Fireballing Beckett blazes trail for Sox with his third win of the season
Josh Beckett, 3-0 to start his debut season with the Red Sox, is second in the AL with a 1.29 ERA. (Globe Staff Photo / Matthew J. Lee)
On two occasions this season Josh Beckett has pressed his right cleat against the rubber to see a runner on third base with only one out. The result: four batters faced, four Ks, zero runs.
In his Red Sox debut, at Texas, with D'Angelo Jimenez 90 feet away, Beckett put away Laynce Nix looking, and Brad Wilkerson swinging. In the sixth inning yesterday, with Seattle's No. 4 and 5 hitters due, Raul Ibanez assumed his lead, poised to tie the game on just about anything put in play. Beckett, against Richie Sexson, threw a buckling curveball for strike two, threw two balls, then spun off another brilliant curve, fanning Sexson. Against Adrian Beltre, Beckett reached back, for a gear unavailable to most, and threw the hardest pitch this Sox season: 98 miles per hour, past the swinging Beltre.
''Your [pants] are on fire, because there's a guy on third base with less than two outs," Beckett said. ''Builds a lot of character: Get yourself into that situation and get yourself out."
In three starts, opposing hitters are 2 for 15 with runners in scoring position against the 25-year-old Texan. Against Curt Schilling, opponents are 1 for 18 in such situations. That's a combined 3 for 33, an .091 average.
''This," Mike Lowell pointed out, ''is what frontline guys do."
This is why the Sox won, 3-2, yesterday before 36,181 at a windy Fenway Park. This is why they are 8-4, despite having scored fewer runs than every team in the American League except the Royals. This is why the Sox could take three of four against Seattle today despite having all of three hits in 30 at-bats in the series with runners in scoring position.
The good news after Easter Sunday: The Sox appear to have two aces, circa 2004. Beckett is 3-0 for the first time in his career, and, combined, he and Schilling are 6-0 with a 1.47 ERA, 28 strikeouts, and just nine walks.
''He's anybody else's No. 1," Sexson said of Beckett, ''so we knew we had our hands full today."
Not only were the Mariners up against Beckett, but they were up against a first base umpire in Rick Reed who cost them dearly. Kevin Youkilis walked to begin the Sox half of the first, and Mark Loretta doubled to left. David Ortiz popped out, and Manny Ramírez (3 for his last 25) grounded out, plating a run but giving Jarrod Washburn a chance to get out of the inning trailing only 1-0.
Jason Varitek then hit a ball sharply down the third base line to Beltre, who threw across the diamond but up the line to Sexson. Sexson, abandoning the bag, reached for the Sox catcher, who nimbly hit the dirt, reaching for the base with his left hand. Sexson appeared to tag Varitek, not only on the elbow but the side as well.
''He hit me pretty solidly," the catcher acknowledged.
Did Varitek think of informing Reed of this?
''No," Varitek said. ''There's not much you can really say right there. It happens."
And so, the Sox led, 2-0. Seattle evened it in the third, though no runs should have scored in the inning. Ichiro Suzuki (0 for 12 in the series) reached on a one-out error by Loretta at second. Jose Lopez, up next, shot a ball into right field, with Wily Mo Peña charging.
''I could see the ball diving toward the line," center fielder Dustan Mohr said, and it's a good thing Mohr did, because had he not backed up the play, it almost certainly would have gone for an inside-the-park homer.
Lopez pulled into third, with Suzuki scoring to cut it to 2-1. Ibanez then blooped a ball to left that fell between Ramírez and Alex Gonzalez, who took up a sand-wedge-size divot tumbling beneath Ramírez. Lopez scored on the play, evening it at 2-2. Beckett, who'd had enough, reached for the throttle. He pumped one past a sedentary Sexson at 97 m.p.h. for the second out, and got some help (Varitek threw out Ibanez attempting to take second with Beltre up) for the third out.
''This is the ability we have seen," said Lowell, Beckett's teammate since Day 1 in Florida. ''If he does this the whole year we're in for an unbelievable year. His biggest asset is he doesn't want to be a mediocre pitcher. He wants to be great."
What has impressed his catcher?
''His stuff," Varitek said. ''He's got phenomenal stuff."
Gonzalez, another of Beckett's former Marlins teammates, got him the one added run he needed in the fourth, scoring Varitek from third with a single to center, for his third RBI, and second game-winning RBI, of the weekend. Gonzalez got a little help on the play from the 21 mile-per-hour wind whipping out toward right-center.
That run would be enough, as the Sox have won three games this season by a score of 2-1, one game 4-1, and yesterday's 3-2.
''Our offense has not clicked at all," Loretta acknowledged. ''And we still are winning games."
To be able to do that, he said, ''is a psychological thing teams have to have to develop, and this team has done that."
It helps, of course, that Jonathan Papelbon is 6 for 6 in save opportunities. After Mike Timlin pitched a scoreless eighth on a mere nine pitches, Papelbon was perfect in the ninth. Beltre lined to right, Matt Lawton flied to center, and Kenji Johjima grounded to Lowell, much to the delight of those in the Fens yesterday, all of whom sounded like they've embraced their 25-year-old closer.
''So have I," manager Terry Francona said. ''So have we. I'm sure that helps. I think he pitches off emotion a lot. You worry about young guys sometimes, that they get too emotional and don't stay with what they are supposed to do. He just seems to use it to his advantage."