DETROIT — Tonight, Clay Buchholz takes what could be his best and last shot this season at making folks use his name and the word "ace" in the same sentence.
It's been a while, which means his timing could not be much worse.
Buchholz's omission is made even more glaring since the talk of this American League Championship Series has been the brilliance of the starting pitching, and nobody's been talking about Buchholz at all.
Lost in the giddiness of the epic rally that began with David Ortiz's game-tying grand slam in Game 2 was the alarming fact that Buchholz had put the Red Sox in a 5-0 hole by the sixth inning. He was not all that sharp in Game 3 of the Division Series against the Rays, either, giving up three runs in his six innings in the one loss the Red Sox suffered.
Just as the Red Sox survived three months of no Buchholz this summer when he was hurt, they now are one win away from the World Series almost in spite of his presence.
The chatter is going to continue to be about the aces, and Buchholz wants to be included in the conversation.
"Being able to come back and get that win in Game 2, it made it a lot less stressful to come out here and play here in their home turf for three games," said Buchholz before Thursday night's 4-3 Sox victory in Game 5. "There's a lot that goes into it, but I'm excited to get back out there. It feels like it's been three weeks since I pitched. Doing all the work in between right now, trying to find ways to get better."
Buchholz has a lot of room to improve. He allowed home runs to both Miguel Cabrera and Alex Avila, while Victor Martinez, the Tigers' best hitter right now, doubled off him twice.
That's the opposite of domination.
"Consistency to execution against these types of lineups is never more important, and when you mis-locate, you're going to pay the price," said manager John Farrell. "Recognizing that the momentum, particularly the momentum inside an inning is what's got to be kept under check a little bit more, particularly in Clay's situation."
Buchholz knows what he did wrong.
"There were a couple of innings I let the ball get out of the zone and they hit it out of the park. I need to minimize the damage a little bit better," he said. "Both video and talking to whoever is on the staff, you can sort of pick each other's brain and see what I was feeling, what I could have done differently and how to get better from it."
Buchholz found the best role model in fellow right-hander John Lackey.
The game after his start, Buchholz watched Lackey shut down the Tigers here in Game 3, holding them scoreless and to just four hits over 6 2/3 innings. More importantly, he held Cabrera hitless with one strikeout and Martinez to only one single.
"There are multiple things I can do differently, and I definitely want it to go a little bit better."
Buchholz will need to do a lot better than a little bit better.
He began his season 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA and .195 batting average in 12 starts. That's the kind of pitching that the Tigers starters and some of the Red Sox starters have been providing this series. It's high time for Buchholz to join the party.