For starters, this defeat looked a lot like September
DETROIT - The omens were all good. The game was played on Bobby Doerr’s 94th birthday. The first pitch was thrown at a Teddy Ballgame time of 4:06. Boston’s absentee owner was buoyed by a big 1-1 draw in Liverpool, and the Red Sox had Josh Beckett on the mound, with a plan to “execute pitches.’’
And then it all came apart in a hail of home runs by the Bash Brothers of Detroit.
What a beating!
Beckett surrendered five, count ’em five, homers in a mere 4 2/3 innings of a 10-0 Tigers beat-down of the Red Sox Saturday. It was the worst possible start for a $17 million pitcher who failed the Sox down the stretch in the epic collapse of 2011, then was outed as a primary perp in the chicken-and-beer fiasco that finished Terry Francona in Boston.
Would it be piling on if we point out that the Sox have lost 22 of their last 29 games? And how many Titanic analogies will you read if these Sox come home something like 1-5 for their Friday-the-13th Fenway opener two days before the 100th anniversary of the demise of the White Star Line ship?
Beckett is your home opener starter and his introduction at Fenway ought to be a doozy. It might sound like Ulf Samuelsson just got back in Beantown. Maybe the Sox will bring back John Lackey and Grady Little to share the crowd’s love.
OK, it’s early. Keep reminding yourself of this fact. The Sox are 0-2, but have 160 to play. They are nowhere near mathematical elimination. They started last season 0-6 (and 2-10), then played better than any team in baseball for four months.
But things were supposed to be different this year. No early-season woes. Bobby Valentine brought structure and purpose to spring training. And changed the culture of the clubhouse. Remember?
Bobby V’s first two games have been a disaster. Game 1 kindled all the memories of the night the music died in Baltimore last Sept. 28. And then Beckett’s Redemption Tour kicked off with bombs away from Tiger sluggers. Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder each hit a pair of homers. Alex Avila added a two-run blast.
“I don’t know what a ‘start’ means,’’ Valentine said when asked about getting off to a slow start. “Is two games a start? Is a month a start? I think we can still get off to a good start.’’
True. But two games in, we’ve already seen the Full Monty of Sox flaws. The Sox have managed to score only two runs while whiffing 19 times in 18 innings. Kevin Youkilis looks especially feeble. For good measure, Boston shortstop Mike Aviles booted a routine grounder to remind everyone that the Sox sent their real shortstop to Colorado for the sole purpose of eliminating his $6 million salary.
How bad was this? The Sox were so pathetic, they were not even worthy of retaliation after Matt Albers drilled Fielder in the leg in a 8-0 game with nobody aboard in the seventh. You can bet Jim Leyland and the Tigers filed it away for another day.
Beckett’s performance was troubling because he visited a couple of doctors to have his pitching thumb examined last week. The Texas righty said he’s had trouble with the thumb for 18 months and has had a couple of cortisone shots, including one in Fort Myers this spring. He admitted surgery might be needed to alleviate the problem, but said nothing was planned for this season.
He didn’t use the thumb as an excuse Saturday. Beckett is generally a stand-up guy when he’s bad and this was no exception.
“Too many pitches down the middle of the plate,’’ he said. “[The home runs were] one changeup, a cutter, two sinkers, and a fastball. All in the middle of the plate. You can’t throw the ball down the middle of the plate, especially against these guys . . . the thumb was not an issue.’’
The first homer of the day, a 412-foot blast to left-center by Cabrera, came after Beckett made numerous throws to first to hold Austin Jackson. Beckett also stepped off several times. It looked like he didn’t want to throw a pitch. It was exactly the kind of slow work that annoyed Valentine when Bobby V was in the broadcast booth last year.
Valentine said there were instances Saturday when he wasn’t sure if Beckett was throwing a cut fastball or a changeup. At the end of his career, Orioles lefty Scott McGregor told us that a pitcher is in trouble when his fastball and changeup start to merge.
“Josh Beckett is one of the guys we’re building this team around,’’ said Valentine. “The good news is he felt good. He just got too much of the plate on a lot of his pitches.’’
“Physically, I felt fine,’’ echoed Beckett.
On the mound for the Red Sox in the seventh: lefthander Justin Thomas, No. 78 in your program. It might as well have been Bruce Armstrong.
It’s only two games, people. Keep telling yourself that.
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.