Sox show firepower
Beckett’s 11th win 100th of his career
The first half of the Red Sox season ended the way it began, bristling with justified promise as Josh Beckett ruled the mound at Fenway Park, his blank face betraying his supremacy.
Just when it appeared the Sox might stagger into the break, bats slumping and bodies aching, they beat the Kansas City Royals three straight games, concluding with yesterday’s 6-0 throttling, a victory engineered by Beckett. In dealing a three-hit, no-walk shutout, Beckett shredded the Royals’ paper-maché lineup and propelled himself to the fore of the American League Cy Young race.
Beckett struck out seven and threw 94 pitches, eight of which the Royals managed to hit out of the infield. Beckett, whose ERA dropped to 3.35, won his 11th game, joining teammate Tim Wakefield as the AL leader, and the 100th of his career. He notched the milestone with his fourth career shutout and second of the year.
“Yeah, it’s pretty memorable,’’ Beckett said. “And the way I did it is cool. It means I’ve stuck around for a little while, anyway.’’
While Beckett finished the best full half season of his career, the Sox closed baseball’s ceremonial first half not only with the AL’s best record at 54-34, but also with the AL’s best run differential at plus-84. They lead the Yankees by three games in the East.
“We’ve been a little beat up,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “Our guys have done a great job of kind of grinding this out. It’s a good time for the break. Hopefully everybody will take advantage of it. And we will come back and try to pick up right where we left off.’’
Beckett dominated the first three innings so thoroughly that the prospect of a no-hitter shifted from whimsical to realistic. He struck out four of the first five batters he faced, slinging backdoor curves and 96-mile-per-hour heat. Despite five punchouts, he used 35 pitches plowing through three frames.
David DeJesus wrapped a double around the first base bag to lead off the fourth, dashing any no-hit potential by inches. The hit stood as one of few blemishes for Beckett. On a hot day, he barely broke a sweat. After six innings, he had thrown 58 pitches and allowed just the one hit.
The Royals made him squirm for the first time in the seventh, loading the bases with one out after two singles and a hit batter. Beckett pumped an 0-1 four-seam fastball at Brayan Pena, who grounded it to second. Dustin Pedroia started a 4-6-3 double play. The Royals would not threaten again.
As the innings escalated and the zeros piled up, Beckett concentrated on the batter at hand. When he fell behind in the count, he located his fastball right where he wanted it. The same as when he threw a shutout against the Atlanta Braves at Fenway in late June, Beckett never allowed the thought of a complete game to creep into his head.
“I’m going to pitch my game,’’ he said. “I’m not too worried about the ninth inning when I’m in the third inning. After the eighth, then I’m worried about the ninth.’’
The Red Sox endured an obstacle-course first half, maneuvering around David Ortiz’s epic (and now largely forgotten) slump, an opening month void of quality starting pitching, and a spate of infielders’ injuries. They achieved constancy with an ever-present professionalism and by riding whichever phase of their team surged at a given time - Jason Bay and Kevin Youkilis’s slugging at the start, their bullpen’s relentless competence in the middle, and their starting pitching’s supremacy at the end.
The finalizing homestand acted as a microcosm for the first half. The Sox started slow, patched things together, and ended with a positive result, finishing off at 6-4. Against the Royals, they first won a pitcher’s duel and a slugfest. Yesterday afternoon held components of both, but only for the home team.
The Sox seized full control by scoring three runs in the fourth to take 4-0 lead. Aaron Bates ripped a double off the center-field wall to plate Nick Green and knock Bruce Chen out of the game. Royals manager Trey Hillman summoned Robinson Tejada, who displayed an allergy to the strike zone. He walked Pedroia and Bay, loading the bases and, to exhibit total mastery of throwing balls, walked Jason Varitek, forcing home a run. Tejada needed 35 pitches to get out of the fourth, 20 of which were balls.
“We’re kind of hitting our stride,’’ Bay said. “Winning a series is the short-term goal, and we’ve been doing that for the most part. We’re going to enjoy the break a little bit, and then come back feeling pretty good about our second half.’’
Afterward, as the Sox headed their separate ways for the next three days, Beckett escaped a pack of reporters in a near-empty clubhouse. He put on a pair of metal-framed sunglasses and threw a guitar case over his shoulder, headed to St. Louis and, in the second half of the season, who knows how far.