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Beckett’s mastery of foe continues

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By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / September 1, 2011

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Joe Girardi was asked before last night’s 9-5 loss to the Red Sox if the Yankees would, sooner or later, finally beat Josh Beckett. After all, the Bronx Bombers had lost three times against the Red Sox righthander this season.

“He’s pitched extremely well against us this year, and against most everybody else as well,’’ the Yankees manager said. “He’s been a great pitcher for a long time. We need to put up a good outing against him and figure him out.’’

Last night, in the sixth inning before a Fenway Park crowd of 38,021, it appeared the Yankees finally had figured out Beckett, roughing him up for four runs on a pair of hits, a walk, a hit batsmen, and an error by right fielder Josh Reddick to take a 5-4 lead.

What the Yankees hadn’t figured, though, was Beckett coming out for the seventh.

After throwing 102 pitches, Beckett (12-5, 2.54 ERA) needed just nine more to go through the Nos. 2-4 batters in the Yankees’ lineup in 1-2-3 fashion. Beckett went on to earn the win, which enabled the Sox to stretch their lead in the American League East to 1 1/2 games.

“He’s a guy we’ve relied on for so long now and we were hoping he would come back with a vengeance - and he has,’’ said Sox manager Terry Francona, after Beckett went seven innings and allowed five runs (four earned) on six hits and three walks while striking out eight.

“Since that game he threw against New York his second start of the year after Texas, he’s been so consistent, and so consistently good,’’ Francona said. “It’s important in this game that you know what you’re getting and he’s been that way all year.’’

But Beckett has been particularly consistent against a Yankees team he struggled against last year, when he went 1-2 with a 10.04 ERA in five starts.

This year, he is 4-0 with a 1.85 ERA and became the first Sox pitcher to win four times vs. the Yankees in one season since Al Nipper in 1987.

Asked if it was the nature of the rivalry that seemed to bring out his best against the Yankees, Beckett replied, “I’d say that’s a good assessment.

“Obviously, the Yankee-Red Sox thing has been here for a long time before I got here and it’ll be here long after I’m [gone]. But I think the big key, and you can talk to most of their guys and our guys, we’re both really good teams. There’s a reason why you got to play these games a little bit differently.’’

That explained why Beckett was intent on coming out for the seventh.

“Their offense is so good,’’ Francona said of the Yankees. “I thought he kept them off balance and I thought he threw strikes and he used all his pitches. And he went back out after giving up four and he got ’em out.’’

On nine pitches, to boot.

Derek Jeter led off and grounded to first on Beckett’s second pitch, a 92-mile-per-hour cutter. When Curtis Granderson came up, Beckett pumped a pair of four-seam fastballs at him, then came back with an 88-m.p.h. changeup, before pumping two more four-seamers at him, the second at 94 m.p.h. for a called third strike.

After getting two outs with seven pitches, Beckett needed two more to get out of the inning when he induced Mark Teixeira to pop up to second baseman Dustin Pedroia on a 94-m.p.h. fastball.

“I was just trying to make pitches,’’ said Beckett, who threw 111 (72 strikes). “You’re going through 2-4 in their lineup, yeah, it’s going to be tough.’’

But, as he’s done all season against the Yankees, Beckett made it look easy.

While the two-run homers by Jacoby Ellsbury and Jason Varitek broke a 5-5 tie in the sixth and turned the game on its ear in the eighth, respectively, Beckett’s continued dominance of the Yankees also loomed large.

His unblemished record vs. the Bombers seemed a microcosm of his remarkable turnaround from a subpar and injury-plagued 2010 season.

“I really don’t look back at it,’’ Beckett said. “I’m a different pitcher than I was at any time last year. I’m making pitches when I need to right now, and that’s pretty much it.’’

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.

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