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Beckett's back

Posted by Adam Kilgore, Globe Staff  June 9, 2009 12:43 PM

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The last time Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett met at Fenway Park, they produced probably the wildest game of the Red Sox season. Remember? Beckett fell behind Burnett, 6-0, and Burnett was dealing, holding the Sox scoreless through three. Jason Varitek blasted a grand slam, the Sox knocked Burnett out with eight runs in two innings, and the Yankees’ minefield of a bullpen gave up eight more runs in three innings. The Sox won, 16-11.

That game took place about a month and a half ago, when Beckett looked to be distressingly average, at best, and Yankees fans hated their bullpen in a deep and uncomplicated way. In regards to tonight’s game, when, weather permitting, Beckett and Burnett will meet again, those two factors are worth extracting and examining.

The name Josh Beckett may conjure the thought of one of baseball’s best pitchers, and the potential is obviously there. Beckett, though, has been pretty mediocre for a lot of his time with the Red Sox, and the start to this year followed that. Not anymore. His last four starts have been one of his most dominant stretches with the Sox.

On May 16, Beckett woke up with a 6.42 ERA and a 3-2 record. He beat the Seattle Mariners that night, allowing two earned runs in seven innings. These were his next three starts:

  • May 23, vs. Mets: 8 innings, 0 earned runs, 5 hits, 1 walk, 5 K, ND
  • May 28, at Twins: 7 innings, 1 earned run, 3 hits, 4 walks, 8 K, W
  • June 3, at Tigers: 7 2/3 innings, 0 earned runs, 2 hits, 2 walks, 9 K, W

The number of times before that with the Sox that Beckett had gone four straight starts while allowing two earned runs or fewer? That would be zero. The number of times prior to that with the Sox that Beckett had gone four straight starts while pitching at least seven innings? Twice -- the first four starts of his Sox tenure in 2006, and last season from April 17 to May 8.

Add it all up, and in his last four starts Beckett is 3-0 with a 0.91 ERA while holding opponents to a .137 average and striking out 8.2 batters per nine innings. Even if you go back to May 1, Beckett’s 1.94 ERA since then is third best in the American League; only Roy Halladay and Justin Verlander have been better. His totals for the year are 6-2 with a 4.09 ERA.

So, back to that 16-11 game at the end of April. As much as the pre-awesome Beckett tried to lose that one, the Yankees bullpen simply wouldn’t let him and willed its way to the loss. After the game, the New York bullpen had managed a 6.68 ERA.

They hadn’t quite figured it out a couple weeks later, when the Sox improved their season record against the Yankees to 5-0 at the new Yankee Stadium. Since the Sox left Yankee Stadium May 5, Yankees relievers have a 3.38 ERA. Alex Rodrgiuez obviously has been a major factor, but don't discount the bullpen's about-face as a reason for the Yankees' 21-10 record over that span. With the addition of Phil Hughes, who made a relief appearance in a New York victory over the Rays Monday night, the bullpen only figures to improve.

If the rain holds off, we’ll find out which matters more tonight: an improved Beckett, or the improved Yankees 'pen.

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