It took Josh Beckett 37 pitches to get the first three outs of last night's game. And over that stretch, we saw Beckett at his absolute worst.
Was he not entirely warmed up? Had the early 3-0 lead affected his focus? Was he just plain unlucky? The real answer probably lies somewhere in the middle, but regardless of the reason, the results were brutal.
To start the game, he gave up a single to Denard Span, who was replaced Jamey Carroll after a fielder's choice. Then, Beckett walked Joe Mauer (after going ahead 1-2) to put runners on first and second, walked Josh Willngham (after going ahead 0-2) to load the bases, and then walked Justin Morneau (after going ahead 0-2) to force home a run. To make it all the more excruciating, Beckett was working so characteristically slow that you had time to finish all five Game of Thrones books during the wait between pitches.
Over the course of his straight three walks, Beckett was also squeezed by umpire Adrian Johnson. Pretty flagrantly at that. So by the time the Twins' run crossed the plate, the Texas Tough Guy was in full effect. You could see, almost hear Beckett swearing at Johnson from the mound. And you know what? He had every right to be angry, but the whole time I think we were all thinking the same thing:
"Is this guy serious? With everything that's going on with this team. With all the criticism and bad publicity he's personally received over the last seven months. Is he really going to get himself thrown out in the first inning?"
It sure looked that way. Especially after Beckett worked himself out of the jam and stormed off the mound glaring and screaming in Johnson's direction.
But you have to give Johnson credit. Sure, his incompetence had created that monster in the first place, but he was still well within his right to toss Beckett. There are a lot of umpires in baseball who would have thrown him out immediately, and filed the scene away in their Spank Bank. But Johnson resisted the temptation, and allotted Beckett who at this point was thinking about nothing but himself and his own warped sense of pride a little temper tantrum.
And thank God he did.
Beckett came back out in the second inning and retired the side on nine pitches. In the third, now with a 5-1 lead, he ran into a little trouble but escaped after only 16 pitches. In the fourth, now with a 7-1 lead, he retired the side on eight pitches. In the fifth, now with a 10-1 lead, he gave up one run but was generally sharp. And in the sixth he was sharper than a Hanzo sword, striking out the side on 18 pitches.
And that was his night.
A solid sixth inning outing; one that's probably better off broken down into two separate frames.
Frame No. 1: One inning, 37 pitches, three walks, one strikeout, one run and one long, extended, selfish temper tantrum. The embodiment of the kind performance and attitude that helped ruin last season and could very well threaten this one.
Frame No. 2: Five innings, 63 pitches, zero walks and four strikeouts. Calm, composure and consistent dominance. The guy Red Sox need every five days and whose existence may ultimately make or break their fortunes.
The best and worst of Josh Beckett.