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ON BASEBALL

These pitchers left reeling after short-lived duel

TORONTO -- The worst thing that happened to Sox pitcher Josh Beckett last night is he hit a guy and the Blue Jays hit back.

The worst thing that happened to Blue Jays pitcher A.J. Burnett, the other half of this duel between former Marlin running mates -- and the one John W. Henry has admitted he lobbied for over Beckett when the Sox were upgrading their rotation last winter -- is the discomfort he felt when he faced the Red Sox in spring training came back again last night. And there's no telling when he might pitch again.

''Everybody's told me it's not the ligament," said Burnett, who left after four innings of a game that went a dozen before the Blue Jays prevailed, 7-6, in the first extra-inning game this season for both teams. ''But I don't understand how it can still be scar tissue. I just want to get to the bottom of it."

Burnett, who signed a five-year, $55 million contract in the offseason and was counted on to give the Blue Jays a fighting chance in a division dominated for the first half of this decade by the Yankees and Sox, said he will see noted orthopedic surgeon James Andrews -- the doctor Keith Foulke visited on the q.t. last summer -- Monday in search of answers. If it means taking a month off to recover, he's prepared to do so.

He said he's not really experiencing pain in the elbow, but when he went from throwing 96-97 miles an hour in the first two innings, then dropped off to 91 an inning later, when David Ortiz and Manny Ramírez connected for back-to-back home runs hit almost to the identical spot, it was obvious something was wrong.

''I reached back for No. 1," he said, ''and it wasn't there."

And what started out as a pitcher's night -- two amped-up young bucks throwing their best shots -- wound up with both reeling: Burnett, from trying to understand what has gone haywire in his elbow; Beckett, from a show of muscle by the Jays after he hit Aaron Hill in the back with a 95-m.p.h. fastball with the first pitch of the eighth inning.

''Up to then, he'd been pinpoint with his fastball," said budding Blue Jays superstar Vernon Wells, who'd already taken Beckett deep in the fourth inning, his two-run home run after a walk to Frank Catalanotto the Jays' first hit of the night. He added another after Russ Adams, the batter who stepped to the plate immediately after Hill was plunked, took Beckett over the wall.

Troy Glaus then delivered the Jays' third home run of the inning, off Mike Timlin, to tie the score, and the Jays eventually won when Glaus scored from first on Lyle Overbay's gap double off Rudy Seanez, Boston's fifth pitcher, in the 12th.

Blue Jay suspicions that Beckett hit Hill as a retaliatory strike were raised because in the top of the eighth, Jays pitcher Jason Frasor hit Alex Gonzalez with a breaking ball.

''If it was on purpose, you don't want to give this lineup any reason to turn it up a notch, you know what I mean?" Wells said. ''Obviously, [Gonzalez] was hit with a curveball. You wouldn't think [he'd] retaliate with a first-pitch, 95 fastball, but it got us going.

''I don't know whether it was on purpose or not. Nobody's going to know except for him, but it definitely got everything going for us. [Beckett] was as good as good can be until that inning. We just made some good swings, hit some balls and, fortunately, we were able to get him out of there."

The Blue Jay eruption negated the back-to-back home runs by Ortiz and Ramírez, a solo shot by Jason Varitek in the sixth, and a two-run home run in the eighth by Ramírez, who has 49 home runs against the Jays in his career, the most of any player.

''He just seems to wait till he gets here," Wells said of Ramírez. ''It's amazing. First time I got called up here, he was lights out as soon as he stepped into this stadium. Cool to watch, but slow down, you know what I mean?"

The one person on the Blue Jay side prepared to exonerate Beckett? Burnett.

''I don't think he hit him on purpose," Burnett said. ''I think the ball got away from him. If you look at the game, the pitch that our guy [Jason Frasor] hit Gonzalez with was a curveball. Josh pitches tough, but if I was to get inside Josh's head, he was just throwing hard in there, and it got away."

Burnett, who tasted World Series champagne with Beckett when they were Marlins in 2003, said it was ''weird" facing a guy with whom he'd grown up together in Florida.

''It was different, you know?" he said. ''It was weird. He's the same as he was before. He's a gamer. He took his team into the eighth inning, like he's supposed to do. He gave up home runs late, but he just missed location. He knows that.

''He's off to a good start and he's playing for a good team in a good city. The type of person Josh is, he's going to feed off that environment and have good seasons there for a long time."

That was supposed to be the plan, too, for Burnett in Toronto, raising the specter of regular Beckett-Burnett duels down the road. But until someone figures out why his elbow is hurting, that is anything but certain.

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