Beckett has final tuneup; Sox edge Pirates

BRADENTON, Fla. — Josh Beckett threw 88 pitches today in his final tuneup before his Opening Day start, giving up three earned runs in 3 2/3 innings, walking one, striking out four, and surrendering seven hits in Boston’s 4-3 victory over the Pirates.

Beckett said he was hoping for better results against the Pirates, but he seems ready to go for the start of the regular season.

“I’m enthusiastic about it,” said the typically stoic Beckett. “I’ve just got to go out there and have the results that lead to success.”

Obviously, one year has made all the difference in the world for Beckett, who was derailed by a back injury at the end of camp last spring. This year? He has made it through the entire spring without the slightest hint of trouble, which could bode well for the start of the regular season.

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As smooth a spring as he could expect?

“Absolutely,” Beckett said. “I’ve never been in a camp where everybody just took care of themselves like this. … I was joking with a couple of the other pitchers the other day [that] I felt like I could have run this camp. Our players really came into camp saying we’re going to take care of ourselves.”

Naturally, much of Terry Francona’s postgame briefing — emphasis on brief — focused on Beckett, who finished the spring with a 3.25 ERA in 27 2/3 official innings. Francona, like everyone, was far more interested in Beckett’s well-being than the numbers. All in all, it was a smooth spring for the Sox’ ace.

“That’s actually what I just told him,” Francona said. “I said, `You’re ready to pitch, you’re strong as a horse, you’re healthy.’ For a guy like that, I could care less what his ERA is.”

Tomorrow’s game with the Twins marks the final game in Florida this spring. Brad Penny is due to pitch.

Here is the inning-by-inning recap of the game, which was won on a Chop Ambres homer in the top of the ninth. It was his second dinger of the game.

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SOX WIN, 4-3
Big day for Chip Ambres, who homered in the top of the ninth to break a 3-3 tie and propel the Red Sox to a win. Ambres knocked in all four Sox runs with a pair of homers. Lefty Chris George pitched the bottom of the inning to preserve the win for the club.

“I can’t tell you how many people yelled at me today,” Francona cracked shortly after walking off the field. “I can’t tell you how many people told me to keep Ambres.”

TIED THROUGH EIGHT (3:43 p.m., END 8, TIED 3-3)
Jonathan Papelbon just pitched a 1-2-3 eighth, striking out the last batter he faced. Manny Delcarmen preceded Papelbon in the game and similarly failed to allow a run.

BECKETT SPEAKS (3:20 p.m., END 7, TIED 3-3)
Just came back from the clubhouse, where Josh Beckett was icing in the wake of today’s outing. Beckett said he was hoping for better results against the Pirates, but he seems ready to go for the start of the regular season.

TIED IN SIXTH (2:52 p.m., MID 6, TIED 3-3)
Now in the middle of the sixth and the game is still tied. Maholm, like Beckett, is out of the game and both managers are starting to pull all starters in anticipation of the regular season. Updates will come when necessary from now on and we should be speaking with Beckett shortly in the clubhouse.

BECKETT DONE (2:33 p.m., END 4, GAME TIED 3-3)
Josh Beckett’s spring is over. Francona yanked him with two outs and two on in a 3-3 game with Ryan McLouth due up. Beckett allowed an RBI single to Nyjer Morgan that tied the game at 3 before getting Freddy Sanchez on a flyout with his final pitch of the spring.

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Javier Lopez came in to face McLouth and retired him on a come-backer to end the inning. Beckett allowed seven hits and three runs in 3-2/3 innings while striking out four.

CHIP ANSWERS (2:17 p.m., MID 4, SOX LEAD 3-2)
Chip Ambres just popped a three-run homer (wind-aided) over the left field wall, giving the Sox a 3-2 edge. The blast came with two outs and scored Chris Carter and Rocco Baldelli (2 for 2), each of whom had singled.

Prior to Ambres’ homer, Jed Lowrie struck out with two on. Lowrie now has a strikeout and has hit into a double play while making an error. Tough day.

McLOUTH GOES DEEP (2:03 p.m., END 3, PIRATES LEAD 2-0)
Nate McLouth just hit a two-run home run to dead center that also scored Nyjer Morgan (double) to give the Pirates a 2-0 edge. The ball struck almost halfway up the green wall that serves as the batter’s eye, station more than 400 feet from home plate.

Translation: It was a bomb.

No damage after that.

SOX GO DOWN IN ORDER (1:48 p.m., MID 3, NO SCORE)
Three up, three down – Velazquez, Ellsbury, Pedroia. Not much more to it than that. Beckett heading to the mound for the bottom.

WHERE’S THE D? (1:42 p.m., END 2, NO SCORE)
The Red Sox were charged with one error in the inning, but they should have two. Josh Beckett botched an easy come-backer by leadoff man Adam LaRoche; one out later, Jed Lowrie took an easy double play ball and flipped the feed way to the left of Dustin Pedroia, putting runners at second and third with one out.

The error was Lowrie’s team-leading fifth in 22 games this spring. He did not make an error in 49 regular season games last year.

Beckett nonetheless worked out of the mess without allowing a run. He had two whiffs in the inning, including one of pitcher Paul Maholm to end the threat.

DOUBLE, DOUBLE (1:31 p.m., MID 2, NO SCORE)
Another inning, another double play – this one a 6-4-3 off the bat of Jed Lowrie who followed a lead single by Rocco Baldelli. After that George Kottaras hit a double off left-hander Paul Maholm, a nice thing to see considering Kottaras projects to see much of his time against right-handed pitching this season (at least in games not started by Tim Wakefield).

The double wasn’t a cheapie, either. It slammed off the wall in right center. Another four feet and it would have been a homer.

SMOOTH FIRST FOR BECKETT (1:20 p.m., END 1, NO SCORE)
Josh Beckett faced four batters in the first, allowing only a one-out single to Freddy Sanchez. He did not have a strikeout. Beckett looks to have very good pop on his fastball, always a good sign.

SLOW START FOR SOX (1:08 p.m., MID 1, NO SCORE)
The Red Sox got a swinging-bunt single from Paul Maholm to start the game, but they failed to score. Dustin Pedroia hit into a double play before Paul Maholm – he of the 0.46 ERA this spring – struck out Chris Carter. Josh Beckett is now tossing his warmups.

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