McAdam: Beckett's test starts now

402907.jpg

McAdam: Beckett's test starts now

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam

In this, his comeback season, Josh Beckett was going to be the Red Sox' difference maker in the post-season.

With a World Series clinching-win at Yankee Stadium in 2003 with the Florida Marlins and a dominant month of October with the Red Sox in 2007, Beckett had already established his playoff bonafides.

Beckett wasn't healthy in 2008 and, with the Red Sox being swept in three games in 2009 and missing the post-season altogether in 2010, this fall was going to be his re-entry into that exclusive club of Big Game Pitchers.

But fate has intervened.

Thanks to the Red Sox' nosedive this month, October has arrived early for Beckett. The big reveal can't wait.

Friday night is the night.

A sense of urgency envelops the Sox. Following their 9-2 thrashing by the Tampa Bay Rays Thursday night, the club's lead in the wild card race is down to three with 13 games remaining.

On Sunday, the Rays will enjoy a decided pitching advantage (David Price vs. Tim Wakefield). If the Sox are going to gain a split of their four-game showdown with the Rays, Beckett has to win Friday night against James Shields.

Shields, of course, will be formidable. Last weekend at Tropicana Field, he came within two outs of a complete-game win. He's beaten the Red Sox twice already this season and lost another start in which he gave up just three runs in eight innings.

So Beckett not only has to pitch well, but he's got to outpitch one of the best starters in the American League tonight.

With a playoff spot at stake.

No pressure, or anything.

Of course, Beckett long ago proved that he enjoys the pressure. It didn't bother him when Jack McKeon pitched him in short rest in Game 6 in 2003, when he was all of 23, with 17 major league wins on his resume.

It didn't bother him in 2007 when, with the Sox facing elimination in the ALCS against Cleveland, he went eight innings in Game 5 and yielded just one run.

The circumstances aren't exactly ideal this evening.

Beckett hasn't pitched since Labor Day when he left the mound in the fourth inning, hampered by a sprained ankle. He missed his next start as Sox were summarily swept at Tropicana Field.

There was talk earlier in the week that Beckett's return would come Thursday night in the opener of the series, but the Red Sox decided it would be better to wait another night. Or maybe the Red Sox wanted their best matched against Tampa Bay's.

Maybe Beckett would have won Thursday's game and given the Red Sox momentum, cooled off the Rays' comeback chances. But that's a moot point now.

It's uncertain how long Beckett will be allowed to go Friday night. It's unlikely he'll be allowed to reach, say, 100 pitches, pitching for the first time in 11 days. And then there's the uncertainty about his ankle, with which he pushes off.

If Beckett's mechanics are at all compromised, if he is off just a little bit, the Sox won't get the same pitcher who's compiled a 2.49 ERA, and who should, with some better fortune, have 17 or wins, rather than 12.

Beckett has been superb against the Yankees this season, beating them four times in five starts with a 1.85. Those outings were encouraging in the first month of the season when everyone was searching for clues as to whether Beckett would rebound from his nightmarish 2010 season.

He answered those questions sufficiently by early June, by which time he had already beaten the Yanks three times.

Now comes another test Friday night, the schedule sped up, the big stage arriving two weeks earlier than scheduled.

Unless the Red Sox find a way to hold off the Rays, there will be no post-season this year for the Red Sox.

The playoffs can wait for now.

Josh Beckett's test is here.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Pomeranz gives up three runs in Red Sox loss to Blue Jays

Pomeranz gives up three runs in Red Sox loss to Blue Jays

Starter Drew Pomeranz gives up three runs on five hits in four innings of work in the Red Sox' 3-2 loss to the Blue Jays on Friday.

Lou Merloni breaks down Pomeranz's start and explains why he should be in the starting rotation to begin the season.

Sox' lack of homegrown starters an understandable problem to Yanks' Cashman

Sox' lack of homegrown starters an understandable problem to Yanks' Cashman

The dearth of homegrown starting pitching for the Red Sox is talked about almost as much as every Tom Brady post on Instagram.

Red Sox fans may take some solace in knowing their team isn’t the only one dealing with this problem.

In an interview with MLB.com's Mark Feinsand, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman didn’t talk about his team’s pitching problems in context of the Red Sox. But the explanation the longtime Yanks boss offered should sound familiar. 

In the biggest of markets, time to develop properly is scarce.

“Yeah. It's a fact,” Cashman said when asked if criticism of their pitching development was fair. “I think part of the process has been certainly where we draft. Because we've had a lot of success, we've not been allowed to tank and go off the board and therefore get access to some of the high-end stuff that plays out to be impactful. Part of it is we can't get out of our own way because we don't have the patience to let guys finish off their development, because if you possess some unique ability that stands out above everybody else -- whether it was Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, now [Luis] Severino and before that [Bryan] Mitchell and Shane Greene -- we're pulling them up before their development is finished.

“Teams like Tampa Bay, for instance, they're going to wait until they have their four pitches down and their innings limits are all exceeded at the minor-league level; they're very disciplined in that approach as they finish off their starters. For us, if I'm looking at my owner and he says, ‘What's our best team we can take north?’ 

“Well, ‘We could take this guy; he's not necessarily 100 percent finished off, but we can stick him in our 'pen. He can be in the back end of our rotation, because he's better than some of the guys we already have,’ and then you cut corners, so I think that probably plays a role in it.”

Not everything is circumstantial, though -- or a deflection. 

“And sometimes we don't make the right decisions, either, when we're making draft selections and signings and stuff like that,” Cashman continued. “On top of it all, playing in New York is a lot different than playing anywhere else.”

We’ve heard that last part about Boston too, here and there.

Cashman was complimentary of his current Sox counterpart, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, whose team Cashman has compared to the Golden State Warriors.

On his feelings when he first heard the Sox were getting Chris Sale:

“When that trade was consummated, that was the first thing I thought about, which was, 'Wow, look at what they've done,' ” Cashman said. “I know how it's going to play out for them. Listen, Steve Kerr does a great job managing that team -- oh, I mean John Farrell. It's a lot of talent and with talent comes pressure to perform. I think Dave Dombrowski has done everything he possibly can to provide that city with a world championship team. They've got 162 games to show it.”