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Beckett excited to be in the driver’s seat

Josh Beckett (right) was roughed up in his first start by Detroit but expects to be pumped up for the Red Sox home opener. Josh Beckett (right) was roughed up in his first start by Detroit but expects to be pumped up for the Red Sox home opener. (Duane burleson/Associated Press)
By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / April 13, 2012
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Josh Beckett will be warming up in the bullpen when he is introduced to the crowd at Fenway Park before Friday’s home opener against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Whether he is cheered or booed will likely not register with the righthander. His focus before games is such that Beckett rarely notices teammates standing a few feet away as he walks through the clubhouse with a baseball in his hand.

But after six years in Boston, Beckett understands that the passion here flows both ways. He knows that last season’s collapse and the subsequent revelations of clubhouse misconduct still rankle some fans.

“I can’t control that,’’ he said. “I’m really not trying to control that. I just have to go out there and make pitches.

“We have to deal with whatever is thrown our way. I’m going to pitch well for my teammates. If the fans don’t want me pitching, I’ve got to pitch well for my teammates.’’

Unlike Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, Beckett was stubbornly unapologetic about drinking during games last season, admitting only to making mistakes. Beckett was angrier about the news escaping the boundaries of the clubhouse in the first place.

Then his first start of the season was a flop, Beckett giving up seven runs on seven hits - five of them home runs - in 4 2/3 innings against the Tigers last Saturday.

If he is booed, he’ll understand.

But he advised that behind that barbed-wire facial hair and plug of tobacco beats a heart warm for Fenway Park and those who fill the seats. During a pregame conversation with a handful of reporters in Toronto Wednesday morning, Beckett was nearly poetic in describing how much he was looking forward to his start.

“Driving up and seeing Yawkey Way packed full of people at 8 in the morning, it’s pretty neat,’’ he said. “It’s such a special place.

“I’ll tell you, I know everybody gets to see it driving up, but it’s really exciting to drive up and see all that stuff on a day you’re pitching.

“There’s probably not another place like it. There’s really no way to describe it. Driving up Boylston and waiting at the crosswalks, everybody’s already down there. It’s as busy right then as it will be after the game.’’

Beckett started his career with the Florida Marlins, pitching before more empty seats than warm bodies. He may not always show it, but he appreciates Boston.

“I know how lucky I am,’’ he said.

And when pressed, he said he thinks the fans will come through.

“I think it’ll be fine,’’ Beckett said. “We’ll see. Last year we came home and we were 0-6. They gave us a pretty good reception then.’’

Beckett went into his start against Detroit after spending three days on the road to get a lingering injury in his thumb checked out by two specialists. He insists that is not a concern as he prepares for the Rays.

“It’s fine,’’ he said. “It’s fine. It’s fine. It’s fine. It’s fine. Jesus, it’s fine.’’

Looking back on it, Beckett said, he had some mechanical issues and maybe a few mental ones.

“That first start’s always just kind of a crap shoot,’’ he said. “You’ve got a lot of anxiety and stuff leading up to that. You want to do well and everything like that. A lot of times, you expend too much energy on things that probably don’t help you be successful.’’

Manager Bobby Valentine said Beckett had a good bullpen session with pitching coach Bob McClure Tuesday.

“I think they got a lot of things ironed out where they felt really good about where he should be, and I think the thumb thing seems to be a moot point right now, so I look forward to him pitching again,’’ Valentine said.

Another positive: Beckett was 2-0 with an 0.78 earned run average in three starts against the Rays last season. In 23 innings, he allowed two earned runs on nine hits with one walk and 19 strikeouts.

“We need a win,’’ said Beckett. “Obviously, every time any of us start right now, I think we feel like that. They’re all important right now.

“Obviously, losing is never fun. But think all the guys are still pulling for each other. It’s kind of fun to watch. I think we’ve got a really good group here.’’

Beckett had a rocky first start last season, giving up three runs in five innings against the Indians. He walked four in that game. Five days later, he threw eight shutout innings against the Yankees, giving up two hits and striking out 10 at Fenway.

Beckett was an All-Star and ended the season with a 2.89 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP.

There may some scattered boos, perhaps more than scattered. But Beckett can change that quickly.

“We have Josh going,’’ David Ortiz said. “People should feel good about that.’’

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

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