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Red Sox 6, Orioles 2

Beckett rights the ship

He sails to his 15th win, nearly tossing a shutout

Josh Beckett allowed only two runs yesterday, both in the ninth inning. Josh Beckett allowed only two runs yesterday, both in the ninth inning. (JOE GIZA/REUTERS)

BALTIMORE -- Walking back to the team's hotel the night before, after arguably the team's toughest loss of the season, Terry Francona couldn't help but run into Red Sox fans, many of them in just as foul a mood as he was. That potentially toxic mix got even worse when he found himself trapped in an elevator with a couple of loudmouths, one of whom wanted to know why he took Daisuke Matsuzaka out of the game. Emboldened, the other guy said, "And what are you planning to do tonight?"

Wrong question, wrong place, wrong time. "Get as far away as I can from you," Francona snapped, in a rare loss of civility, one that he was somewhat abashed about the next day.

Yesterday's stroll, after a 6-2 Red Sox win over the Orioles in which Josh Beckett became the majors' first 15-game winner and came within a strike of a complete game, promised to be a more tranquil experience.

"I've got my son [Nick] with me," Francona said. "My bodyguard. We're probably going to stop for a bite to eat. He can sign the autographs."

Is there a better way to have a bounce-back game after a bullpen meltdown than "running Beckett out there," Francona said, finishing the thought? "No. It's very reassuring. It allowed us to put yesterday in the past in a hurry, and that's a big compliment to Beckett."

Beckett might have stuck around longer to bask in the cheers of a crowd of 49,242, which topped Friday night's Sox-centric gathering to become the largest of the season at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. But he was so annoyed at giving up two runs after coming within a pitch of a complete game, and not finishing what he'd started, that he sprinted off the mound after Francona came to get him.

Francona said he was too busy talking to catcher Jason Varitek while awaiting Manny Delcarmen that he didn't notice. "As long as he doesn't pull a hamstring," Francona said of the Beckett sprint.

From his spot in right field, J.D. Drew saw the accelerated exit.

"I knew he was aggravated at himself for giving up a couple," Drew said. "He was ready to come off the field and throw a couple of helmets. But after a tough loss, for a guy to come in and slam the door like he did after we got a couple of runs on the board for him, that's just the kind of game you want."

Evidence that Drew's own mood had lightened appeared when he was spotted laughing at first base following the opposite-field, two-run single he dropped just inside the left-field foul line in the third inning, giving the Sox a 4-0 lead. That was the second bit of serendipity to come his way. In the second inning, he hit a ball that bounced over the head of first baseman Kevin Millar following Varitek's single that put runners on second and third against Orioles rookie lefty Garrett Olson. Julio Lugo brought those runs home with a line double to left.

What did Drew find so funny?

A couple of things, he said.

"I was laughing at the placement," Drew said. "You have so many situations where you hit balls hard and have nothing to show for it, you don't get any hits, and then I hit a slider away, flip it off the end of the bat, and it falls in. That was funny.

"The other thing was, I saw Manny [Ramírez] throw his helmet right in the baseline, even though Mike Lowell was running right behind him."

Ramírez, who had walked and taken third on Lowell's double, strayed only a couple of feet from the bag until he was sure the ball was dropping in safely.

Lowell, meanwhile, had determined immediately from his vantage point that left fielder Jay Payton wasn't going to get to the ball, so he was just a couple of feet from the third base bag when the ball fell in.

"It was getting close," Francona said.

"I didn't think Mike Lowell could catch anybody. But Manny did the right thing, in case [Payton] made a sliding catch. Mike just had the better read."

By the time Beckett took the mound in the ninth, the Sox had tacked on two more runs, scoring on four walks and a single by Dustin Pedroia against relievers Paul Shuey and Brian Burres.

Beckett, who has been virtually unbeatable on the road (8-1, 1.65 ERA), gave up a leadoff double in the ninth to Brian Roberts, but he appeared on the verge of his first shutout when Corey Patterson fouled to catcher Varitek and Nick Markakis looked at a called third strike. Beckett went ahead, 0 and 2, on Miguel Tejada, who fouled off the next pitch before grounding a single through the left side. When Beckett's former Marlins teammate, Millar, followed with a double, it was 6-2 and Francona was waving in Delcarmen.

"If anything, he got stronger in the ninth," Francona said. "But I think he wanted it so bad, he got amped."

Delcarmen battled Aubrey Huff through a 12-pitch at-bat before walking him. Francona wasn't taking any chances. He went to his closer, Jonathan Papelbon.

"I actually thought it was a great at-bat," Francona said. "Manny threw well. But I gave Paps a hitter because if he makes a mistake, leaves a split up or something, it won't cost you the game."

Papelbon threw three pitches to Melvin Mora, who popped the last one to short right field, where it landed in Pedroia's glove.

The Sox maintained a five-game lead over the Yankees (who beat the Indians, 11-2), and the hotel elevator suddenly became a much friendlier place to be.

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