Whenever he was asked about the progress Josh Beckett was making these last two months, Red Sox manager Terry Francona said the team was being cautious. "We want Beckett to be Beckett," he would invariably say.
Tonight, he was.
It was only 5.2 innings against a dreadful team that was literally fighting in the dugout. But Beckett touched 95 with his fastball, threw a nice tight slider and delivered 62 of his 98 pitches for strikes.
It was the kind of outing that left you thinking he'll get better, unlike the games he pitched in April and May.
"Oh, man, it was so encouraging," Francona said.
Beckett told me that the long bullpen session he had in Oakland earlier on Tuesday was the key to his outing.
"I had spent the last few weeks trying to get better physically. That was the first time I really went to the mound and focused on pitching and being sharp," he said. "There was no more 'How do you feel?" It was, 'Get out there and get outs.' It felt really good and I carried that over tonight."
If Beckett is indeed Beckett, the Sox will be able to put a good pitcher on the mound every night. It's not always going to be perfect, but that's how you win series, protect the bullpen and get back in pennant races.
In the end, it's always about starting pitching. Everything else makes for good conversation but starting pitching is what separates the good teams.
A few other notes:
* Francona made it a point after the game to say the Sox always had a meaningful role in mind for Scott Atchison. But the fact he had options made him vulnerable to being sent back and forth to Pawtucket.
Atchison since May 28:
That's a 2.84 ERA and a 1.065 WHIP. On the scale of trustworthiness, Atchison rates behind only Jonathan Papelbon and Daniel Bard in the bullpen.
* Nice night for the ex-Mariners on the Sox roster. Adrian Beltre was 1 for 3 with an RBI double. Bill Hall had the game-winning homer. Mike Cameron was 2 for 3 with a walk and Atchison got the win.
That's it from Seattle. Thanks to everybody for reading deep into the night. Back at it tomorrow.