For the better part of a windswept, rain-drenched morning in the Fens, there appeared to be as much chance of the Red Sox playing today as pizzas flying in the stands, Josh Beckett being wide awake before breakfast, or Julio Lugo looking as good in leather as Alex Gonzalez.
But the window of opportunity predicted by Sox chief operating office Mike Dee -- relying on the teams private meteorologists -- materialized, and all the other improbabilities fell into place. The Sox squashed the Angels for a third straight time, 7-2, completing a three-game sweep of a presumed American League contender by a cumulative score of 25-3. Sox manager Terry Francona, asked if there was any way to explain the one-sided tilt to the series, said, No, because if I tried to explain it, its over, and were moving on.
Beckett, despite being asked to perform at an hour that he likened to pitching in the losers bracket of an AAU tournament, answered his 6:47 a.m. wakeup call, waited a couple of hours longer than he expected (the start of the game was pushed back to 12:05, then 12:18), then made a California omelet out of the Angels lineup.
Beckett, while winning for the third straight start (3-0, 1.50 ERA, 18 Ks in 18 IP), allowed just one run in six innings, on Orlando Cabreras first-inning home run, which is precisely the allotment of runs Beckett permitted Kansas City and Seattle in his first two starts.
Beckett received splendid assistance from shortstop Lugo. His double started the Sox six-run uprising in the bottom of the first off Angels starter Ervin No Magic Santana, one of four doubles the Sox stroked in an inning in which they exploited a two-base throwing error by Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick. But it was Lugos two plays afield -- a sprint into short center field to nab Casey Kotchmans flare while on his knees in the fourth, and a terrific snatch and throw from deep in the hole with two runners aboard in the fifth -- that kept the Angels somnambulant while evoking memories of Gonzo.
He made two unbelievable plays, said Beckett, who became the first Sox pitcher to win three games this season and extended a run of six games in which Sox starters have allowed just a 1.50 ERA (7 earned runs in 42 innings). One of em saved me a run, the other one saved me a couple more pitches.
While the Sox announced a sellout of 35,424, thousands of fans, scared off by the noreaster, missed out on Paul Revere III, a seventh-generation descendant of the Revolutionary alarm-sounder, throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before the home teams fourth straight Patriots Day win. They also missed an unceremonious fling of a pizza slice by one box-seat patron at another, the man on the receiving end of some chunky cheese having already lost a cupful of beer while trying to grab J.D. Drews foul fly ball in the seventh.
Whatever turns them on, shrugged Francona, who didnt see the play live but should get to catch a replay provided by NESN, which showed the play repeatedly during yesterdays broadcast. As long as theyre not throwing them at me or us, thats OK.
These days, theyre throwing nothing but bouquets at Beckett, the echoes of last years brickbats fading with each successive strong outing this spring. Washed out of his scheduled start Sunday, Beckett knew he had to prepare a little differently for todays matinee.
Do I go to bed at 8 or 9? he said, reflecting on a choice of bedtimes that hardly fall within his usual range.
I think I laid down at 8 and went to sleep at 9. Tried to, anyway.
Beckett struck out five, walked one, and was undeterred by a first-inning warning from plate umpire Rick Reed, who was motivated to act after Beckett struck Angels star Vladimir Guerrero in the right wrist with an 0-2 fastball. Guerrero, who was the next batter after Cabreras home run -- the first in eight games by an Angel -- left the game, but X-rays were negative and the injury was described as a soft tissue bruise.
Rick Reed explained it to me that any time you give up a home run, then hit somebody, its like theyre just trying to control the game and not let things get out of hand, said Beckett. Im not saying I agree with it. Im not saying I disagree with it for whatever reason.
The Angels began the season 5-1, but now have lost six of their last seven. They were 1 for 7 with runners in scoring position today -- their other run coming on Kendricks home run in the ninth off Kyle Snyder, the fourth Sox pitcher -- and are just 13 for 80 with runners in scoring position in their last eight games. The Sox now turn their attention to the supposed iron of the AL East: the Blue Jays, who they face five times in the next eight days, and the Yankees, who they get three times on each of the next two weekends.
The Blue Jays will be without closer B.J. Ryan (elbow strain) and Sox killer Reed Johnson (herniated disk) while the Yankees have three starting pitchers on the DL -- Mike Mussina, Carl Pavano, and Chien-Ming Wang.
A time to extend ourselves maybe? Sox third baseman Mike Lowell said. It would be great. If we keep playing baseball like we did this weekend, weve got a good chance. Our starters are giving us quality start after quality start, and we swung the bats much better this weekend.
[Ryan] is a big-time closer. I dont know who to compare him to. Thats their guy. He did a great job for them last year. Its by no means a small thing. Its like taking Paps [Jonathan Papelbon] away from us.
For now, the Sox are fully intact. The pizza? Thats another story.