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Beckett healthy, ready; Martinez will catch

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / October 9, 2009

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ANAHEIM, Calif. - When Josh Beckett entered the 2008 postseason, he was hardly the pitcher the Red Sox had come to expect. An oblique injury led to substandard numbers. The pitcher who had entered with a 6-2 record and 1.73 ERA in the playoffs proceeded to put up an 8.79 ERA in three starts, none of which lasted longer than five innings.

That’s why, when asked about the differences between this American League Division Series and last year’s, Beckett said, “As far as physically coming in, it’s a lot better.’’

And while Beckett’s numbers weren’t overwhelming over the latter part of this season, his health bodes well.

“There’s no issues physically at all,’’ said Beckett, who will start Game 2 tonight against the Angels with Victor Martinez as his catcher. “Obviously, last year was a little bit different. I’m just looking forward to going out there and doing what I’m supposed to do.’’

Although Beckett is more comfortable with Jason Varitek behind the plate, Martinez who caught Beckett’s last side session, is 3 for 8 with four walks against Angels starter Jered Weaver. It was also the first time Martinez has caught a Beckett side session.

Beckett dealt with back spasms leading up to his second-to-last start of this season, and received three trigger-point injections of cortisone. The righthander returned to make one start, in which he struggled in the first two innings before regaining his effectiveness over the final three.

“He’s ready to go,’’ said manager Terry Francona. “No problems. I think we handled it like we needed to. We needed to have him miss a start, knowing that he would be a little rusty, but I think we did the right thing.’’

So Beckett appears ready to make good on his reputation in the postseason, ready to reverse his results of last year, and his results over his last nine starts, in which he had a 6.02 ERA. He did, however, improve in his final five starts with a 3.77 ERA, though it was a stretch in which opponents batted .283 against him.

“I think the focus is going to be there,’’ Beckett said, when asked about how he approaches the postseason. “I think the extra adrenaline helps that. So, I think everybody’s a little more locked in in the postseason.

“It is just another game. You’ve got to go out there and do exactly the same things you did in the game you were successful in [during] the regular season.’’

That will be the plan when Beckett faces the Angels, a team he hasn’t had a lot of success against, with a 4.13 ERA in eight career starts. But a healthy Beckett did make quick work of the Angels in the 2007 Division Series, when he threw a shutout against them after a season in which he finished second in the Cy Young voting.

“He works really hard every day of the week, so when his day comes he can go out and be ready to rise to the occasion,’’ Francona said. “He doesn’t have to try to push a button. He’s prepared for what he’s supposed to do. Because of his talent, he put that together in a lot of big situations. He’s come up big.’’

Baldelli off roster
With the Sox’ Division Series roster due at 10 a.m. local time yesterday, they waited until the final moments to determine whether Rocco Baldelli would be available. It was decided that, with his left hip flexor still bothering him, Baldelli would be left off the 25-man roster, with the Sox going with Joey Gathright and Brian Anderson as backup outfielders.

“I think we wanted to take every chance we could to see if there was a lot of improvement, and it just wasn’t reaching, so we didn’t want to make a mistake,’’ said Francona.

“He can’t run. He hasn’t even been able to swing yet. He’s been doing some dry swings, but that’s about it.’’

After last night’s 5-0 loss, Baldelli said he’s focused on making the roster for the second round if the Sox advance. He’s likely to start testing the hip flexor next week.

“We decided that I wasn’t going to be able to get out there, and if I was able to get out there, I didn’t want to reinjure it and be at risk of not playing at all in the postseason,’’ Baldelli. “So my goal is to hopefully be ready to go next series. That’s what I’m shooting for.

“Last year, playing in the playoffs is the most fun I’ve ever had playing, and it was something I was - and I still am - looking forward to. And hopefully I’ll still get the chance.’’

The loss of Baldelli could prove significant, with the Angels starting lefthanders in Games 3 and 4, and the presence of lefty closer Brian Fuentes.

