ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Josh Beckett took up to 45 seconds between pitches in the first inning Sunday, the pauses becoming so lengthy at one point that the fans at Tropicana Field started to boo him.
By the time the inning was over, Beckett had allowed three runs on four hits.
It has happened before this season, Beckett starting games poorly and pitching at an aggravatingly slow pace. You can usually pin it on his being stubborn or on some kind of misguided gamesmanship.
But Beckett had a valid excuse this time. A bout with the flu left him feeling weaker than normal and he was dizzy from taking antibiotics to fight the illness.
“I think it zapped me. It took me a long time to gather myself between pitches,” Beckett said. “In between pitches, it was borderline blackout periods.”
But Beckett persevered, going six innings and not allowing another run as the Red Sox rallied to beat the Rays, 7-3.
The Sox took two of three from the Rays. After losing three series in a row before the All-Star break, even such a modest accomplishment was welcomed.
“You’ve got to win series now. We didn’t put ourselves in a situation where you can just go out and play .500 baseball from here on out,” Beckett said “We’ve got to figure out a way to win some series.”
It has to start with the starting pitchers. The Red Sox were 5-9 with Beckett on the mound and he had not recorded a win since May 20. But Beckett (5-7) shut the Rays out on four hits on his final five innings, giving the offense a chance.
Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine, among the many who would like to see Beckett speed up on the mound, accepted the methodical approach on Sunday. He knew Beckett wasn’t feeling normal.
“I think he just had to get his feet on the ground a little. He was struggling with it, battled the whole time,” Valentine said. “All I saw is a great competitor out there who wasn’t going to let that game get away from him. Three runs in the first inning, no doubt, is an uphill battle. But he figured it out.”
It helped that it was Tampa. Beckett is 4-0 with a 1.64 earned run average in six starts against the Rays since the start of the 2011 season. He allowed eight hits on Sunday but also struck out seven with only two walks.
• Mike Aviles has a modest .266 batting average and a .290 on-base percentage. But Aviles leads AL shortstops with 33 extra-base hits and has 46 RBIs. His two-run homer in the second inning tied the game. He has 10 homers this season, matching his career high.
Aviles also has been better than expected defensively. In the seventh inning, Ben Zobrist singled for the Rays, driving a runner to third. Aviles intercepted the throw to third base, spun and threw Zobrist out going back to first.
“Mike’s played at a very high level this year. His offense has been terrific and his defense — his arm has gotten us five outs that other arms just never get,” Valentine said.
Said Aviles: “I haven’t heard that too often in my career. It’s nice.”
• Will Middlebrooks, who had a two-run single, is 4 for 8 with two extra-base hits and four RBIs in the last two games, his timing back after missing seven games with a hamstring strain. He also showed better patience at the plate, staying back on the off-speed pitches that were getting him out in June.
“I had a feeling that’s how they’re going to attack me and that’s what they did the last couple of days,” Middlebrooks said. “I had to make some adjustments. Just realize how they’re going to attack me and attack the, the same way.”
• Jacoby Ellsbury was 3 for 5. He is 6 for 14 since returning from a three-month stint on the disabled list. “Looks like he’s in midseason form. Since it’s midseason, that’s a good thing,” Valentine said.
• David Ortiz is the first Red Sox player to have at least one hit and one walk in nine straight games since Ted Williams in 1950. Ortiz has hit safely in 10 straight.
• Beckett has gone nine starts (and 60.2 innings) without allowing a home run, it is his career best and the longest such streak for a Red Sox pitcher since Derek Lowe went 12 starts from 2001-02.
• Right fielder Cody Ross had an embarrassing moment in the sixth inning. Elliot Johnson singled to right then raced to second when Ross casually fielded the ball and flipped it in. “It’ll never happen again,” Valentine said. “Inexcusable. He knows it.”
• Adrian Gonzalez was 2 for 5 and played seven innings in the field despite a sore lower back that kept him out for two games. “It doesn’t feel all that great. But I could play through it,” he said. Gonzalez hopes to play Monday, depending how his back survives the flight back to Boston.
• Ryan Sweeney sat out resting a sore left hamstring. He said it’s not serious enough to require require a DL stint.
Thanks to everybody for reading today.