By Maureen Mullen
CSNNE.com Follow @maureenamullen
BOSTON The Red Sox can breathe a little more easily. Josh Beckett -- who had not been on the mound since Sept. 5 in Toronto, when he left after 3 23 innings with a sprained right ankle -- did what he is supposed to do.
Anytime someones got a little bit of a layoff, you hope he comes out of the chute strong, said manager Terry Francona. He leaves a breaking ball up to Evan Longoria for a two-run homer in the first inning, so were down two against James Shields. Thats not the best way to play the game but we came back, which was so big.
And we played it even. We got it back quick. They score, we got it back again.
I thought he held his endurance well. Got it up to 109 pitches, made some big pitches when he had to pretty much the whole game.
Beckett earned the win, improving to 13-5 with a 2.50 ERA, as the Sox beat the Rays, 4-3. He did not dominate Tampa Bay, but after a shaky first inning, he settled down and gave his team enough to win and return the Sox lead in the American League wild card race over the Rays to four games.
Thats a tough team, Beckett said. I mean, obviously you got to beat guys in your division, especially when youre in the A.L. East. Basically, most years two teams are going to the playoffs out of this division. I dont know why it always works out that way. It just does. Guys scrap together and put enough runs together. First inning was obviously kind of a debacle. Thats kind of been me throughout my whole career. If you can get to me in the first inning, thats fine. But you just got to buckle down, make pitches when you need to.
Beckett, though, would not take credit for the win.
I pitched six innings, he said. Theres a lot of people that did a lot more for this game than I did. I made a few pitches when I needed to from the second through the sixth. Things worked out. But I think that our offense and our defense really picked me up. They kept coming back every time they scored a run or two runs we scored just as many or one more. So they really deserve the credit.
His offense and defense did much to earn the win. Still, knowing Beckett is healthy is as much a boost to the Sox heading down the stretch and potentially into the playoffs as his performance.
Its welcome anytime, Francona said. The way you put together . . . if you give yourself a chance to win every night, youre going to win some games and we havent done that much lately. If our pitchers are able to stay out there, it gives your offense a chance and youre not playing catch-up.
As tough as the last 10 days have been, in this atmosphere, this is I think why they work all winter. This is exciting. I was as nervous as can be. You cant get that feeling. You know youre going to win, you just dont know how. Some nights you dont, but you always feel like youre going to. Its a great feeling.
"We wouldn't have pitched him if he wasnt ready. We need him to be Beckett. We dont need him to be Beckett in name only. Despite whats been happening we want him to pitch effectively, or have a chance to pitch effectively. We wouldnt have pitched him if we were concerned about him.
Becketts performance and presence on the mound is vital.
Its huge, said Daniel Bard, who pitched a scoreless eighth. Its tough not going for 11 days as a starter. But thats credit to him, putting in the work and maintaining his delivery, stamina, and giving us six solid innings. Thats pretty much what hes done all year for us.
Despite the teams struggles, and his absence from the mound, and his team facing Rays ace James Shields, Beckett said he felt no extra pressure going into the game.
No, he said. Its just a game, you know. Yeah, we need to win. But its not the most important thing going on in my life. Maybe to some people but its not for me.
Despite his protestations, there is no denying it was a big win. It was just the Sox fourth win in September.
A loss would have cut the Sox lead over the Rays in the wild card race to two games with two to play against the Rays, and 10 more overall.
They're all big wins now, Beckett said. We kind of put ourselves in a little bit of a position where all the wins are going to be big from here on out, even when were playing people that were not actually in the race with because the other teams that are in the race are going to be playing games those days as well.
Yeah, it feels pretty good. Were a good team. Its going to happen. Were in a bad stretch at a bad time, kind of like at the beginning of the year. Everybody wrote us off. Nobodys ever bounced back form that but we have and we have a lot of guys in there that pushing through a lot of things, especially this year. The one thing thats not lacking is effort. We get a lot of effort from everybody. We get a few guys healthy and well see what happens.
On this night, the Sox needed a healthy Beckett. They saw what could happen.
Maureen Mullen is on Twitter at http:twitter.commaureenamullen