Rick Sweet was searching for one chink in the incredible armor Clay Buchholz brought with him to Louisville, Ky., on Memorial Day.
Sweet, manager of the Triple-A Louisville Bats, watched helplessly for nearly two hours as the Red Sox farmhand, pitching for the Pawtucket Red Sox, mowed down his lineup like it was filled with Little Leaguers.
Buchholz pitched a perfect game through eight innings — 24 batters faced and 24 outs — on Monday.
But the first pitch to the first batter in the ninth was a base hit to left field.
"I'm the kind of guy that looks at how guys react when faced with adversity," said Sweet. "And on this day, that hit was the only thing we could get off him. I remember looking out at Buchholz's body language, to see how upset he was, did he drop his head because the perfect game was over. The thing was we were still in the game (losing 3-0). A few hits here and there and we're back in it."
So what did Sweet see?
"He was a professional. He didn't show me anything negative. He just stayed focused," recalled Sweet. "So what does he do on his next pitch? He throws a 97 mile per hour fastball for a strike. It was his best pitch of the night. I remember thinking, 'Wow.'"
True to form, Buchholz struck out the next two hitters and induced a grounder to short to end the game. Buchholz got his one-hitter on just 96 pitches.
"I've seen a lot of games and that was one of the best pitched games I've ever seen," said Sweet, the reigning International League Manager of the Year. "The stuff he threw at us would been the same for major league hitters. His fastball, curveball and changeup were all too good. He had good command (throwing 70 of 96 pitches for strikes). The fact that he was throwing that velocity in the ninth inning, and the ease with which he threw says something."