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May 07. 2013 12:18AM

Dave D'Onofrio's Sox Beat: Embattled Buchholz on target

BOSTON -- WHEN the Red Sox returned to Fenway Park on Monday night after a taxing road trip through Toronto and Texas, they did so looking to reiterate that their first month has been no mirage, and that things really are as different as they seem in 2013.

As a team, they returned in the midst of a three-game losing streak after getting swept in Texas, and trying to differentiate themselves from the clubs of yesteryear by making sure that the skid lasted no longer. Dating back to the start of the calamitous collapse of 2011, the Sox had managed to do so just five times in their previous 18 opportunities.

And as an individual, Clay Buchholz returned with something to prove, at least in terms of reputation, after two Blue Jays broadcasters accused him of doctoring the ball when he blanked that team last week. He entered having won all six of his starts, and with a major-league leading 1.01 earned run average, though some suggested he could silence any allegations of impropriety by replicating that level of performance with the eyes of baseball fixated on his right forearm.

Well, their pitcher may not have personally provided many real answers - but collectively his Boston teammates battled long enough to show a crowd of 31,088 that one bad weekend can't spoil the spirit of a wonderful opening month.

Buchholz was shaky early, surrendering wall-ball doubles to Joe Mauer and Josh Willingham, then a single to Justin Morneau in the first inning. He trailed 2-0 before he recorded his second out, though that as much as anything was likely the product of who was at the plate - after those hits, the trio was collectively 15-for-30 against Buchholz in their careers - and after a couple of walks, the righty retired the next nine in a row.

As he worked, he consistently seemed to be seeking a better grip - although nothing about it looked sinister. On a cool night, he put his fingers to his mouth. He rubbed his wet hair. He touched his arm where he'd smacked it with the rosin bag. Then he wiped his hand on the back of his pants and mounted the rubber.

By the end of the six innings over which he allowed four runs on seven hits, while striking out nine, the spot where he'd been wiping his hand had been soiled a light shade of brown. But maybe most telling was that Twins manager Ron Gardenhire never asked the umpires to inspect Buchholz's body or the ball.

An in-game investigation would come only after a complaint from the opposing dugout - yet the Twins either didn't see what Dirk Hayhurst and Jack Morris did, or they at least didn't consider it worth reporting.

"There's nothing to be hidden," Sox Manager John Farrell insisted prior to the game, "nothing to hide on Clay's part."

Farrell has fought the allegations since they first surfaced - and Monday night his team showed fight of its own. After struggling in every facet against the Rangers, they sure didn't make it easy for themselves. They trailed 2-0, then 4-1 as they struggled to capitalize on their opportunities (going 2-for-9 with men in scoring position, and seeing Stephen Drew gunned down at the plate). But they kept coming. And coming. And coming.

They couldn't put a rally together, so they struck for single tallies in five straight frames. Shane Victorino homered in the fourth. Drew singled home Daniel Nava in the fifth. Mike Napoli plated Victorino with a single in the sixth. Drew found the right-field seats in the seventh.

Then Dustin Pedroia, before that homerless on the season, launched a shot that clanged off the light tower above the Green Monster to lead off the eighth. With that the Sox had a 5-4 advantage, and while closer Joel Hanrahan coughed that up by yielding a homer to Brian Dozier in the ninth, the Sox already had the validation they'd come to claim.

After all, it was their repeated failure in tests like these that led the Red Sox to last place last season. They didn't respond well to adversity, they let problems mushroom and multiply, they let one loss beget the next, and they were far more likely to be overwhelmed than to overcome.

But that was 2012. This is 2013.

And as Monday's fight suggested again, mattering more than the final result one night in early May is the continued sense that things this year sure seem different.

Dave D'Onofrio covers the Red Sox for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is ddonof13@gmail.com.

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