BOSTON Josh Beckett delivered exactly what the Red Sox needed.
With the team mired in its worst start in decades -- and the starting pitching bearing a large portion of the responsibility for that -- Beckett delivered a gem, shutting down the Yankees as the Sox got their second win of the season, 4-0.
Right from the very beginning he was commanding all his pitches, and . . . when he opens up the plate with that two-seamer to the lefties, it seems like it opens up the entire plate, manager Terry Francona said. Commanded his breaking ball, threw it in all counts. He established to where they couldnt sit on a pitch because he was changing speeds, going back and forth. Think he ended up with one walk. Really, really good.
Beckett (1-1, 2.08 ERA) went eight innings, allowing just two hits and a walk, with 10 strikeouts. It was his best performance in a very long time.
The erstwhile ace said he felt some sense of responsibility to deliver.
I think we all do that, he said. When our day comes to pitch, were not thinking about what happened yesterday or two days ago or the future. I think everybodys trying to do their thing and we havent been getting a lot of breaks.
Beckett set the tone with his first batter, striking out Brett Gardner looking at a curveball. After Derek Jeter grounded out to Marco Scutaro at shortstop, Beckett struck out Mark Teixeira looking at a fastball. He struck out six of the nine batters in the Yankees lineup.
Five of his strikeouts came on curveballs.
Obviously, the curveball gives me another weapon, he said. I felt like I kind of had both of them going a little bit because early in the game I threw some early in the count to get back in or get ahead or establish it or whatever, and I think that set it up for later.
For Francona, though, Becketts two-seam fastball was the key pitch.
When hes able to establish that two-seamer to lefties, thats where I always feel like the plate opens up, Francona said. And he did it early in the game and its a good feeling. Ive seen him enough now to where, to me, thats where he really is, hes okay.
On this night, Beckett was more than okay. He faced more than the minimum in just two innings. In the third, Jorge Posada struck out, swinging at a curveball, Eric Chavez singled, and Beckett hit Russell Martin with a pitch. But Beckett got Gardner to end the inning on a 4-6-3 double play.
In the fourth, he gave up a one-out walk to Teixeira and a single to Robinson Cano before striking out Curtis Granderson swinging at a fastball, and getting Nick Swisher to ground out to Dustin Pedroia at second.
Beckett retired the final 14 batters he faced. His offense gave him a 1-0 lead in the fourth, but it wasnt until Marco Scutaros bases-loaded double in the seventh scored David Ortiz (walk) and J.D. Drew (walk), to give Beckett some breathing room.
They definitely have a good lineup, Beckett said. The strikeouts, theyre great, but the biggest pitch I had to make was the double play ball that got Gardner out. If he hits that anywhere else, its so hard to turn a double play.
Beckett had at least one strikeout in each of his innings. It was his 11th career 10-plus strikeout performance, but first since July 27, 2009, against Oakland.
Beckett gave little indication that this type of sterling performance was about to be delivered. Entering the game he had a career 6.26 ERA against the Yankees. In his last outing, April 5 in Cleveland, he took the loss giving up three runs on five hits and four walks, needing 106 pitches to get through five innings.
I dont know, Beckett said. You just take it day by day. You're not waiting on the magic bullet. Theres no magic bullet. You just go out there and you deal with what youve got that day.
We still got a long way to go. I feel good about my outing, yes. I went eight innings, saved the bullpen a little bit. We still got a long way to go.
Francona, though, saw some signs.
I think his stuff has been fine, he said. I think its been, a couple of the games at the end of spring training he wasnt throwing his breaking ball for strikes. He was leaving the two-seamer over the middle of the plate. Stuffs really the same, velocity, all that stuff. Just his fastball at times, it creeped up above the knees. Hes always been keeping his changeup down all spring going into this start. But when hes establishing the fastball and then hes flipping the curveball in for strikes, its a nice combination.
Maureen Mullen is on Twitter athttp:twitter.commaureenamullen