(Sports Network) - It wasn't that long ago when Clay Buchholz and Justin Masterson shared a link as teammates and promising prospects of the Boston Red Sox. The two pitchers' careers have had few similarities over the past year, however.
Boston's Buchholz has an opportunity to become the American League's first nine-game winner of the season tonight, while Masterson will be attempting to build of his first victory in 10 months when the Cleveland Indians hurler takes on his former team at Progressive Field.
Despite the presence of proven veterans Josh Beckett and John Lackey on the Red Sox roster, it's Buchholz that has emerged as the team's co-ace alongside fellow youngster Jon Lester. The 25-year-old enters tonight's matchup sporting an 8-3 record and a terrific 2.39 earned run average over 11 season starts, tied with Tampa Bay's David Price for the AL lead in both categories.
Buchholz has been particularly sensational over the past three weeks, with the talented righty having won five straight starts and registering an eye-popping 0.99 ERA over those outings. He's yielded a mere four runs in 36 1/3 frames during the win streak and currently owns a string of 18 consecutive scoreless innings pitched.
The native Texan maintained his dominating form by firing a five-hit shutout in Friday's 11-0 road rout of Baltimore, six days after he tossed seven scoreless innings to lead the Red Sox to a 1-0 verdict over Kansas City on May 29.
"He is a maturing pitcher and we're seeing it right in front of us -- and it's exciting," Red Sox manager Terry Francona told the team's official site following Friday's game. "He's putting it together. He looks confident, and he should be."
Buchholz has been flawless on the road all season long, winning all five of his assignments in enemy venues and producing a 1.31 ERA during that span. He did struggle in his only career meeting with the Indians, though, getting tagged for six runs in just three innings in a no-decision at Fenway Park last October.
Masterson has found success much tougher to come by since joining the Indians last July as one of the key pieces of the big trade that sent All-Star catcher Victor Martinez to Boston. The also 25-year-old has compiled an ugly 2-12 record with a 5.01 ERA in 22 games (21 starts) following the swap.
He's coming off one of his more positive performances, however, a 5 2/3-inning stint at Chicago on Friday in which the tall right-hander worked around six walks to hold the White Sox to one run in Cleveland's 10-1 decision. The win was Masterson's first since August 20 of last season and snapped a personal run of 11 straight losses over a period of 17 starts.
"It's just nice to have this victory," a relieved Masterson said afterward. "Things worked out well, and we'll just continue to work from here."
Masterson, who will be opposing the Red Sox for the first time since the trade, tuned up for Friday's effort with a solid 6 2/3 innings of work at New York's Yankee Stadium on May 30. He struck out eight batters with just one walk and gave up three runs while not factoring in the decision against the Bronx Bombers.
This series has been a one-sided one over the past few years, with Boston winning 17 of 20 regular-season games between the clubs since the start of the 2007 campaign. The Red Sox have amassed a 9-2 record at Progressive Field over that time frame, and have taken the first two tests of this four-game set after holding on for a 3-2 victory last night.
Boston scored all of its runs in the third inning, with Kevin Youkilis and Bill Hall delivering RBI doubles and David Ortiz knocking in another with an infield single. That was enough for Tim Wakefield (2-4), with the veteran knuckleballer surrendering two runs -- one earned -- on just four hits and striking out six on a milestone night.
Wakefield became the Red Sox' all-time leader in innings pitched, now having logged 2,777 with the team to pass Roger Clemens (2,776) in that category. Youkilis finished 3-for-4 and Daniel Bard picked up his second save of the year with a scoreless ninth for red-hot Boston. The Red Sox have now prevailed in eight of their past 10 games and are an outstanding 16-5 since May 17.
All of Boston's runs on Tuesday were unearned due to a costly error by Indians center fielder Trevor Crowe, spoiling an otherwise strong showing for David Huff (2-7). The Cleveland starter scattered eight hits and struck out six before exiting after six innings.
Shelley Duncan had a solo homer and Sin-Shoo Choo went 2-for-3 with a run scored for the Indians, who lost for the third straight time and remain buried in last place in the AL Central with a 21-36 record.