ST. LOUIS - In offering the latest update Friday on Clay Buchholz' condition, Red Sox manager John Farrell never hesitated, or crossed his fingers, or went in search of the nearest block of wood on which to knock.
"He's starting Sunday," Farrell said.
Farrell uttered some variation of those words late Wednesday night, then again Thursday. But now, after Buchholz threw from as far as 100 feet off flat ground during the Red Sox' workout between Games 2 and 3 of the World Series, Farrell sounded certain that the skinny right-hander's balky shoulder won't prevent him from taking the mound in Game 4 against the St. Louis Cardinals.
And Buchholz? Two days after admitting he has felt a "dead" sensation in his shoulder, the same shoulder that sidelined him for three months during the summer, he deferred comment until today when he's slated to hold his pre-start press conference at Busch Stadium.
It may be the most well-attended session of the World Series. Because, really, it is anybody's guess as to what the Sox can realistically expect from Buchholz tonight.
Before leaving Busch Stadium Friday night, pitching coach Juan Nieves characterized Buchholz' session as "excellent." Clearly, though, Buchholz is compromised, and that's hardly good news for a Red Sox team that was counting on him as a force at the front of the rotation when the playoffs began.
"You don't want anybody hurt, but it's the time of year now, we're going to do the best we can with what we've got," catcher David Ross said. "Clay's been battling things all year. Obviously, we want Clay healthy, but we've got to look out for what's best for the team and for Clay also. This game doesn't wait around for anybody, so we've got to do the best we can with the guys we've got healthy and hopefully Clay gets healthy as soon as he can."
Two days ago, Farrell decided the team's best interests were to have Buchholz make only one start in the Series. So, rather than starting Game 3 here Saturay night, which would line him up to start a potential Game 7 next Thursday night at Fenway Park, Buchholz would simply start Game 4 tonight, then presumably not pitch again.
But if Buchholz isn't 100 percent, why pitch him at all? Well, for one thing, lefty Felix Doubront hasn't made a start since Sept. 22.
"What could we realistically expect from him?" Farrell said. "I wish I could say it would be six or seven innings. I think we have to look at the total number of days down or not getting stretched out that far. We have to be realistic with it."
In a perfect world, Jake Peavy would pitch deep enough into Game 3 last night that Doubront or even right-hander Ryan Dempster will be available to log multiple innings in relief of Buchholz. But at this point, the Sox don't seem comfortable with the idea of starting either of them.
And so, there would seem to be added pressure on Peavy to bounce back Game 4 of the AL Championship Series, when he allowed seven runs on five hits and three walks in only three innings against the Detroit Tigers. When he took the mound laset night, it was 10 days since that start, and Peavy claims he has made the require adjustments to avoid a repeat performance.
"Everything is fixed, fixable," he said. "It wasn't too much to read into it, really, just a small, small adjustment that can make all the difference in the world. And there's absolutely no excuses tomorrow night. This is what I've lived for my whole life - my whole baseball career, I should say - to have this opportunity to go out there on the biggest stage and have a chance to help your team win a World Series game and a World Series title. I'm as prepared as I'll ever be, physically, mentally."
There's no telling what state of mind or body Buchholz will be in for Game 4. Still, Peavy is unconcerned."We're at the finish line now," Peavy said. "I certainly hate that he's experiencing any kind of discomfort. But I think Clay is on that same bandwagon. I can't imagine what it would take (to not pitch). As somebody who's been hurt, I think you could just physically have to not be able to play the game of baseball to not go out there and compete in this environment, when the adrenaline and the atmosphere can help you through a lot of that."Peavy paused for a beat.
"As well as maybe some drugs," he added.
Hey, it's the World Series. Whatever it takes.