As the outs piled up, as the innings flew by, and as Clay Buchholz inched closer yesterday to pitching another no-hitter, Jarrod Saltalamacchia became an increasingly nervous wreck.

“I was sitting in my same spot (in the dugout). I didn’t want to move,” the Red Sox catcher said. “Didn’t want to do anything. My shirt was untucked for seven innings. I couldn’t tuck it back in.”

Saltalamacchia, a superstitious sort, couldn’t help himself. But here’s the thing: Buchholz’ latest dazzling start had nothing to do with luck.

OK, so maybe Tampa Bay Rays left fielder Kelly Johnson got lucky when his broken-bat flare to right field fell for a single to open the eighth inning, breaking up Buchholz’ bid to throw the 19th no-hitter in Sox history. But there isn’t anything fluky about the way the razor-thin 28-year-old has pitched through three starts this season.

Buchholz emerged as a top-of-the-rotation starter in 2010 and had been pitching well in 2011 until a stress fracture in his back sidelined him in the season’s second half. And if not for a dreadful half-dozen starts to open last season, his ERA would’ve been far better than 4.56.

But if there were any doubts about Buchholz’ legitimacy, consider them erased. In three starts against the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Rays, he has allowed one run in 22 innings for a 0.41 ERA and posted 23 strikeouts, including a career-high 11 yesterday in a 5-0 win.

Buchholz has been the right-handed counterpunch to ace lefty Jon Lester, who has outdueled Cy Young Award winners CC Sabathia, R.A. Dickey and David Price en route to posting a 1.42 ERA in three starts.