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Dan Shaughnessy

Erratic ace going kerplunk

Pitching coach John Farrell visited Josh Beckett during the Yankees’ three-run fourth. Beckett allowed nine runs in 5 1/3 innings. Pitching coach John Farrell visited Josh Beckett during the Yankees’ three-run fourth. Beckett allowed nine runs in 5 1/3 innings. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)
By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / May 8, 2010

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What’s going on with Josh Beckett?

The erstwhile ace hurled another stinker last night. After three scoreless innings (six strikeouts), Beckett imploded, giving up three runs in the fourth and another six in the sixth in an ugly 10-3 loss to the Yankees. He also plunked two Yankees and came close on a couple other pitches. CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez, and Jorge Posada were among those yelling and staring at Beckett from the top step of the visitors’ dugout after Beckett hit Derek Jeter with the bases loaded in the sixth.

In 5 1/3 innings, Beckett struck out eight, walked three, and allowed nine earned runs. In seven starts, he is 1-1 with a 7.46 ERA. In the sixth, Beckett looked as if he didn’t want to be out there and manager Terry Francona looked as if he didn’t want to go to the bullpen.

Beckett brought a level of macabre entertainment to the Fenway rout. It was a curious and disturbing outing, lacking only eye black and Ninja Turtle shoelaces.

“He started out the game as good as we’ve seen him,’’ said Francona. “A lot of swings and misses. As good as his command was, it was gone. His command all of a sudden just left him.’’

“I couldn’t get back to where I was early,’’ said Beckett. “I just had no idea where the ball was going.’’

Beckett was asked to characterize his season. His answer was a one-word expletive.

Meanwhile, the Sox are six games behind the Yankees, set to face Sabathia today and A.J. Burnett tomorrow.

It’s rare that Sox-Yankees holds the bronze platform on the Boston sports medal stand, but with the Bruins and Celtics knee deep in playoffs, the baseball boys are something of an afterthought. Fenway was certainly not the No. 1 destination. The place to be was on the sofa in front of your television set. With picture-in-picture and a trigger-happy clicker finger, you could watch the Bruins and Celtics and still make time for Beckett vs. Phil Hughes at the 98-year-old yard on Yawkey Way.

Much has been made of the unbearable length of time it takes for the Sox and Yankees to complete a game. When the clubs opened the season with three games at Fenway in April, the contests clocked in a 3:46, 3:48, and 3:21. Those are pretty good times if you are running from Hopkinton to Boston, but tedious for nine innings of baseball. After the series, umpire Cowboy Joe West — forced to stand on the diamond for almost 11 hours over three games — termed the situation “pathetic and embarrassing.’’

The Sox and Yankees got it done in a tidy 3 hours 1 minute last night. No one could remember Beckett going from hot to cold in such extreme fashion. Beckett struck out the side (all swinging) on 13 pitches in the first inning. He had seven strikeouts with two outs in the fourth when Nick Swisher interrupted the 0-0 game with a three-run homer into the triangle in center.

The top of the sixth inning was simply ridiculous. After a leadoff double by A-Rod, Beckett knocked Robinson Cano out of the game (and probably the series), hitting the slugging second baseman in the left knee. It was no small loss for the Yankees. Cano is hitting .355 with 9 homers and 21 RBIs. He stayed in the game for a couple of pitches before he was replaced by Ramiro Pena.

The weirdness continued. Beckett was charged with a wild pitch on an obvious cross-up of signals (Jason Varitek took the pitch on the forearm and later left the game).

“That was completely my fault,’’ said Beckett. “We had switched signs and I saw something that wasn’t there.’’

With runners on second and third and one out, Beckett intentionally walked Brett Gardner to load the bases. Then he unintentionally walked the immortal Francisco Cervelli, almost hitting the Yankee catcher on a 3-and-2 pitch. After a single to left by Randy Winn, Beckett hit Jeter to force home another run.

“Nobody’s going to hit you with the bases loaded,’’ said Jeter. “Especially after I’d had so much success [two strikeouts and a ground out] earlier.’’

The Yankees hit two more bases-loaded singles before Francona finally came out to get Beckett. The manager acknowledged Hideki Okajima was ready, but said Beckett was facing batters he’d retired earlier.

“It was weird,’’ said Jeter. “Sometimes all it takes is one inning. [Beckett’s implosion] was one of those weird things you probably won’t see again.’’

It was a 9-2 game when Tim Wakefield came on for mop-up duty (bet he’s loving this) to start the seventh. Victor Martinez replaced Varitek and spent some time going to the backstop to chase wild pitches. Those who stayed to the finish got to see David Ortiz (two RBIs) take a called third strike with two on in the eighth. Big Papi (.178) had a sac fly and an RBI single but he fanned twice and has 27 strikeouts in 73 at-bats. The disgruntled Ortiz will sit today while the disgruntled Mike Lowell takes his hacks at Sabathia.

All in all, a sloppy, wacky night at the old ballyard. Lots of unhappy people. Many of them wearing baseball uniforms.

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