MLB Boston at Toronto (7:07 PM ET NESN)

MLB Boston at Toronto (7:07 PM ET NESN)

Who could have thought a month or two ago that Boston would be fighting to salvage a division title after enjoying a double-digit game lead for much of the season


2007-09-19

Who could have thought a month or two ago that Boston would be fighting to salvage a division title after enjoying a double-digit game lead for much of the season. However, a recent fade combined with a hot streak by the surging Yankees has brought the teams to within 2-1/2 games of one another. The Sox will try to get back on the winning track tonight when they play the final game of a 3-game set versus Toronto. Boston is a 125 favorite.

It's common for a young pitcher to make a staff-saving spot start for a contending team in the regular season's final weeks. It's rare when the pitcher making that spot start is coming off a no-hitter. That's exactly what will happen Wednesday night, though, when the Boston Red Sox send rookie Clay Buchholz to the mound trying to avoid a sweep in their three-game series at Toronto against the Blue Jays.

This will be the first start for Buchholz (3-0, 1.50 ERA) since Sept. 1, when he threw a no-hitter against Baltimore in just his second career outing. He pitched three innings of scoreless relief against the Orioles five days later -- allowing one hit while earning the win in a 7-6 Boston victory -- but has not appeared in a game since.

The 23-year-old right-hander will now have to shake off the rust as he bids to join Johnny Vander Meer, who did it for Cincinnati in 1938, as the only pitchers in major league history to throw no-hitters in consecutive starts.

Buchholz is pitching on extra rest so a couple of other Boston starters can do the same. Red Sox manager Terry Francona, attempting to line up his rotation for postseason play, is giving Curt Schilling four extra days of rest before his start next Tuesday against Oakland. Daisuke Matsuzaka will have three days' extra rest before facing Tampa Bay on Saturday.

Before the Red Sox (90-62) get to the playoffs, though, they need to focus on wrapping up the AL East. Boston's division lead over New York shrunk to 2 1/2 games Tuesday night after the Yankees routed Baltimore 12-0 and the Red Sox fell 4-3 to Toronto. That lead is the smallest for the Red Sox since before play on April 26.

Boston held a two-run lead before the Blue Jays (76-75) rallied for three runs in the eighth inning off Eric Gagne. It was the third consecutive loss and the fourth in five games for the Red Sox, who have yielded 14 eighth-inning runs over their last four defeats.

If they complete the three-game sweep, the Blue Jays can salvage a split of their 18-game season series with Boston.

Jesse Litsch (5-9, 4.37) takes the mound for Toronto. The 22-year-old rookie right-hander has had a terrible September so far, losing all three of his starts while posting a 11.12 ERA and a .396 opponents' batting average.

Litsch gave up seven runs and seven hits in just 3 1-3 innings at Boston on Sept. 3, taking the loss as the Blue Jays fell 13-10. He fared better in his starts against the Red Sox on July 15 -- also at Fenway -- when he allowed one run over 6 2-3 innings of a 2-1 victory.

Concerning Litsch: BOSTON is 17-8 (+10.4 Units) against the money line in road games vs. a starting pitcher with good control (less than 1.75 BB's/start) this season. The average score was BOSTON 5.3, OPPONENT 3.4 - (Rating = 1*)

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