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Red Sox Notebook

Beckett escapes early hole

Four-walk parade nearly ended day

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / September 13, 2010

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OAKLAND, Calif. — Red Sox manager Terry Francona termed Josh Beckett’s performance yesterday a “weird’’ one. That was an apt description.

Beckett went six innings against Oakland, allowing three runs and striking out seven. He was the winning pitcher in a much-needed 5-3 victory.

But the righthander nearly didn’t make it out of the third inning as he walked four in a row for the first time in his career. With one out in a scoreless game, Beckett threw 21 pitches to Coco Crisp, Daric Barton, Kurt Suzuki, and Jack Cust — only five for strikes.

“I think I should have only walked three of them,’’ said Beckett, who thought he had Barton struck out.

With Michael Bowden warming in a hurry, Beckett fanned Mark Ellis on four pitches, then he got Jeremy Hermida on a line drive to right field.

“That whole inning pretty much was pitching from behind and that’s not the position you want to be in,’’ Beckett said. “I was very fortunate there were balls guys could make plays on.’’

Beckett collected himself in the dugout afterward and was able to give the Sox three more innings.

“You’re kind of on the edge of your seat after the third inning,’’ Francona said. “JB found a way. He made some big pitches with men on base, wiggled out of it, and gave us a chance.’’

Beckett has made four consecutive quality starts. But he’s not remotely pleased with how he has been pitching.

“I made some pitches when I needed to,’’ he said. “I need to figure out a way to do better than that. I was just a little out of it today.’’

Unsung hero
With usual setup man Daniel Bard unavailable after throwing 32 pitches Friday, Scott Atchison followed Beckett and threw two perfect innings to get the ball to Jonathan Papelbon. Atchison needed only 29 pitches to get the six outs.

Atchison dropped his earned run average to 3.62 in 36 appearances and has allowed one run in his last 10 innings. Not bad for a former Japanese league pitcher who barely survived the last cut in spring training then was optioned three times.

“He’s come a long way. We kept saying we really like this guy,’’ Francona said. “He was on that up and down thing because we had the flexibility. We kept saying we kind of liked the way he pitches and we don’t envision him as the 12th guy [on the staff]. Especially against righties, he can be a valuable guy.’’

Atchison is ensuring himself a spot on the roster next season.

“When the phone rings, I’m always ready,’’ he said. “It’s come later and it’s been fun. It gives me a ton [of confidence]. It’s nice to know somebody trusts you back there.’’

Catching carousel
Jason Varitek has not started a game since coming off the disabled list last Monday. Francona said it’s a difficult job for him trying to juggle the four catchers on the roster.

Victor Martinez has been carrying the offense of late and needs to play. The Sox also want to take a good look at Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who has caught only 34 2/3 innings since being acquired July 31.

Kevin Cash is on the roster only in case of emergency or mop-up duty. That leaves Varitek with no defined role.

“It’s [difficult] to try and find that balance,’’ Francona said.

Francona hinted that Varitek could start against Seattle tomorrow night.

One solution would be to get Saltalamacchia some at-bats at first base in place of Mike Lowell, who is 14 of 75 (.187) with two RBIs in his last 23 games.

“He’s been taking grounders there and I’d like to let him play some at first,’’ Francona said. “But I don’t want to be unfair to him.’’

The Sox have been impressed with what they have seen in Saltalamacchia behind the plate.

“We’re pleased because every time he’s caught, [pitchers] have gone deep in the game,’’ Francona said. “He’s very enthusiastic about trying to learn. There’s a lot getting thrown at him in a hurry. But that’s part of it and he’s doing OK.’’

Straight A’s
Adrian Beltre was 17 of 38 (.447) with three homers and nine RBIs in nine games against Oakland this season. He was 2 for 4 yesterday . . . Beckett’s seven strikeouts gave him 825 as a member of the Red Sox. That’s ninth in franchise history. He passed Frank Sullivan yesterday . . . Papelbon struck out the side in the ninth for his 36th save. It was his first appearance since Sept. 5, when he allowed four runs against the White Sox. “I wanted to stay in control of my delivery because I hadn’t thrown in a while,’’ Papelbon said. “I was happy I was able to repeat my delivery.’’ . . . Lowell drew a walk in the sixth to snap a streak of 17 consecutive at-bats without reaching base . . . Barton was ejected by umpire Hunter Wendelstedt after he was called out on strikes to end the game.

Play ball
The Sox, who have an active NFL fantasy league, had three games on in the clubhouse before they took the field . . . Ethel O’Connell, the widow of longtime Red Sox general manager Dick O’Connell, passed away at the age of 94. Her wake will be today from 4-8 p.m. at the Brown & Hickey Funeral Home in Belmont with the funeral tomorrow at 9 a.m. at St. Joseph’s Church on Common Street in Belmont.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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