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Question mark lingers over pitcher's mound for Boston in Game 4

Photo: Michael Ivins/Getty Images

Before his all-important start in Game 4, questions concerning Clay Buchholz's readiness remain.

ST. LOUIS -- Despite all the doubts, despite all the questions, Clay Buchholz will take the mound in Game 4 of the World Series. There is no time for the Red Sox to dwell on their harrowing and devastating Game 3 loss: the series is slipping away, the Red Sox need Buchholz now, and they need him more than ever.

Who is Clay Buchholz? Is he an ace? A number four starter? A pitcher who can pitch through pain and fight through more than five innings? A player who can save Boston now? Three games into the World Series, and the Cardinals look like the better team in the series -- but everything could change for the Red Sox with a big start from their 29-year-old righthander. But Buchholz does not sound like a pitcher who is physically -- or mentally -- ready for the most important start of his career, and that should scare the Red Sox as a critical Game 4 looms.

His shoulder is hurting. His fastball is fading. For days now -- he hasn't pitched since Game 6 of the ALCS -- his status has been up in the air. Before Game 3, Buchholz threw off the mound and went through his typical pre-start ritual. "There's not a whole lot of discomfort," Buchholz said on Saturday. But he also admitted, "The ball is not really coming out of my hands like it does in spring training or at the beginning of the season."

Buchholz did not exactly inspire any confidence when he was asked if he'd be content with his line from Game 6 of the ALCS (he allowed two runs over five innings). "If you can give up two runs to either of those teams," he said of the Tigers and Cardinals, "regardless of how many innings you pitch, I think that's a victory in itself. So I'd probably take five and two -- but obviously you want to go nine and nothing."

His manager does not sound particularly confident, either. Before Game 4 John Farrell admitted that the team had some discussions about starting Jon Lester on three-days' rest. "History shows that's not been successful," Farrell said of the idea of his lefty starting on short notice. He added, "We go into tomorrow thinking that [Buchholz is] going to give us what he's been in the postseason. That might be a little bit shorter of an outing than maybe we've seen back in April and May. But he's also been very effective. And we're fully anticipating that to be the case tomorrow."

Buchholz will be on a short leash, but in Game 3 the Red Sox burned through five relievers, including Felix Doubront, Farrell's Plan B if Buchholz could not pitch. Ryan Dempster will likely be the first pitcher Farrell turns to after Buchholz. There are more problems for Boston. Craig Breslow is suddenly struggling -- after his errant throw gave St. Louis the lead in Game 2, he faced two batters in Game 3 and put both on base. Shane Victorino (0-for-10 since his ALCS grand slam), Jarrod Saltalamacchia (6-for-32 with 19 strikeouts in the postseason), and Stephen Drew (4-for-44 in the postseason) are mired in bad slumps. Is Farrell desperate enough to start Mike Napoli at third base? Before the game Napoli was taking groundballs at third from infield coach Brian Butterfield.

Of course, there will be another starting pitcher besides Buchholz in Game 4. He is the forgotten man in a rotation with Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha, and through the regular season he was overshadowed by rookie Shelby Miller. There's a lot of talk about the great young Cardinals pitchers, and Lance Lynn gets lost in the shuffle. But on Sunday St. Louis' 26-year-old righthander has a chance at redemption, too. A year ago, in Game 5 of the NLCS, Lynn took the mound with an opportunity to send St. Louis to the World Series; instead, he gave up four runs in 3 2/3 innings in a Cardinals loss --- San Francisco would take the next two games, and the pennant. "I've thought a lot about that start," Lynn said.

Lynn dropped over 40 pounds over the offseason after working with conditioning coach Pete Prinzi. He cut fast food and beer from his diet. He worked out longer and harder. After a dismal July and August, he seemed to get stronger down the stretch this season, with a 2.12 ERA in September, though he was hit hard by the Pirates in Game 2 of the NLDS. He has since been solid in the postseason, in two scoreless innings of relief in Game 1 of the NLCS and a win in Game 4 as he allowed two runs over 5 1/3 innings against the Dodgers. "I think he's one of the guys that gets overlooked, as we start talking about the youth of the staff," said Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny. "Lance is a guy that won 18 games for us last season and has done well in the postseason. And he does carry himself like a guy that's been around a while. But I believe he's still a young pitcher and still learning, still adapting."

Who is Lance Lynn?

Who is Clay Buchholz?

We're about to find out.

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