|Josh Beckett threw 80 pitches in five innings, struck out seven, and didn't walk a batter. He won his first game since Aug. 11. (Mike stone/Reuters)|
Beckett starts, then gets relief
He's striking in a healthy return as surging Sox pummel Rangers
ARLINGTON, Texas - He had been so nervous, so concerned, coping with the thought that there might be a serious problem with his right arm. There were sleepless nights, a trip to Pensacola, Fla., last Friday to see Dr. James Andrews, then a deep breath.
Josh Beckett would continue to pitch this season, a start was scheduled, and the days ticked down. There was optimism, from Beckett, the Red Sox front office, and his teammates, whose thoughts have turned to the final weeks of the season and, they hope, October. That is where Beckett comes in. Because to get there, the Sox need him.
So there he was last night, standing on the mound at Rangers Ballpark at Arlington, looking in to face Joaquin Arias, his first batter in nearly three weeks.
He threw a fastball, and it was on.
That's not to say concerns didn't remain before last night's game. "I think your first time out, it's hard not to [have them]," Beckett said.
He threw a fastball and another and another and, after four or five pitches, he wasn't nearly as worried. He could pitch, now. And he did, getting through five scoreless innings as the Red Sox drubbed the Rangers, 8-1, in front of 30,264 people.
"You're always concerned," said Beckett after the Sox defeated the Rangers for the eighth time. "You don't want [the injury] to come back your first start back.
"Generally, you're going down and doing it on a minor league field, where things are a little more controlled. We're still trying to win games here. It's not one of those deals where you want to go out there and, five pitches in, it comes back. Yeah, there's concern. It's my arm."
And, last night his arm was solid. Though he wasn't perfect, Beckett was something more important. He was effective. Throwing a heavy dose of fastballs early - 27 of his first 30 pitches, nearly all at 93 miles per hour - Beckett got through the Rangers the first time around without allowing a base runner.
He got through two more innings and departed after 80 pitches (49 strikes). That seemed to be more than manager Terry Francona or general manager Theo Epstein expected, but reassured by the training staff, Beckett was allowed to pitch through the fifth, setting him up for the win, his first since Aug. 11
"Talking to [assistant trainer] Mike Reinold, he thought we were being overly conservative, which I was happy to hear," Francona said. "Me and John [Farrell], I think our plan was to hold him a little short of that. Mike said there was really no reason to."
Francona said he was thrilled with the performance by Beckett, who hadn't pitched since Aug. 17, when he allowed eight runs to the Blue Jays in 2 1/3 innings. Beckett had experienced tingling and numbness in his pinkie and ring fingers before that start, leading to postponement after postponement of his next start before he was finally put on the disabled list.
At first, the Red Sox would only say Beckett had slept wrong on the arm the night before the start. But Beckett said this was not the first time he felt the tingling and numbness, that it was something he had been dealing with, and he sounded worried. "I still think he had to work his way through a few stages of [last night's] game," said Jason Varitek, who praised Beckett's cutter. "Some balls didn't go quite where he wanted to. He was clinging with quite a few of his pitches. He got through all of his pitches, which was good, on both sides of the plate. He tired out a little bit late."
Beckett (12-9) said he lost arm strength and leg strength as the game wore on, but he allowed just four hits. He struck out seven, including a nice battle with Josh Hamilton in the first inning that ended with Hamilton called out on a 94-m.p.h. fastball.
Beckett struggled briefly in the fourth, allowing a leadoff single to Arias in which shortstop Jed Lowrie's throw pulled Mark Kotsay off the bag at first. Arias was erased on a double play, then Beckett allowed singles to Hamilton and Milton Bradley before getting Hank Blalock swinging at a 93-m.p.h. fastball.
Though he had already thrown 63 pitches, he came back for the fifth. His final pitch was a curveball that struck out Chris Davis.
"I located my fastball well today, both my sinker and my four-seamer," Beckett said.
"It's satisfying," he continued. "I'd be lying if I didn't say the most important thing for me today was being healthy. The win's just the icing on the cake. There were some selfish things going on. There were some things that I wanted to do to prove to myself that I'm healthy."
Behind four RBIs from Mike Lowell, who hit a solo home run in his first game since straining his oblique Aug. 12, the Red Sox once again pummeled Texas pitching. The Sox scored seven runs off starter Kevin Millwood, getting four in the fourth when six straight batters reached, on a double, three singles, an error, and a walk. Two of those runs scored on Lowell's single to left field.
"Everybody was kidding him about going on a rehab - could have helped Pawtucket win," Francona said. "That was impressive. You'd have to ask him how he did it, because I don't know."
Combined with Tampa Bay's loss, the Red Sox closed within 2 1/2 games in the AL East, three in the loss column. The Sox had trailed the Rays by at least 3 games for 28 straight days. It also marked the Sox' 12th win in their last 16 games.
But, as important as the win was, Beckett's outing was even more important.
"Health is the main thing," Beckett said. "I came out of it healthy, that's what we were really looking for."