As a disclaimer, let me once again state that I'm aware this is rank speculation on my part about an athlete I've never met and judge only by his mannerisms on my television.
But last night, it sure looked to me in that third inning like Clay Buchholz simply didn't know whether to shit or go blind.
Normally, when a pitcher falls apart, it's a gradual, or at least a partial process. Maybe one pitch isn't working, or he makes a few mistakes with location.
This is also true of Clay--at least at first. But let those mistakes be big enough - like, say, they turn into a home run on a sweltering evening in Kansas City - and it seems like he suddenly and completely falls apart.
It reminded me of a girl I once knew who had this happen to her in the middle of a tap dance recital - she was going along in her routine beautifully, and then spotted her mother in the audience, and then for some reason, just shifting her brain activity to a different part of her cerebral lobes made her feet forget what they were doing. Suddenly, she forgot the routine she'd spent weeks ingraining into her muscle memory, and ran off the stage, mortified.
Again, I have no proof of this, just my own impressions watching his face and body language - not to mention the complete dissolution of his mechanics - following a particularly critical mistake. But watching Buchholz have to get through the rest of that third inning reminded me of that tap recital story - except he couldn't run off stage. Instead, he stood out there like he'd suddenly realized where he was, and just as suddenly had forgotten everything he'd been taught, reverting instead to more comfortable gut instincts, like throwing mislocated curveball after mislocated curveball.
He seemed to settle for a few pitches after John Farrell came out and gave him a quiet lecture for a few minutes in the third. "A few" being, like, two. Then he seemed to fall apart all over again.
I was surprised to see him back out for the fourth inning (actually, I was surprised to see him survive the third), but it only reinforces my impression that Buchholz's struggles are mental rather than physical, since he was thrown back out there to get back on the horse. Which, to his credit, he did, gutting out six innings in the end and only giving up four runs.
But just as the pitching got back on its feet, the offense seemed to call it a day. They only scored three runs to the Royals' four, and once again look like a totally different, far more lackluster team on the road, just one day after leaving Boston for a city in a time zone just one hour behind. Could someone please explain this road problem to me? Please? I would say it's getting old, but it was already old before the All-Star Break.
The feel-good story of a team that could finally bond together after a disruptive teammate left, which sprang out of the Oakland sweep last week and seemed, for some, to explain all the team's woes up till the trading deadline, as well as the means by which they were solved, is unfortunately looking less like the whole story after last night.
Now that the Manny furor has died down, alert observers of the Olde Towne Team have been pointing out its lingering flaws. Flaws that have nothing to do with our former left fielder and a lot more to do with the team's general underperformance this season. This remains a largely unsolved mystery post-Manny, and continued last night with yet another road loss.
Charles P. Pierce laid it out even more starkly in his minority-opinion piece on the Manny trade for Slate:
Is the poisonous presence of Manny Ramirez the reason catcher Jason Varitek is petrifying almost by the hour, or why Josh Beckett hasn't thrown a changeup in six weeks, or why most of The Kids have been playing like people who got lost on the way to the AAA park? (Jacoby Ellsbury, the speedy young center fielder who was such a sensation in last year's World Series, is hitting an abysmal .186 since the All-Star break and has stolen one base since June 17.) And has Epstein himself been so distracted by Ramirez's performance that he's failed to notice that his middle relief corps is a landfill? As near as anyone can tell, as the Rays and the Yankees both strengthened themselves for the final weeks of the season, the only thing the Red Sox front office worked on in the days prior to the trading deadline was finding a way to ship Manny Ramirez and his 20 home runs out of town.
The Manny deal may have been a necessary move, but it's looking now like it's still going to be a pretty long rest of the summer.