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Josh Beckett is 'back with a vengeance' for the Red Sox

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  May 14, 2011 11:51 PM

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NEW YORK — When the Red Sox named Josh Beckett their No 4 starter in spring training, even he agreed that made sense.

Beckett was coming off the worst season of his career and a spring training that included getting ripped twice by the Pirates. Staying healthy looked like a reasonable goal for him.

Now it's May 15, he has made eight starts, and the results are staggering:

51.1 innings, 31 H, 10 ER, 15 BB, 49 K, 3 HR. He has a 1.76 ERA and has gone six or more innings six times. Beckett dominated the Yankees tonight, throwing six shutout innings and giving up four singles, two of them in the first inning. He walked two and struck out nine.

“We had a lot of confidence in him; we always have,” Terry Francona said after a 6-0 victory. “He worked hard. He said at the end of last year that’d come back with a vengeance and I think he has.”

Beckett is not exactly reveling in his success. He answered most questions tonight by saying he's making pitches when he has to and that the defense is playing well behind him.

It goes way deeper than that. Beckett has improved the consistency and velocity of his fastball, which in turn makes his changeup a better pitch. He also limited the use of his cutter, a pitch he fell in love with last season to his detriment. In its place is a better curveball.

But when the curveball isn't sharp, which was the case tonight, Beckett can go back to his cutter with good results.

"He's throwing all his pitches for strikes," Jason Varitek said. "He has that confidence back."

In Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, the Red Sox have the makings of a powerful playoff rotation. The question is whether John Lackey or Daisuke Matsuzaka can pitch well enough in the regular season to get them there.

As for other stuff:

• The sun is hot. Mila Kunis is hot. Chicken Vindaloo is hot. Adrian Gonzalez is something else entirely.

The first baseman has homered in four straight games, five of his last six and seven of his last 11. He is 32 of 85 (.376) in the last 20 games with eight homers and 25 RBIs.

After striking out, grounding to first and grounding into a double play against CC Sabathia, Gonzalez came up in the seventh inning. He told Francona that if he got a fastball inside, he would open his hips up early and flick at the ball like Ichiro Suzuki.

He did. And the ball went over the Pony League fence in right field.

“He amazes me. When you say you’re going to do it and you do it, that’s pretty impressive,” Francona said.

Gonzalez shrugged off his success.

“I usually go through these stretches once or twice a year,” he said.

• Matt Albers has a 1.65 ERA in 11 appearances. Francona may adopt him if this keeps up.

• Jacoby Ellsbury was 1 for 14 against Sabathia before his two-run double in the fifth inning.

• Dustin Pedroia is 13 of 20 (650) against the Yankee this season and 24 of 126 (.190) against everybody else.

• Think this has been a tough year for the Red Sox? It could be worse. They could be the Yankees right now.

The Yankees have lost four straight and eight of 11. At 20-17, they're only two games ahead of the 19-20 Red Sox.

Meanwhile, the empire is on fire. Jorge Posada was in the lineup hitting ninth, which would have been the first time he had done that since 1999. Then an announcement came 40 minutes before the game that he had been scratched.

GM Brian Cashman told the media, including Fox, that Posada was not injured and had pulled himself out of the lineup. Posada is hitting .165 and has been the DH this season after catching all his career. His frustration has been mounting.

During the game, Laura Posada tweeted that her husband had a back issue.

The were no sure answers after the game. Joe Girardi said that he thought Posada needed a day, so he pulled himself out. Posada seemed astonished that Cashman went to the media. He also spoke about a back injury but more about needing a day to clear his head.

Cashman and Girardi fired back, saying there was no back injury they were informed of. It's an ugly scene and it could get worse. Posada is in the last year of his contract and Cashman would not be fearful of cutting him. The post-George Steinbrenner Yankees are not a sentimental bunch.

Said David Ortiz: "You want to know what I think? They’re doing that guy wrong. They’re doing him wrong. You know why? That guy, he is legendary right there in that organization. ...“You don’t do that,” (taking yourself out of the lineup). But that’s what I’m trying to tell you guys. The confusion, the frustration that you’re living in, sometimes makes you make mistakes. He’s not perfect. He’s a human, just like everyone else."

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