THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Dan Shaughnessy

A mound of trouble now

Red Sox starter Josh Beckett (7 runs, 4 2/3 innings) never recovered after giving up two runs in the second inning. Red Sox starter Josh Beckett (7 runs, 4 2/3 innings) never recovered after giving up two runs in the second inning. (Kathy Willens/ Associated Press)
By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / August 9, 2010

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NEW YORK — Josh Beckett has an interesting history with the Yankees. He was the Most Valuable Player of the 2003 World Series when he was a 23-year-old Florida Marlin. He clinched that Series with a five-hit shutout in Yankee Stadium. He has more regular-season wins (nine) against the Yankees than any other team.

But it’s been different lately. Downright ugly. In his last five starts against the Yanks (four this season) Beckett is 0-3 with a 10.54 ERA, including 10 gopher balls. Over his last 27 1/3 innings against the Bronx Bombers he has given up 42 hits and 32 earned runs.

The Red Sox were looking for a big game from Beckett last night, but they didn’t get it. The erstwhile ace gave up a whopping 11 hits and seven earned runs before leaving with two outs in the fifth, trailing, 7-1. The Sox lost, 7-2, squandering another chance to gain on Tampa Bay (the Rays haven’t won since that ball clanged off the catwalk last week). If you’re still scoring at home, the Twins have tied Boston in the wild-card race behind Tampa.

This was Beckett’s fourth start since coming off the disabled list and it seemed reasonable to expect a strong performance in the wake of his recent mastery of the Indians and Angels.

Alas, these Yankees are no Angels. And Beckett struggled mightily.

“It’s hard for our guys to catch balls that are hit that hard,’’ said Beckett. “I just threw too many balls over the fat part of the plate.’’

He gave up eight hits and two runs in the first three innings, running a high pitch count. He fanned a pair in a 1-2-3 fourth, but after the Sox cut the deficit to 2-1 in the fifth, Beckett blew up.

Mark Teixeira crushed a homer to start the inning. Then Beckett overthrew the baseball and unraveled. After the Tex message, we witnessed a walk, a hit batter, a strikeout, a double, a walk, a strikeout, and a knockout two-run double by Derek Jeter. Beckett turned a 2-1 deficit into a 7-1 deficit. He was lifted in favor of Manny Delcarmen.

Second baseman Bill Hall and catcher Kevin Cash compounded Beckett’s problems with throwing errors, but the righthander wasn’t making any excuses.

“When you give up seven runs, who else are you going to blame?’’ he asked.

Cash subscribed to the overthrowing theory.

“In that last [fifth] inning you could tell he was rushing,’’ said the catcher. “We tried to make adjustments, but he was putting a lot behind the ball.’’

The Yankees are Beckett’s Kryptonite. It’s as if the baseball gods are getting even after watching Beckett master the Bronx Bombers when he was a major league baby.

Asked about his recent problems with the Yankees, Beckett said, “I don’t break it down that way.’’

Remember Beckett against the Yanks in May?

He staggered through one of the goofier starts of his career at Fenway May 7. He started off the night with electric stuff and struck out the side (all swinging) on 13 pitches in the first inning. He had seven Ks and a shutout with two out in the fourth. Then he imploded. By the time he was yanked in the sixth, he’d given up nine hits and nine earned runs in 5 1/3 innings. He also walked three, threw a wild pitch, and hit Robinson Cano and Jeter. He looked like he didn’t want to be out there and a lot of the Yankees were yelling at him after he hit Jeter.

Beckett’s next start was on a wet mound in New York May 18. That’s when he hurt his back. We didn’t see him again until July 23.

He was impressive in his first three starts after coming off the shelf. He went 5 2/3 innings against Seattle, seven against the Angels, then eight against Cleveland. He won the latter two starts, allowing only eight hits over 15 innings. Over the three games he struck out 18 and walked only one. Granted, those are weak lineups, but he looked like he was on his way to being the old Josh Beckett.

“We wanted so bad for him to be Beckett, and not be out there in name only,’’ manager Terry Francona said before last night’s debacle. “It’s pretty exciting. He threw the ball real well. He’s had a better feel for his breaking ball and his cutter.’’

After the game Francona said, “I thought that he gave up a lot of hits, some of them not so hard. They really worked the count on him, that’s what they do well. Even if you are falling behind, if you leave the ball over the middle of the plate or give them extra outs, they are going to hurt you.’’

Beckett doesn’t say a lot, but one might presume he’s a tad embarrassed that he got hurt and won only one game in the first four months of the season after signing his four-year ($68 million) contract extension. When he first tweaked his back, there was no doubt a temptation to keep pitching because he’d just signed the deal. He’s certainly carrying himself like a possessed rebel since his return. We figured we’d see the best of Beckett now that he’s working in early August with more than two months of rest.

“Health-wise, I’m fine,’’ he said. “It just comes down to making pitches.’’

Bottom line: It is Aug. 9 and Josh Beckett is 3-2 with a 6.21 ERA.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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