After yesterday's 1-0 win, Josh Beckett's American League-leading 12th of the season, Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein approached the man he had signed to a three-year contract extension the night before.
``Way to make us look good," Epstein told Beckett.
On Tuesday night, closing negotiations that started just before the All-Star break, Beckett and the Sox agreed to a contract that will keep him on the Fenway Park mound through 2009 (the club holds an option for 2010).
Wakefield expected to go on 15-day DL with fracture in his rib cage. E6
Yesterday, the Sox saw their long-term investment pay off immediately. Beckett threw eight scoreless innings ( the second time he hasn't allowed a run this year), commanding his fastball, curveball, and changeup to give the Sox their second straight 1-0 win over the lowly Kansas City Royals in front of 36,098, capping a three-game sweep in which they won all three by a single run.
It was the first time they scored back-to-back 1-0 victories at Fenway since 1916. They last turned the trick in 1990 with consecutive 1-0 wins over the Blue Jays in Toronto.
``The changeup, for any pitcher, is a huge pitch," said catcher Doug Mirabelli. ``It keeps hitters off balance and keeps them off the fastball. Regardless of how hard you throw, you've got to keep these guys off balance. You can't just sit there and pump fastballs to them. His changeup was very good. It had a lot of depth to it. He threw it in spots where it was very effective."
Beckett couldn't say the same in his last start. Last Friday, he gave up seven runs and walked four in a 15-3 humiliation against Oakland, the second time he'd lost by a 15-3 score this season (the first came against Cleveland April 27, when he allowed nine runs , eight earned, in 3 2/3 innings).
Yesterday, he mastered the stuff that had Royals manager Buddy Bell shaking his head, throwing his changeup early to get Kansas City batters guessing. Would it be the 97-mile-per-hour fastball they'd see next? The looping, 70-mile-per-hour hook he can drop into the strike zone? Or would he go back to the changeup?
Whatever pitch he and Mirabelli agreed on, the importance was that Beckett placed it where he wanted. Of Beckett's 110 pitches, 78 were strikes. For the fourth time this season, Beckett (4.78 ERA) didn't walk a batter. He struck out seven -- including three caught looking at his curveball -- for the sixth time this year. Before he plunked second baseman Esteban German in the sixth inning, Beckett had thrown first-pitch strikes to 10 straight Royals. And perhaps most important, Beckett snapped a five-game streak in which he allowed at least one home run.
``He pounded the strike zone with all his pitches," said Sox manager Terry Francona. ``That's what we've talked about when it hasn't been right. We kept saying, `If he does this, he'll be dominant.' And that's what he was today."
Beckett could afford to be nothing less. Kansas City counterpart Mark Redman was also controlling his fastball, curveball, and changeup, albeit at lower velocities than the smoke-throwing Beckett. The lefthander (6-5, 5.02 ERA) also went eight innings, punching out nine and taking advantage of less-than-ideal -- the glare off the center-field Stop & Shop sign was so bad it was removed after the game -- to keep the Red Sox to a lone run.
Redman struck out leadoff batter Kevin Youkilis twice, cuffing the first baseman with an 0-for-4 day. Two of Boston's seven hits were bunts down the third base line, including one by David Ortiz against the Kansas City shift.
Even Redman's first-pitch changeup to Manny Ramírez to start the fourth inning wasn't a mistake, low and away to the Sox' left fielder. But the pitch floated through enough of Ramírez's expanded power zone, as he yanked it over the Monster in left-center field, his 25th of the year and 224th long ball of his Boston career. With the shot, Ramírez passed Bobby Doerr to claim sixth place on Boston's all-time homer list.
In the following inning, Ramírez also helped Beckett with his glove. One batter after third baseman Mike Lowell snatched a hot shot off the bat of shortstop Angel Berroa, Ramírez went into a tumble while tracking a fly ball hit by catcher Paul Phillips, snaring it before it hit the ground.
``Manny's not a bad outfielder at all," Beckett said. ``He's played this year like he wants to win a Gold Glove. I think he has the talent to do that."
Beckett had to shoulder the load the next inning when the Royals started a two-out rally after German was hit by a pitch. They loaded the bases and Beckett went to a full count -- one of two times he went to three balls yesterday -- on right fielder Emil Brown. Beckett got Brown to fly out to center with a fastball.
Two innings later, when Kansas City put a runner on third and Mike Timlin warmed up in case the Royals tied the game, Beckett again turned to his smoke to get first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz to fly out on a full count. Jonathan Papelbon pitched the ninth for his 29th save, recording his 50th strikeout in 50 innings.
``We're fortunate because we haven't swung the bats like we know we can," said Francona. ``But we still won and that's why we showed up. It's very gratifying."
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