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Beckett pumps up Boston

Sparkling shutout gives Sox a big first step in playoffs

The expectation is there will be more nights like this between now and the first of November. Maybe more Jonathan Papelbon Riverdances, Duckboats on the Charles, and a trophy tour back to the town halls of Dunstable and Old Orchard Beach.

The Red Sox took the first step last night as Josh Beckett fired a four-hit shutout at the Angels in a statement-making, 4-0 victory in Game 1 of their best-of-five American League Division Series.

Beckett, the only major league pitcher to win 20 games in either of the last two seasons, retired 19 consecutive batters after yielding a single to Chone Figgins, the first hitter of the night. This was Beckett's first postseason appearance since he earned the 2003 World Series MVP with a Game 6 shutout in Yankee Stadium and it kindled memories of the best of Roger Clemens and Pedro Martínez.

Beckett threw 108 pitches, a whopping 83 for strikes. He struck out eight and walked none in a game that lasted only 2 hours 27 minutes.

"I was just out there trying to execute pitches until somebody takes the ball out of my hand and the game's over," Beckett said after his masterpiece. "I never got ahead of myself. It was always one pitch at a time. It didn't matter what was going on. They hit some balls at some guys and I was fortunate."

"He went out and executed his pitches better than he has at any point in the season," said Sox manager Terry Francona. "That was a great performance."

There was something downright Patriot-ic about the win. Even when the score was 1-0, after two innings, it had the feel of a Tom Brady-led, 38-14 thrashing of an AFC East rival at Gillette Stadium. It was clear Beckett was in control and you didn't need Peter Gammons in your ear to tell you the Red Sox were going to come out on top.

Ancient Fenway was decked out in playoff bunting for the first time since the Sox were swept out of the 2005 postseason by the Chicago White Sox. Club choreographer Dr. Charles Steinberg enlisted the Standells to perform the national anthem (the Kingsmen must have been booked), which they followed with "Dirty Water" - a standard played after every Fenway victory. Red Sox Nation president-elect Jerry Remy, whose landslide victory was announced earlier in the day, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Remy played second base for both the Angels and Red Sox in the 1970s.

Angel starter John Lackey is apparently allergic to Fenway (1-5 lifetime), so it wasn't surprising to see Kevin Youkilis crush a solo homer into the Monster Seats in the first.

"I got a good fastball to hit and tried to take a good swing at it and luckily I got a good result," said Youkilis. "This is playoff time and adrenaline helps the most."

The Sox rattled four more hits off Lackey in the first two innings, but failed to score again until the third when David Ortiz crushed a 1-0 curveball and drove it high and far into the right-field seats for a two-run homer. It was Big Papi's ninth career postseason home run. He hit a walkoff blast at Fenway against the Angels to send the Red Sox into the 2004 Championship Series against the Yankees.

"I know this team counts on myself a lot," said Ortiz. "I take a lot of responsibility for whatever is happening around here. When you play in a short series you've got to make sure that whatever you can get, you get."

After the Ortiz shot, Manny Ramírez walked, took second on a wild pitch, and scored on a single to center by Mike Lowell to make it 4-0. Angels manager Mike Scioscia called his bullpen to have some relievers start throwing.

Lackey settled down and lasted six innings, but it didn't matter because Beckett was at the very top of his game, which is a frightening prospect for the rest of the teams in the playoff tournament.

The 27-year-old righty was overpowering, accurate, and efficient. In the first seven innings he threw only 88 pitches, 66 for strikes. Vladimir Guerrero's seventh-inning single to left broke the string of 19 consecutive outs. Howie Kendrick added a single in the eighth and Guerrero singled with two outs in the ninth. Twelve of the Angels went out on ground balls.

"I had a really good sinker today and that's why I had a lot of ground balls," said Beckett. "It's fun to keep your defense on their toes."

For most of the summer it was clear that the Sox were playoff-bound and in the final days before the start of the tournament our region was bombarded by clinch celebrations, a tedious rally at City Hall Plaza, and the contrived "election" of President Rem-Dawg.

With all the silly matters in the rearview mirror, it was nice last night to see the locals get back to the business of playing baseball, and Beckett's work made it a very tidy evening at the ballpark. The series resumes tomorrow night at Fenway with Daisuke Matsuzaka getting the ball for the Red Sox.

Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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