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A's Will Have Work Cut Out For Them As Buchholz Returns

(Sports Network) - Injuries to a number of key performers have caused the Boston Red Sox to lose ground in the American League playoff race. They'll get one of those players back this afternoon, however, with standout pitcher Clay Buchholz set to toe the rubber in today's finale of a three-game road series with the Oakland Athletics.

Buchholz stood among the league leaders in wins when he was forced to exit a June 26 game at San Francisco after just one inning due to a strained left hamstring. The injury also forced the first-time All-Star to miss last week's Midsummer Classic, where he had earned a spot on the AL roster after amassing a 10-4 record in 15 starts along with a 2.45 earned run average that's tops in the Junior Circuit at the moment.

The right-hander enters today's matchup having won seven of his past eight decisions and prepped for this assignment with a 3 2/3-inning rehab start for Triple-A Pawtucket on Friday. Buchholz threw 60 pitches and was reached for a pair of runs on four hits in that game.

The 25-year-old will be making his second career start against Oakland this afternoon and looks to build upon a sensational 5-1 record and 1.70 ERA on the road this year. Buchholz got a no-decision in a Fenway Park clash with the A's last season after letting up a pair of runs in 5 2/3 innings of work.

He'll be getting the call today for a Boston squad that's dropped nine of its last 13 tests following last night's extra-inning setback to the A's. Oakland came through with a 5-4 victory on Kevin Kouzmanoff's RBI single with two out in the bottom of the 10th inning.

Both Kouzmanoff and Jack Cust drove in two runs to help Oakland avenge a 2-1 defeat in Monday's series opener and record its sixth win in seven games. Daric Barton collected a pair of hits and scored the deciding run shortly after singling off Boston reliever Ramon Ramirez (0-3) with one out in the 10th.

"Anytime you can win an extra-inning game it's nice, but when it's against a team like the Red Sox, it's nicer because of how good they are," Athletics catcher Kurt Suzuki remarked afterward.

Andrew Bailey (1-3) did his part as well for Oakland, with the All-Star closer tossing two scoreless innings to pick up the win.

Marco Scutaro finished 2-for-5 with an RBI and two runs scored in Boston's latest loss. The Red Sox enter this evening's play six games behind the New York Yankees for first place in the AL East and 3 1/2 behind Tampa Bay for the lead in the league's Wild Card race.

Gio Gonzalez will attempt to pitch Oakland to a series win, as well as duplicate an excellent performance in his latest start, when he takes the mound for the home team this afternoon. The young left-hander got his second half off to a terrific beginning when he limited Kansas City to one run over seven innings in a 5-1 Athletics' win this past Friday. More importantly, he walked only one batter for the game after issuing four or more free passes in each of his three prior appearances.

Gonzalez improved to 8-6 and lowered his season ERA to a respectable 3.63 ERA with Friday's verdict, and he's been tough on the Coliseum mound as well. In nine home starts thus far in 2010, the 24-year-old has generated a 4-3 record along with a 2.98 ERA.

The former supplemental first-round draft choice has received a pair of no- decisions in two lifetime starts against the Red Sox, including a June 1 affair in Boston in which he was touched for three runs in five innings.

The Red Sox won two of three games from the A's in a series held at Fenway Park earlier this season, but have lost in six of their past eight visits to the Oakland Coliseum.