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Finger points to trouble

Beckett's history suggests DL time

Sunday was not the first time Josh Beckett has torn the skin off the middle finger of his pitching hand. The last time it happened, while throwing a fastball to opposing pitcher Kip Wells, Beckett wound up on the disabled list for 24 days during the 2004 season.

Blisters on the same finger have sent Beckett to the disabled list on five other occasions in his big-league career. But contrary to the perception that a tear may not be as problematic as a blister, Beckett's ability to pitch is inhibited by an injury to that finger, whether it's a blister or a tear.

Don't expect him to make his next scheduled start, Friday against the Braves, and while no one in the Sox organization is saying it, do not be surprised if Beckett is forced onto the DL.

The Sox claim they have not made a decision on whether Beckett will start Friday. Yesterday, he played catch with assistant trainer Mike Reinold while wearing a Band-Aid on the finger.

But unless the Sox have found a way to make the finger heal a lot more quickly than the Marlins did, it would seem a near-certainty that he'll be idled for a while.

"We'll use common sense," said manager Terry Francona. "We're not going to rush into it. Let's let the healing process begin and see how it's going."

Francona would not address the question of who would start in Beckett's place if he cannot go Friday. Kyle Snyder and Joel Pineiro have started, but there were indications the Sox are leaning toward bringing up a pitcher from the minors.

They could reach down to Pawtucket to summon Devern Hansack back. Runelvys Hernandez, the former Royal, started on Beckett's day (Sunday) for Pawtucket, while David Pauley, who was called up last season, starts tonight for the PawSox and could be held back. Lefty Kason Gabbard, who also pitched here last season, went last night for the PawSox.

What about top prospect Clay Buchholz, who just set a record for consecutive whiffs (8) at Double A Portland? General manager Theo Epstein did not hesitate to promote a Portland pitcher (Pauley) last season when the Sox needed someone against the Yankees, so presumably Buchholz could be in play.

Reversed field
For Eric Hinske, who scored the winning run in Sunday's astonishing comeback from five runs down in the bottom of the ninth, the best part of the day was to be on the winning side here for such a game.

"I can't tell you how many times I've walked off this field when we've lost here," said Hinske, who played five seasons for the Blue Jays before coming to the Sox last August in a cash deal. "It feels like double digits.

"I remember losing on a Nomar [ Garciaparra] home run, and [David] Ortiz hits a game-winner and Orlando Cabrera hit a ball that hit a ledge on the Monster and took some crazy bounces. You're left feeling, 'Man, they did it again.'

"This time I scored the winning run -- hah, hah! I was thinking about it when I was on second base and the crowd comes to life in the ninth inning -- it's tough to get the last three outs here when you're the visiting team.

"I'm sure [the Orioles'] flight wasn't good. It's always an uphill fight -- you know you've got to compete against the Red Sox and Yankees, and then when you think you've got one and it gets away, that's really a deflating feeling."

Crack publicist John Blake, with the assistance of the Elias Sports Bureau, put the comeback in context yesterday:

It was just the second time in franchise history the Sox have been shut out through the first eight innings, trailed by five or more runs in the ninth, and won. The other time was May 30, 1931, when the Sox, a last-place team, scored six times in the ninth to beat the world champion Philadelphia Athletics, 6-5, in the second game of a doubleheader.

The last time any club was shut out through eight, trailed by five or more in the ninth, and won was on April 29, 1979, when the Cubs scored six in the top of the ninth to beat the Braves in Atlanta, 6-5.

The last time the Sox trailed by at least five in the ninth and won was in the 1998 home opener, April 10, when Mo Vaughn's grand slam capped a seven-run rally to beat the Mariners, 9-7. The slam came off Paul Spoljaric; the loss went to Mike Timlin, then with the Mariners.

Promotion Dept.
The Sox promoted 20-year-old righthander Michael Bowden, who had been sensational for Single A Lancaster, to the Double A Portland Sea Dogs. Bowden, who doesn't turn 21 until Sept. 9, went 2-0 with a 1.37 ERA in eight starts in the California League, with 46 strikeouts and just 8 walks. At present, the Sox appear content to let Buchholz continue at Portland. "Clay is in a good spot right now developmentally and we feel like he will continue to progress in Portland, especially focusing on his ability to consistently command his fastball," said Mike Hazen, the team's director of player personnel . . . Ben Cherington, the Sox vice president/player personnel, was on hand to see the last start of Roxbury Latin School lefthander and Newton native Jack McGeary, who has been projected as a first-round draft choice by Baseball America. McGeary, who has won all five of his starts and has a 0.79 ERA, is scheduled to pitch tomorrow afternoon against rival Thayer Academy. McGeary has committed to Stanford and is likely to be long gone before the Sox make their first pick in the June 7 draft. The Sox surrendered their first-round pick to the Dodgers as compensation for the signing of Type A free agent Julio Lugo.
Projected return
Circle June 2. That's the day Roger Clemens would be scheduled to pitch in Fenway Park, the middle game of a three-game set against the Yankees, based on current projections. Yankees manager Joe Torre said Clemens will start Friday for Single A Tampa. Depending on how it goes, Torre said, Clemens will make either two or three minor league starts. Assuming he takes the customary four days between starts, Clemens would pitch a minor league game May 23, when the Sox are playing in Yankee Stadium, make another start May 28 -- either in Toronto or a minor league turn -- then go the following Saturday afternoon against the Sox, a game scheduled to be televised on national TV by Fox . . . Unless the Sox do some rotation shuffling, which is unlikely, or there are weather issues (always possible), Daisuke Matsuzaka would miss the Yankees both in New York and here. His next starts project to be against Atlanta Saturday, Texas in Arlington May 25, and Cleveland in Fenway Park May 30.

Starry starter
Tigers manager Jim Leyland reiterated that if the All-Star Game were held today, Beckett would be his choice to start for the American League. As the manager of the defending AL champions, Leyland will manage the AL squad. With his questioner a Japanese reporter, Leyland said, "Do you want me to consider that Matsuki [sic] guy? He looks good. He looks like a bona fide pitcher." . . . Tigers first baseman Sean Casey will serve breakfast this morning at Cor Unum Meal Center, the facility to feed the hungry in Lawrence run by his close friend, the Rev. Paul O'Brien of St. Patrick's Parish in that city.

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