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Dan Shaughnessy

Beckett must stay on his good side

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / August 26, 2010

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Good Josh/Bad Josh. The ultimate splitter.

By now, we’re quite familiar with both Josh Becketts, and we saw the two sides yesterday at rainy Fenway.

Good Josh Beckett is the kind of guy who can spin your head around and send you back to the dugout wondering how you could ever hit that pitch. Good Josh is the guy who just about single-handedly won the 2007 World Series. Good Josh is the one who gets angry when the Cleveland Indians trot out his old girlfriend to sing the national anthem. Good Josh then beats the Tribe like one of Chief Wahoo’s old drums. Good Josh is the guy the Red Sox re-signed this year for $68 million over four more years.

Then there is Bad Josh. Bad Josh is the guy who came to the American League in 2006, tried to strike everybody out, and wound up with a 5.01 ERA that he characterized as “embarrassing.’’ Bad Josh gets mad and overthrows and gives up far too many hard-hit balls for a guy with four plus pitches. Bad Josh fumes when he gives up homers. Bad Josh lets his stubborn nature get the better of him.

Beckett beat the horrid Seattle Mariners, 5-3, yesterday afternoon. For six innings he was the pitcher we all remember from the glory days of 2007. Then came the seventh and he was the hard-headed hurler with the (are you serious?) 6.50 ERA.

If the Sox are to have any hope (how long have we been saying that?) in these final five weeks, they need good Josh to show up on a regular basis. It’s pretty amazing that they are still in the race in a season in which Beckett is 4-3 on Aug. 26.

Those four wins are pretty soft, by the way. Beckett has beaten the Royals, Angels, Indians, and Mariners — four sub-.500 teams. Like everyone else on the Red Sox, he was on the disabled list this year (May 19-July 23).

When Beckett came off the shelf, he looked ready to rip off a stretch of Good Josh. He had back-to-back-to-back strong outings. Then came an implosion in New York when he yielded 11 hits and 7 earned runs in 4 2/3 innings. It was the beginning of a three-game stretch in which Beckett was torched for 28 hits and 19 earned runs in 16 innings. Bad Josh. Big time.

For six innings yesterday, he had no-hit stuff against the much-buffeted Mariners. Ichiro led off with a line drive back to the box that clanged off Beckett’s glove for a single. Seattle didn’t get another hit until the seventh.

After Ichiro’s hit, Beckett retired 16 consecutive batters before walking Josh Wilson with two out in the sixth. Good Josh struck out the side in the fourth — three guys named Ichiro, Chone Figgins, and Russell Branyan. On 17 pitches.

“The first six were tremendous,’’ said manager Terry Francona. “Located, used his two-seamer to lefties. Threw some real good breaking balls. They really didn’t do much against him.’’

“I was getting ahead in the count,’’ said Beckett.

Then came the seventh. The Sox had just scored four runs in a 27-minute sixth to take a 4-0 lead. Beckett started the seventh by fanning Figgins for his seventh strikeout. Then he fell behind Branyan and the caveman lefty mashed a 3-and-1 pitch into the bullpen. After a hard single by Jose Lopez, old friend Casey Kotchman launched another homer into the bullpen on a 2-and-0 pitch. Beckett’s day was over and he was angry.

At himself.

“Nobody else to be mad at,’’ he said.

Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon came on and did the job in textbook fashion, but Beckett and his manager were less than satisfied.

“The biggest inning of every game is after you score runs,’’ said the manager. “You want to put up zeros.

“There’s probably some hurdles he’s got to get by, but the good news is that he pitched pretty well.’’

“I didn’t feel tired,’’ said Beckett. “My pitches stayed up.’’

This game was similar to Beckett’s previous start against the Angels when he took a two-hit shutout in the sixth, then yielded four runs on four consecutive one-out hits, capped by a Hideki Matsui three-run homer.

So what’s it going to be the rest of the way? Good Josh or Bad Josh?

Beckett appears to be healthy. He has had spectacular stretches. Does he think he’s ready for a strong September?

“If I could pitch like I did the first six innings, yeah,’’ he answered. “If I pitch like I did in the seventh inning, no, probably not.’’

The Red Sox go to Tampa this weekend. They’ll face David Price, Matt Garza, and James Shields. They will counter with their three best pitchers: Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and John Lackey.

Beckett is no longer a dependable starter, but the Sox need Good Josh to show up in September if they want to stay in the quixotic chase for a playoff spot.

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

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