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Early innings haunt Beckett

He keeps finding trouble from start

Josh Beckett and catcher Kelly Shoppach talk on the mound in the second inning, when Beckett had already given up four runs to the Blue Jays. (Dominick Reuter/Reuters) Josh Beckett and catcher Kelly Shoppach talk on the mound in the second inning, when Beckett had already given up four runs to the Blue Jays.
By Alex Prewitt
Globe Correspondent / July 21, 2012
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Unlucky at the start, mistake-prone in the second inning, and utterly baffling throughout, Josh Beckett turned in another head-scratcher Friday night against the Blue Jays at Fenway Park.

At times flashing the dominance that once made him an ace, and also experiencing the early-inning hardships that have plagued him this season, Beckett took the loss, his fourth in his past seven outings.

And, as it has been all season, the first inning was Beckett’s biggest demon in the Red Sox’ 6-1 defeat.

After striking out leadoff batter Anthony Gose, things unraveled.

Colby Rasmus golfed a curveball to deep right for a triple, and scored when Edwin Encarnacion grounded to third. The close play at home was inconsequential in hindsight, but it nonetheless sparked another rough early start for Beckett.

Two seeing-eye singles later, the Sox were in a 2-0 hole as Beckett’s first-inning ERA this year moved to 10.69.

“Shoot, we were playing for a double-play ball there, and they hit two ground balls in the hole,” catcher Kelly Shoppach said. “That’s a little bit of bad luck.”

Beckett found no such misfortune in the next frame. Just erraticism.

“The second inning was where things got away from me,” Beckett said.

He was in position to strand Yunel Escobar in scoring position after fanning Yan Gomes on a 90-mile-per-hour cutter for the second out. But with a 2-and-2 count against Gose, Beckett misfired on two curveballs.

Rasmus then cranked a two-run double to left-center on the next pitch.

“Ramus on deck, that young kid there, hindsight, we might have went with something else,” Shoppach said. “[Beckett’s] done that 3-2 curveball a million times in his career, and probably made the pitch 90 percent of the time.

“No matter how it’s going, he’s still confident in what he’s got in his ability, and that’s how you have to pitch.

“He kept us in the ballgame after those first couple of innings, really did a good job after that.”

The confidence grew inning by inning, strikeout by strikeout — seven total — as Beckett retired eight straight, four by strikeout.

But the Jays tacked on another run in the fifth when Encarnacion reached on an infield single and advanced to second on a throwing error by third baseman Will Middlebrooks, then scoring on an Adam Lind single. And Beckett found himself out of the game after six innings — manager Bobby Valentine said he could have gone more — and stewing on why what Valentine called “solid stuff” didn’t translate to the box score.

“I don’t know, I can’t say I’m looking at a whole lot of positives from that outing,” Beckett said. “I just got burned whenever I didn’t make pitches.”

Beckett was looking to build on his last outing, a 7-3 win at Tampa Bay, his first victory since May 20. Friday afternoon, during his pregame press conference, Valentine expressed confidence in his starter.

“I think he’ll get by the first inning without a problem,” Valentine said.

But the problems that surfaced never allowed Beckett to build anything except an early deficit. All three runs against the Rays came in the first inning. He gave up five in the first to the Yankees on July 6 and three in the first to the Marlins on June 11.

When asked how Beckett found his form after his early struggles, Shoppach stopped just short of actually scratching his scalp in bewilderment, adopting a confused and helpless tone.

“Yeah, you know, he had pretty good stuff, missed some spots there, had some bad luck in the first,” Shoppach said. “I felt bad, it just didn’t seem like he should have given up five runs. I thought he pitched well [enough] to not have that line.

“But, at the end of the day, we didn’t score any runs anyway.”

Alex Prewitt can be reached at aprewitt@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt.

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