Thrill on the hill: Top-three Sox pitching outings so far

David Ortiz congratulates Jon Lester on his near-perfect outing May 10

Jan-Christian Sorensen
Contributing Writer

Good starting pitching can make or break a game.

Extraordinary starting pitching shuts down the opposition before they have a chance to sniff the smoke trail on the fastball or realize they’ve been sucker-punched by the late bends and breaks of the back-door junk.

Here are the three top performances recorded by Red Sox starters so far this year:

1. Friday Night Lights-Out
May 10/Jon Lester/5-0 win over Blue Jays

Jon Lester logged a 118-pitch powerhouse performance on the hill at Fenway on a Friday night, going the full nine, striking out five, walking none and only giving up one hit — a two-out line drive to Maicer Izturis in the top of the sixth that broke up both the perfect-game and no-hit bids.

With the win, Lester moved to 5-0 on the season and lowered his ERA to 2.73. It was his tenth career complete game and first shutout since 2008. He retired the first 17 batters before Izturis played spoiler with a double, then got right back to work, retiring the next 10 men he faced.

“He carved us up pretty good tonight,” said Jays manager John Gibbons. “It happens. We’re a free-swinging team, there’s no question about that.”

2. Raze the Roof
April 14/Clay Buchholz/5-0 win over Tampa Bay Rays

Clay Buchholz escorted a no-hitter into the eighth inning at Tropicana Field on April 14 before Kelly Johnson killed the bid with a single. Had he been successful, Buchholz would have joined an elite list of only 27 pitchers who have tossed multiple no-hitters in their career. Buchholz’s first no-hit affair came in only his second MLB start back in 2007.

As it was, Buchholz went eight innings and gave up only two hits and four walks while striking out a career-high 11 on 109 pitches. He dropped his ERA to a microscopic 0.41 with the outing and moved to 3-0 on the year. Buchholz was the model of efficiency, tossing only 68 pitches through the first five innings and striking out nine of the first 15 men he faced.

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

3. Jays Spit out of Luck
May 1/Clay Buchholz/10-1 win over Blue Jays

The infamous “spitter” game. How could we not slot this one on the list?

Buchholz — who was named the American League Pitcher of the Month in April — was straight dealing in this gem, going seven strong, giving up two hits and three walks while striking out eight.

After the game, Blue Jays broadcasters and former MLB pitchers Dick Hayhurst and Jack Morris hurled accusations that Buchholz was doctoring his pitches with any number of nonspecific substances. Saliva. Rosin. Sunscreen. Eye of newt. Fairy dust.

Farrell, Buchholz and his battery mates and Sox broadcaster Dennis Eckersley were none too pleased with the unfounded incrimination and all waded into the war of words.

“The fact is the guy’s 6-0; he’s pitched his tail off. If people are going to point to him cheating? Unfounded,” said Farrell to Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe.

Morris later apologized to Buchholz. Toronto, however, has yet to apologize to its legion of crestfallen fans with dashed dreams of a clear path to a World Series title.

Honorable Mention: Lucky Thirteen
April 7/Jon Lester/13-0 win over Blue Jays

There were no accusations of black magic pitch-craft leveled by the Jays in this one, just a dependable outing by Lester, who tossed seven innings of five-hit ball, walking none and striking out six to earn his second win of the season and lower his ERA to 1.50.

Twitter: jan_doh