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Beckett is in control

After tinkering, he finds the zone

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / May 9, 2008

DETROIT - With his ERA hovering north of 4, and a record not necessarily befitting an ace, the Josh Beckett of the first month of the season has hardly been the machine that tore through the 2007 postseason.

He has struggled a bit, mightily in his last start, and had only one really dominating performance, coming in a 3-0 loss to the Rays at Tropicana Field April 27. Even last night, a 5-1 Red Sox victory, Beckett started sluggishly.

But that changed. After allowing six hits in the first 3 2/3 innings, including an RBI single to No. 9 batter, Ramon Santiago, Beckett finished his evening by taking down 10 straight Tigers. He started and ended that span by striking out Curtis Granderson, who made up half of Beckett's eight strikeouts over his seven innings.

"I did some good things today," Beckett said. "I've been working on a few things the last couple weeks. I did some good things tonight. That's probably about as high praise as I'll give myself."

But, of course, he wasn't interested in explaining the changes. He likes to keep a few of those things to himself. Ask Jason Varitek, though, and the alterations were noticeable.

"I think his last couple innings, his last two, three innings, his delivery was more clean," Varitek said. "He wasn't misfiring. He was throwing the ball through me. It was more direct. He had been tinkering with things, trying to get back to that. Like his last start, he was flat battling. Pulling balls, stuff that he's not used to doing. He missed that time [starting the season on the disabled list], so he's just now getting into his full strength and rhythm, I think."

Varitek was impressed with Beckett's four-seam fastball.

"It's direct," the catcher said of the pitch. "It's got a little giddyup, goes directly through me. It almost has the appearance that it gains speed as it gets to me. He's been going through . . . like some of those balls will be pulled, so there will be a little direction coming back toward the hitter.

"Instead of being directly through me, it's got a little pull or a little push. It's messed with a few of his breaking balls. He made a huge adjustment the last few innings."

That left Beckett with significantly better command, evidenced by his walk total (zero). His only misfire was hitting Placido Polanco - he of the five hits, including the winner Wednesday night - in the first inning.

And, in the process, Beckett picked up a milestone, his 1,000th career strikeout coming on a 93-mile-per-hour fastball past Brandon Inge in the seventh inning. Beckett tossed the ball to Varitek, who passed it to the bat boy, who sent it along, likely to be authenticated by Major League Baseball.

Rarely, though, do those achievements get more than a brush-off from the righthander. Twenty games? Just trying to execute pitches. One-thousand strikeouts? Just trying to execute pitches. Well, not so fast.

"It's a cool milestone," said Beckett, who got his ERA down to 3.70 and upped his record to 4-2, allowing just six singles. "It means you've stuck around for a little while, been able to get your share of strikeouts."

He got his last night, with an assist from Granderson. It didn't hurt, either, that Beckett came to the mound off a difficult loss for the Sox the night before. He enabled the team to get out of Detroit winning three of four, doing "what he was supposed to do to," manager Terry Francona said.

"Obviously, it's a game we need to win," Beckett said. "You don't want to take the first two and end up splitting the series. I think it was a big win for us. You try to win most series. It's tough to win a four-game series, anyway, especially when you're in another team's ballpark, so it was a big win for us."

And for him.

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