Francona said he remains confident with David Ortiz and J.D. Drew in the lineup, and that both might have played against the lefthanders even if Baldelli were on the roster. Instead, the Sox will have Anderson as their righthanded-hitting outfielder off the bench.

“Good outfielder,’’ Francona said of Anderson, who came from the White Sox in the Mark Kotsay deal. “He’s not going to be the righthanded bat that Rocco is, but he has the ability to be a very good defensive outfielder, and possibly pinch run, do some things like that.’’

Baldelli has not spoken to the media since injuring his hip flexor in last Friday’s game against the Indians.

Updated schedule
Game 3 will be played at Fenway Park Sunday at 12:07 p.m.

The time for Monday’s Game 4, if necessary, will be 8:37 p.m., unless the other American League series has been decided. If Sox-Angels is the only game Monday, it will be at 7:37 p.m.

Wednesday’s Game 5, if necessary, will be at 9:37 p.m. at Angel Stadium, unless it is the only game, in which case it will begin at 8:07 p.m.

Food for thought
Francona was laid low by food poisoning, the result of his affinity for Del Taco that he has indulged in the last couple of days. Francona missed pregame introductions, but reached the dugout by the start of the game. He had been clearly uncomfortable all afternoon, as well as on Wednesday. Asked how he felt after the game, Francona said, “Not very well, thank you. I appreciate you asking. It’s been a tough day.’’ He explained, saying with a laugh, “Probably Del Taco. I know there’s a big sign - they don’t support MLB, do they? They just support the Angels. Yeah, it was Del Taco.’’ Asked about his beef with first base umpire CB Bucknor, Francona said, “Don’t bring up the word beef, please.’’ . . . Ramon Ramirez came in to relieve Jon Lester in the seventh inning and loaded the bases. He walked Bobby Abreu (his fourth of the night), hit Torii Hunter with a pitch, and couldn’t get a handle on Vladimir Guerrero’s roller near the mound. Takashi Saito relieved Ramirez, getting an immediate double play, but he allowed a two-run single to give the Angels a 5-0 lead. “I thought he looked a little amped up,’’ Francona said of Ramirez. “He looked a little overexcited. Hopefully next time out he’ll be a little better.’’ . . . Hunter belted a three-run homer in the fifth, then was hit by a pitch in the seventh. Martinez said something to Hunter after he was hit. “He’s a great guy,’’ Martinez said. “I’ve been playing against him for a long time, when he was with the Twins. I just told him, man, don’t think that we hit you on purpose. We were just trying to come in and try get a ground ball for a double play. He was pretty cool about it.’’ . . . The Sox’ loss was only the fifth in 18 postseason games against the Angels . . . The shutout ended the Sox’ streak of 69 consecutive playoff games with a run. The last time the Sox didn’t score was in Game 2 of the 1995 ALDS at Cleveland.

Okajima OK
Francona said Hideki Okajima is doing “pretty good’’ in his recovery from the oblique issue that caused him to leave a series in New York in September to receive acupuncture treatments. “I think we’re really pleased with how quickly he’s come and how strong he feels,’’ Francona said. “They cranked him around pretty aggressively [Wednesday] and he didn’t feel anything.’’ . . . Last night was the 150th postseason game in Red Sox franchise history. They trail only the Yankees (341), Cardinals (185), Dodgers (167), and Braves (155) . . . The Red Sox have yet to be contacted by any clubs with a managerial vacancy about speaking with members of their coaching staff. The Sox do not expect to receive any requests until their postseason run is finished, owing to standard protocol. Tim Bogar, John Farrell, and Brad Mills are expected to draw interest . . . Francona began his day with a cribbage win over George Kottaras. “First one in a month,’’ the manager said. Francona has been playing Kottaras since the catcher has been with the club, instead of former mainstay Dustin Pedroia. As Francona said, “Pedey quit ’cause he stinks.’’

Adam Kilgore of the Globe staff contributed to this report; Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com.

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