BOSTON The reports of Josh Becketts demise have been greatly exaggerated. At least, with the Seattle Mariners in town.
The Mariners offered little in the way of opposition to Beckett, who was coming off a disastrous outing in his previous start on Thursday when he lasted just 2 13 innings against the Indians and gave up seven runs.
That the Mariners are one of the worst-hitting teams in the majors -- hitting just .235 as a team, better than only Oaklands .218 in the American League meant little on this day. Becketts performance, demeanor, and pitching line were what was really important.
Tuesday afternoon at Fenway Park, he went seven scoreless and dominant -- innings, giving up four hits with two walks anda season-high nine strikeouts, to improve to 3-4, dropping his ERA a full run from 5.97 to 4.97.
Beckett set the tone from his opening pitch: a 93-mph fastball on a called strike to Mariners lead-off batter Dustin Ackley, who struck out on the fifth pitch, swinging at-an 88-mph changeup.Beckett needed just eight pitches (seven strikes) to get through the first inning.
He retired the side in order in the first three innings. Beckett struck out the side in order in the third, giving him four consecutive strikeouts. He struck out Mike Carp, swinging at a 92-mph fastball to lead off the third, giving him 1,044 career strikeouts with the Red Sox, passing Bruce Hurst for 6th on the all-time team list.
He just looked like he took control of the game, said manager Bobby Valentine. He stood out there and wanted everyone to know he was Josh Beckett, including the opposition. Threw strikes, had all of his pitches, worked quickly with his catcher, and mowed them down.
He had a great presence all week. David Ortiz whispered in my ear and said, Watch him pitch today, in the second inning. It was a 1-2-3 first. Ortiz saw it in the first inning. There was something there. He belongs on that hill. That's his saddle and he looked very comfortable today.
After the last week or so, this kind of performance was necessary if not for Beckett, then for his naysayers. Beckett had been excoriated in the last week or so in print, on the airwaves, and with the thunder of boos that rained down on him as he walked off the mound after his disastrous outing Thursday against the Indians at Fenway. That kind of noise is almost never heard at Fenway for a player wearing the home uniform.
But reports of a golf outing after a lat muscle ailment, after last seasons fried chicken-and-beer debacle, along with his performance against the Indians, only provided fuel for the raging fire.
Beckett, who turned 32 on Tuesday, didnt use this past week as a motivator, he said. He heard from family, friends, and other ballplayers who offered encouragement, which helped.
But he was just looking to pitch like he knows he can.
Not a whole lot you can do different, he said. You can't have too many of those starts where you start changing stuff up. You definitely want to make yourself as comfortable as possible. I tried to do the sameworkouts and everything like that.
His teammates, though, noticed the difference.
He was great, said Ortiz. The minute I saw him throw the first pitch I knew he was going to have a good game . . . It was good. We need that.
It was great, just what we were looking for, said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who was working with Beckett for just the second time this season, and fourth time overall since the start of the 2011 season.
Thats Josh. He goes after guys, has some deception, good heater, makes his pitches a little bit. Its what we expect.
I think last start he missed location a little bit. Today he got back to getting location, going after guys and mixing his pitches, just attacking guys.
Asked how Becketts week might have affected the right-hander, Ortiz replied:
You guys, you need to take it easy, man, just to begin with. We are human here. We come and play the game. We try to do the right thing. But we got a personal life, too, you know, and were human just like everyone else.
But Beckett always give everything he has every time he goes out there. It doesnt matter if he has a bad day, good day, he always pump himself up.
Perhaps Beckett was motivated by the string of quality starts the four other pitchers in the rotation had put together. Becketts outing gave the Sox five consecutive quality starts for the first time this season and the first time since they had eight in a row May 22 29, 2011. Tim Wakefield, who was honored before todays game, began the streak last season, and Beckett had the last start in that streak.
You obviously want to keep your team in the game, Beckett said, but it is nice when everybody goes out there and strings together outings and some of them werent just quality starts, they were really good starts. Its nice to kind of keep that going.
And if he keeps that going, he will keep at bay those who are ready to write him off or ride him off.