young man Max Scherzer in a game that could propel the Sox into the World Series or set them up for a dangerous game 7 of the ALCS.
The 29-year-old from Texas has been here since. Since then, he has come close-but never really succeeded- in becoming the star the team thought they had when he hurled a no-hitter in his second major league start. Since then, the word erratic doesn't even do justice to his performances.
In 08, partly because of injuries, he collapsed to a 2-9 mark and 6.75 ERA while spending part of the year in the minors. He did not return to the rotation until August of 09 when he helped an injury-depleted staff to a playoff spot with a 7-4 record.
The following year, Buchholz broke out to a 17-7 mark and 2.33 ERA. He was chosen an AL all-star but did not pitch because of a hamstring pull. Nevertheless, the Sox thought they had a dependable number 3 starter behind Jon Lester and Josh Beckett.
Early in 2011, Bucky signed a $30 million contract extension, but injuries continued to mar his performance. What would be termed a stress fracture in his back limited him to 14 starts and a 6-3 record. After an 8-2 start in 2012, a "gastrointestinal situation" again placed him on the disabled list When he returned, his fortunes plummeted along with the rest of the team; he finished 11-8 and 4.56 while surrendering 25 homers, by far a career high.
When Buchholz began 2013 with 11 consecutive victories and a 1.01 ERA, he appeared to have finally turned the corner. But the injury jinx hit again- a rather mysterious neck problem sidelined him for three months. He did not return until the final weeks of the season, compiling a 12-1 record and 1.74 ERA.
Though he appears healthy once again, his two postseason appearences have been less than spectacular. In game 3 of the ALDS at Tampa, he was staked to a 3-0 lead in the fifth but quickly lost it on a three-run homer to lightly-regarded catcher Jose Lobaton. In 6 frames, he surrendered 7 hits and 3 earned runs while walking 3 and fanning 5. He started game 2 against the Tigers at Fenway and fared even worse, giving up a run in the second and 4 more in the sixth, including 2 doubles and 2 homers. A miracle rally kept him from taking the loss, but his October figures are not good- 15 hits and 8 earned runs in 11 2/3 innings with three homers and a 7.94 ERA.
Buchholz is again at a crossroads. If he pitches the Sox into the Series, the postseason problems may be forgotten. But another subpar effort will probably cause the terms "unreliable" and "injury-prone" to be tagged on him again. At age 29, his future in Boston may be determined by Saturday's game.