The only thing that would have been neater is if Matsuzaka could have finished it off. But his bid was foiled with two outs in the eighth, when Juan Castro hit a little bloop that landed in short left field, just out of the reach of Marco Scutaro. Just prior to that, Red Sox third baseman Adrian Beltre had made a brilliant diving stop on Carlos Ruiz's liner to turn a double play and keep hope alive.
For Buchholz, it brought back memories of his on no-hitter on Sept. 1, 2007, when Dustin Pedroia had made a tremendous stop on a grounder up the middle.
"I thought the play that Beltre made, that was the sign that, 'OK, it's going to happen.' There's usually one, maybe two great plays that go along with it," said Buchholz. "When [Beltre] doubled him off at first, I thought that was the ending point of the whole deal. But right off the bat, I knew the ball that Castro hit, that was going to be a tough play. You could just sort of see it. The outfielder was playing a little deep."
The Red Sox know a potential no-hitter when they see one -- better than most teams. In the last decade, they've had four of them. Hideo Nomo threw one at Baltimore in 2001, followed by Derek Lowe at Fenway against Tampa Bay the next year. Buchholz had his in '07 against Baltimore, and then Lester reeled one off against the Royals on May 19, 2008.
Jason Varitek caught all four of those, which is a Major League record for a catcher.
He felt the same type of nervous energy this time catching Matsuzaka.
"There were some really good plays and the intensity started building and the hitters started knowing. It's just fun," said Varitek.
Though the season has been largely frustrating to date for the Red Sox, who are 23-21 and 8 1/2 games back in the American League East, Saturday was an enjoyable occasion for the entire team.
If Matsuzaka had gotten those final four outs, Beltre's play would have gone down in the club's no-hit lore.
"You get a little more aggressive, because you'd rather have an E-5 than a hit in that situation," said Beltre. "You don't get many chances to play behind a no-hitter and you want to do whatever you can to prevent any little single."
That's exactly what Scutaro tried to do when Castro made his soft contact, but he just couldn't get back quick enough.
"I think I was very close," said Scutaro. "I don't know, I haven't checked the replay. I was kind of close. I'd rather have a solid line drive, a clean base hit than a bloop like that. I guess when someone is going to throw a no-hitter, everything has to go perfect."
Buchholz knows that all too well, which is why watching those final couple of innings was more nerve-wracking than the no-hitter he pitched in 2007.
"Pitching and being involved in one as far as pitching, you're out there focused on making a pitch instead of being worried about the results," said Buchholz. "From the dugout, you're worried about the results. You don't want him to get a hit. It's nerve-wracking on the bench, probably a little more than being out there, because you're out there trying to win a game and it's a team sport. It would have been awesome to see. He's worked really hard to get to that point.
"He's had some ups and downs -- for him to come back and pitch a game like that, it's definitely going to boost the team's confidence and it should boost his, too."
Matsuzaka, who last threw a no-hitter in the championship game of the famed Koshien Tournament in Japan back in 1998, wondered if he was on the verge of something special.
"Of course I knew all along that I hadn't allowed any hits, but I also know that I'm the type of pitcher that can lapse sometimes, so I was expecting that they'd get a hit at some point," Matsuzaka said. "But tonight, with the defense behind me, a lot of hard-hit balls turned into outs and they made a lot of tough plays. I thought to myself, if it's going to happen, it's going to be on a night like this. But it didn't work out."