Beckett gets on 'saddle', locks in vs. Mariners

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Beckett gets on 'saddle', locks in vs. Mariners

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.

Harper, Strickland throw punches in Nationals-Giants brawl

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Harper, Strickland throw punches in Nationals-Giants brawl

SAN FRANCISCO - An enraged Bryce Harper charged the mound, fired his helmet and traded punches to the head with San Francisco reliever Hunter Strickland after getting hit by a fastball, setting off a wild brawl Monday during the Washington Nationals' 3-0 win over the Giants.

Drilled in the right hip by a 98 mph heater on Strickland's first pitch in the eighth inning with two outs, none on and Washington ahead 2-0, Harper didn't hesitate. The slugger pointed his bat at Strickland, yelled at him and took off.

No one got in Harper's way as he rushed the mound. His eyes were wide as he flung his helmet - it sailed way wide of Strickland, it might've slipped - and they started swinging away. The 6-foot-4 Strickland hit Harper in the face, then they broke apart for a moment before squaring off again. Harper punched Strickland in the head as the benches and bullpen emptied.

Giants teammates Michael Morse and Jeff Samardzija collided hard as they tried to get between the two fighters. Three Giants players forcefully dragged Strickland from the middle of the pack all the way into the dugout, while a teammate held back Harper.

Harper and Strickland were both ejected. They have some history between them - in the 2014 NL Division Series, Harper hit two home runs off Strickland, and the All-Star outfielder glared at the reliever as he rounded the bases after the second shot in Game 4.

Drellich: After golden 2016, Red Sox remember what it's like to have things go wrong

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Drellich: After golden 2016, Red Sox remember what it's like to have things go wrong

CHICAGO — More than anything else, Monday’s 5-4 Red Sox loss was a reminder of how much the Red Sox had go right for them a year ago, and just how unrealistic it was to expect so much of it to carry over into 2017.

The Red Sox remain a very good team. But the success of last year’s 93-win team, of any 93-win team is, truly, difficult to replicate. Unlikely, even.

Baseball’s age of parity, the randomness of freak injuries, good old regression — the Sox were due for some elements to catch up to them after a season that was more or less golden in 2016.

Dustin Pedroia, who headed back to Boston on Monday for an MRI on his left wrist, was healthy enough to hit 15 home runs a year ago, his highest total since 2012. The way this year is going for him health-wise, just having him on the field and hitting close to .300 sounds like a worthwhile goal the rest of the way.

(Slides are Pedroia’s enemy, be it from an oncoming base runner, like Manny Machado, or an oncoming first baseman, like Jose Abreu.)

David Price wasn’t living David Price’s best baseball life a year ago. But you know what you can, and probably do, take for granted? He was healthy and devouring innings. He cleared more frames than anyone else in the regular season. Even when he wasn’t pitching well, he could pitch and pitch and pitch. 

Jackie Bradley Jr. had a 1.001 OPS at the end of play on May 29, 2016. His OPS after play May 29, 2017, was .670.

We know how special David Ortiz was. Let’s not go there, because it seems like no one can talk about Ortiz’s absence rationally. His exit did not suck every home run out of the Sox lineup, as many like to say is the case, but he is — of course — a big missing piece.

Not everything was perfect in 2016, lest we remember our ex-girlfriends too fondly. Carson Smith went for Tommy John surgery, for example. 

But look now: Smith still isn’t back, Tyler Thornburg is a mystery if not quiet yet an afterthought and Robbie Ross Jr. not only struggled to the point he was demoted, he’s going through elbow trouble.

Rick Porcello won the American League Cy Young, much to Kate Upton’s chagrin. Porcello will not win the Cy Young this year, if you hadn’t been paying attention, although Chris Sale might.

There’s something going well for the Sox right now: that Sale guy. The bullpen coughed up the game Monday, Matt Barnes in particular. Yet Sox relievers had the fifth best ERA of any team to start the day. 

Hey, Eduardo Rodriguez looks pretty good, doesn't he?

With some downward trends have come some positives. Craig Kimbrel's on another planet.

The Sox may still be a 90-win team. Again, they remain a very good club.

But the wins, the breaks aren’t coming as easily as they did a year ago. You should never have expected they would.