ARLINGTON, Texas -- Slender Michael Young, the 2005 American League batting champion, hoped he'd checked his swing on one of those devastating 95-mile-per-hour Josh Beckett fastballs.
The Rangers' shortstop, with two outs in the Texas seventh, did his best sell, holding his bat where he'd like to think he'd finished his swing. But Beckett, who had told pitching coach Al Nipper earlier in the night that he was good for 110 pitches, wasn't buying it. So he appealed to the masked man behind the plate, Bruce Dreckman, who obliged, checking with first base umpire Ed Hickox. And Beckett got what he wanted. The punchout signal, on his 109th pitch.
''That was about all I had," Beckett said after last night's 2-1 win, ''that last pitch."
Beckett, all arm and energy last night, responded with a motion similar to Hickox's, though significantly far more vociferous. He took a step, stopped, and pumped his fist hard, yelling, like it was October in New York, rather than April 5 in Texas.
Nearing the dugout steps, where Curt Schilling had the excitement of an 11-year-old boy who'd found a playmate exactly like himself, Beckett paused and did something rather Schilling-like. He turned, cupped his glove next to his mouth to help the sound travel, and yelled to Hickox. It took a couple attempts, before Hickox, cracking a smile, turned to Beckett. Thanks, he said. Or something like that.
''I love that [stuff]," David Ortiz said of Beckett's raw emotion. ''People in Boston are going to have fun with this guy. I think we've got two Curt Schillings."
Beckett, in his American Legue debut, in his home state (he's a native of Spring, Texas, four hours south of here), had reason to be jacked up. After a shaky 23-pitch, three-hit, one-run, one-wild-pitch first inning, Beckett looked likely to be on the hook for an ''L," despite hanging zeros the rest of the way. Through six innings, the scoreboard high above the second porch in right at Ameriquest Field read:
BOSTON 000 000
TEXAS 100 000
Kameron Loe, Texas's 6-foot-8-inch righthander with a three-quarter arm slot making only the 10th start of his big league career, had been sinking the ball with near-perfect results, allowing only two hits through five innings, both singles by Mark Loretta. But Ortiz had erased Loretta both times, grounding into a 3-6-3 double play in the first and a 4-6-3 double play in the fourth.
''He made one mistake," Ortiz said of Loe. ''Only one mistake."
It came to Trot Nixon, on an 0-and-1 pitch in the seventh with Manny Ramírez (walk) aboard. Nixon was upset with himself for grounding out quickly in his previous at-bat and went up there thinking Loe was fatigued. Wait long enough, Nixon thought, and he'd leave one up. Loe did, at 88 m.p.h., and Nixon got it; 371 feet later, it settled into Row 1 in right.
''I just got fortunate," Nixon said. ''A mistake pitch."
Sox 2, Rangers 1, as it would end.
It probably shouldn't have, except for an odd decision by Rangers third base coach Steve Smith in the eighth. With one out, and runners on first and second, Kevin Mench singled to left, and Mark Teixeira, running from second, rounded third, stutter-stepped, then took off. He did so, apparently, because Smith waved him when he saw Ramírez scoop the ball up flat-footed. But Ramírez threw to Mike Lowell, who relayed to Jason Varitek, who'd blocked the plate and easily applied the tag. So, rather than bases loaded and one out against Mike Timlin, who was making his season debut, the Rangers had first and second with two outs. Timlin got a ground out, then handed over in the ninth to Jonathan Papelbon.
Papelbon, who'd never closed out a game in his young career, blew away Texas's Nos. 8-9-1 hitters. He overpowered Rod Barajas at 95. He popped Laynce Nix up near shortstop. And he overmatched Brad Wilkerson, at 93 m.p.h., for Save No. 1 of his career, 189 behind Keith Foulke, who Terry Francona had said all along would be his closer.
''This," Francona said, ''is by no means an indictment of Foulke."
Francona, before the game, approached Foulke and told him that if Beckett went seven, and Timlin pitched an inning, Papelbon would probably close the game out, because he's the best arm the Sox have out there at the moment. Foulke, afterward, said he's fine with that.
''Hell, when I get my stuff together and go back to that spot, so be it," Foulke said. ''All that matters is we win."
And once they did, when Papelbon had reached back and thrown one by Wilkerson, Beckett was first out of the dugout, jogging to the mound, to pat the fellow 25-year-old on the back. It was Papelbon who cemented Beckett's first win as a Red Sox, a win he'd worked awfully hard for. He needed 81 pitches to get through four innings, before getting in and out of the fifth inning in six pitches, one of his few easy frames.
He allowed one hit apiece in the second, third, and fourth but no runs. He allowed a one-out single in the second but ended the inning by throwing a 95-m.p.h. fastball by Wilkerson. With two outs in the third he walked Phil Nevin, and Hank Blalock singled. Mench, up next, lined a fastball that came in at 96 back up the middle at an even quicker speed, where Beckett speared it, saving himself a run, and keeping the deficit at 1-0.
D'Angelo Jimenez, leading off the fourth, scorched a double over Coco Crisp's head in center and, with one out, advanced to third on Beckett's second wild pitch. But Beckett got Nix looking for the second out, and fanned Wilkerson again swinging, stranding Jimenez at third.
''He was phenomenal," Schilling said. ''That kid throwing the way he was throwing he had to be perfect, and after the first inning he was."
Did Schilling teach him to thank the ump like that? ''I have no idea," Schilling said.
And so the Sox leave for Baltimore with two wins in hand, and, perhaps, pocket aces in hand, too.