Beckett baffles batters
Sox starter perfect for 5 1/3, goes eight for ninth victory
Refreshingly, Red Sox righthander Josh Beckett didn't sit at his postgame news conference last night and repeat what most pitchers say after being involved in an outing about which the words ``no-hitter" and ``perfect game" start to circulate. He was watching the scoreboard. He did know. And no, it did not come as much of a surprise when the 35,948 at Fenway Park rose and have him an ovation after 17 batters had come to the plate.
``I guess I'm not like everybody else because they all say they don't even know that it's going on," Beckett said. ``You look up there and it's nice to think those kinds of things, but against a lineup like that, it's pretty tough. You've got to face those guys three times to beat them and you've got to be perfect."
He was, through nearly two times through that lineup, before perfection ended with a ground single up the middle, one that rolled a few feet to Beckett's right and just past the second base bag. David Bell, who had been retired on a liner to third baseman Mike Lowell in the third, reversed his luck in the sixth against Beckett, a pitcher against whom he had a good deal of history ( 6 for 29), though not much of it good.
So the perfect game, through 16 batters and 71 pitches, was over, and all that was left was to finish off one of Beckett's best outings of the season, a 10-2 win over the Philadelphia Phillies (after a 43-minute rain delay at the start) powered by two home runs and five RBIs for Manny Ramírez. It brought the Sox' winning streak to seven, their record in interleague play to 9-1, and all the questions about Beckett's standing as an ace -- remember those consecutive games against the Blue Jays and Yankees in which he allowed 14 earned runs? -- to a close.
``I think more exciting than [the run of perfection] was just the way he was pitching," manager Terry Francona said, after Beckett went eight innings, allowing three hits and two walks, while striking out eight with no walks, and lowered his ERA from 5.09 to 4.84. ``Two-seamed his fastball, threw his breaking ball very effectively, threw some real good changeups. He pitched. He elevated his fastball, used both sides of the plate with his fastball, threw a couple breaking balls in hitters' counts. Just really pitched effectively. Took the sting out of some pretty good hitters' bats."
Until Chase Utley hit a mistake pitch -- ``middle, middle," Beckett said -- for a two-run homer to the Sox' bullpen in right, Beckett had gotten through six innings by facing the minimum (Bell was retired on a 5-4-3 double play). Beckett retired the last six batters he faced, getting Bell to foul out to third on his 104th and final pitch.
``He was putting his pitches in the spot he was asked, more so than the movement being so dominant," said Coco Crisp, who had a nice vantage point from center field. ``His location was unbelievable today. If the ball was called to be thrown up, it was thrown right at the mitt, up. If it was away, it was away. His control was unbelievable."
As was his run support. For the fifth straight game, the Sox scored at least six runs. After Ramírez smashed a laser into the last row of the Monster seats to the left of the Coke bottles for a three-run homer in the first (Mark Loretta on after doubling to right, David Ortiz after walking), the left fielder helped the Sox to another three-run inning in the second, his double plating Alex Gonzalez after the shortstop's two-run single, all of which helped chase Phillies starter Ryan Madson after 1 2/3 innings. Later came Ramírez's solo shot in the seventh, the 455th home run of his career, moving him past Jim Thome and into 28th on the all-time list.
By the eighth, Ramírez was out, giving way to fan favorite Gabe Kapler. And Kapler, on the first pitch he saw, hammered his own home run to left, hitting the Coke bottles, the ball bouncing back onto the field.
``When he gets hot -- I've said it so many times -- they're not singles," Francona said of Ramírez.
So, the offense was under control. The defense, with its team-record 11th consecutive errorless game, was under control. And Beckett, clearly, was under control. Though throughout the season the righthander has endured ugly early innings and high pitch counts, in this one, his inning-by-inning pitch counts dipped as the game went on (16, 15, 11, 8, 7 for the first five frames).
``It's nice to be able to do that when you're a power pitcher," said catcher Jason Varitek, who had the only tough night on the Sox' side, with three strikeouts. ``It just adds to extended games. Strike one is huge for any pitching staff, but especially for a power pitcher. We didn't get a lot of 0 and 2s where it's nibble, nibble, nibble, boom. Then, next you know it's 3 and 2. We got outs quick when we were ahead."
Quick outs on a mix of fastballs, changeups, and curves, almost all of which dropped in just right (including three to strike out the Phillies' best hitter, Ryan Howard, in each of his three trips to the plate). And, up until that 17th batter of the game, a touch of perfection.
``[I was] excited for him, especially after the fifth," Lowell said. ``You were kind of checking out the scoreboard and hoping guys got out quickly. His stuff was great. He had all his pitches going, throwing changeups for strikes, curveballs for strikes. When he does that, he's tough. He's one of the better pitchers out there, and it showed. When he can execute those pitches, the other team's in for a rough night."