Notes: Third straight strong start for Beckett


Notes: Third straight strong start for Beckett

By Sean McAdam

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Three starts do not a season make, but this much is known about Josh Beckett in 2011: he looks a lot more like the Josh Beckett who dominated hitters in 2007 and 2009 then he did last year.

Beckett didn't get the win in the Red Sox' 4-2, 11-inning victory over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on Thursday night, but that took nothing away from his performance: eight innings, two runs allowed on three hits, and 125 pitches, the second-most he's ever thrown in a game.

"I made pitches when I needed to -- except for one,'' said Beckett.

That one, a 3-and-2 pitch to Torii Hunter with a man on in the seventh, resulted in a game-tying homer for the Angels. Until then, Beckett's only hit allowed was a Baltimore chop by Erick Aybar to lead off the sixth. Beckett had held the Angels hitless through the first five innings.

In his last three starts, Beckett had thrown 23 innings and allowed just three earned runs. His ERA for the season stands at 1.93. Thursday night, he faced three batters over the minimum.

"It's nice to have confidence in all my pitches,'' said Beckett. "I have that right now.''

"He was,'' concluded Terry Francona, "tremendous.''

So tremendous, in fact, that Francona sent Beckett out for the eighth after he was at 108 pitches.

Francona noted that all of the Red Sox pitchers are working with an extra day of rest and Beckett will get another before his next turn, thanks to Monday's off-day in Baltimore. The fact that the the team's three best relievers -- Daniel Bard, Bobby Jenks and Jonathan Papelbon -- had all pitched Wednesday in Oakland also influenced his decision to send Beckett back out.

"From the first pitch of the game,'' the manager obsereved, "he threw all of his pitches for strikes . . . He pitched like he's supposed to.''

The Sox seemed to win almost in spite of themselves, stranding 15 baserunners and going just 2-for-18 with runners in scoring position.

Boston had 10 walks and 8 hits and still managed only four runs in 11 innings.

"I'll take 15 runners stranded with a win,'' said Adrian Gonzalez, who snapped a 2-2 tie in the 11th with a run-scoring double. "It doesn't matter how many hits you get or how many you strand if you come away with a win.''

Gonzalez hasn't had the kind of impact he might have liked through the first 18 games. He has just one homer and before Thursday night, he was tied for fourth on the team in RBI.

But with the game on the line Thursday, Gonzalez came through, roping a double to right to plate J.D. Drew, snapping a 2-2 tie in the top of the 11th.

"I was looking for a ball up,'' he recounted, "just looking for a sacrifice fly. Angels reliever Rich Thompson threw a cutter up-and-in and it stayed flat and I was able to get to it.''

Gonzalez labeled the at-bat ''the situation you want to be in, especially in extra innings.''

Kevin Youkilis left the game in the middle of the second inning after fouling a ball of his left shin during a first-inning at-bat.

He underwent x-rays, which were negative. Youkilis will be re-evaluated again Friday.

"He's pretty sore,'' said Francona after the game.

The injury forced Francona to insert Marco Scutaro at short and move Jed Lowrie, who had started the game at short, to third.

It also meant that Scutaro was the team's cleanup hitter for the rest of the night.

Dustin Pedroia first rolled, then jammed his surgically-repaired left foot into the second-base bag in the third on a successful steal attempt.

"It was kind of like a stinger,'' said Pedroia. "It took a couple of minutes to get the feeling back in there.''

Trainer Mike Reinold and Francona came out to check on Pedroia, who remained in the game.

Pedroia reached base five times in six plate appearances with three singles and two walks.

Jason Varitek's struggles continued at the plate. He was 0-for-3 with three strikeouts (plus a walk and a hit batsman) to drop his average to .043. He has just one hit in 23 at-bats with nine strikeouts.

When asked about his slump, Varitek, utilizing some gallows humors, responded in mock outrage: "I'm freaking locked in!''

Turning more serious, he noted that he was "a little too fast left-handed. It's getting in there and settling down. Fortunately, I can help us win games in other ways.

"I can't hit much worse. I've never hit this bad. I need to use my eyes a little better.''

"If we're shaking hands after a game,'' said Francona, "Varitek did enough.''

While unwilling to say his view of the catchingsituation has changed any, Francona said before the game he also plans to use Saturday in the thirdgame of the series with Daisuke Matsuzaka pitching.

"Iwanted to catch both Varitek and Jarrod Saltalamacchia two games eachhere,'' said Francona. "Tek's done such a good job with Beckett.''

Varitek will also catch Daisuke Matsuzaka Saturday.

Saltalamacchiahas struggled defensively, unable to slow other teams from running onhim. The Angels, of course, are a particularly aggressive team on thebasepaths.

Francona added that he'll have to monitor Varitek's catching load due to the captain's age (39).

"That'ssomething we need to think about,'' said Francona. "He's not 70 and heworks hard at being in good shape. But I just want to make sure he'snot being asked to do too much.''

Sean McAdam can be reached at Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

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