McAdam: Beckett the x-factor vs. Yankees

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McAdam: Beckett the x-factor vs. Yankees

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
A year ago, Josh Beckett had one win against the New York Yankees and a bloated 10.04 ERA against them in five starts.

Not so incidentally, the Yankees finished in a tie for first place in the American League East while the Red Sox lagged behind in third place, far from the playoff picture.

This season, Beckett is 4-0 in five starts against the Yankees with a tidy 2.12 ERA.

No so incidentally, the Red Sox have the best record in the American League, and as September dawns, are virtually assured of reaching the post-season.

Sensing a pattern here?

When Beckett gets blown up against the Sox' main rival, the Red Sox stumble. When he pitches well against them, they thrive.

Four of Beckett's wins this season have come against the Yankees, making him the first Red Sox pitcher since Al Nipper in 1987 to beat them four times in the same season.

On Wednesday night, Beckett had his difficulties. In the sixth inning alone, with the Red Sox leading 4-1, Beckett allowed four runs -- or, more than he had in 27 innings against the Yankees before Wednesday night.

Outfielder Josh Reddick kicked a ball around the right field corner, allowing Eric Chavez to end up on third base, but Beckett could take most of the blame after hitting Mark Teixeira on the foot to open the inning, and, two batters later, walking Nick Swisher.

But that inning was the one slip-up. Other than the four-run fourth, he allowed just one other run and lugged the Sox through the seventh inning, where only Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon were needed from the bullpen.

The Sox are now 11-3 against the Yankees and that dominance helps to explain why they're not only ahead of New York in the standings, but also, ahead of everybody else.

And the starting pitcher in almost half (five) of those Red Sox wins? Beckett.

Jon Lester is essentially repeating the season he had a year ago. So, too, for better or worse, is John Lackey. Daisuke Matsuzaka did little before being shelved for the year.

The X factor, then, is Beckett. Although he's excluded from the team's MVP debate, the case could be made that it is he who is most responsible for their turnaround from a year ago.

''This is the guy we've relied on,'' said an appreciative Terry Francona. "We were hoping he'd come back with a vengeance and he has. He's been so consistent."

It helps that Beckett hasn't had any of the nagging injuries that have marked his sub-par years. Helps, too, that he enjoyed a healthy spring training, when, in other seasons, injuries and illness in March have set Beckett up for failure.

Beckett was determined to bounce back from a poor 2010 (6-6, 5.78). He dedicated himself to a more rigorous off-season training program and has yet to miss a start.

But ask Beckett what's been the difference between this season and last and he answers, in an almost zen-like state, that it's all about executing pitches.

"I think that's what separates good seasons from mediocre seasons or bad seasons," he said.

Understand that Beckett likes self-analysis about as much as a root canal. He loves competing. What he doesn't like is talking about competing.

And so, Beckett offers up some vague generalizations about his bounce-back season.

"I'm a different pitcher now than I was at any time last year," he said.

Of that, there can be no argument. The innings and strikeouts are up, the hits allowed and walks are down. With better run support -- incredibly, Beckett and Lackey are tied with the same number of wins, despite the fact that the former's ERA is less than half that of the the latter -- Beckett might have 16 or 17 wins and be on the outskirts of the Cy Young Award discussion.

The Red Sox still have a month to make a decision about their No. 3 starter in the playoffs. But there can be no debate about who will be their No. 1. And should the Sox and Yankees keep their date for the ALCS, it's clear who should start Game 1 for the Red Sox.

Because without an improved Josh Beckett, the Red Sox wouldn't be worried about their playoff rotation, only about getting there.

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

With trade rumors finally over, Sale shifts attention to dominating in Boston

With trade rumors finally over, Sale shifts attention to dominating in Boston

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- Chris Sale had been the subject of so many trade rumors for the past year that he admitted feeling somewhat like "the monkey in the middle.”

On Tuesday, the rumors became reality when Sale learned he was being shipped to the Red Sox in exchange for a package of four prospects.
    
It meant leaving the Chicago White Sox, the only organization he'd known after being drafted 13th overall by Chicago in 2010. Leaving, he said, is "bittersweet.''
     
Now, he can finally move forward.
     
"Just to have the whole process out of the way and get back to some kind of normalcy will be nice,” said Sale Wednesday morning in a conference call with reporters.

Sale had been linked in trade talks to many clubs, most notably the Washington Nationals, who seemed poised to obtain him as recently as Monday night.

Instead, Sale has changed his Sox from White to Red.

"I'm excited,” he said. "You're talking about one of the greatest franchises ever. I'm excited as anybody. I don't know how you couldn't be. I've always loved going to Boston, pitching in Boston. (My wife and I) both really like the city and (Fenway Park) is a very special place.”
     
It helps that Sale lives in Naples, Fla., just 20 or so miles from Fort Myers, the Red Sox' spring training base. Sale played his college ball at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers.
     
"Being able to stay in our house a couple of (more) months,” gushed Sale, “it couldn't have worked out better personally or professionally for us.”
     
Sale joins a rotation with two Cy Young Award winners (David Price and reigning winner Rick Porcello), a talented core of mostly younger position players and an improved bullpen.

"There's no reason not to be excited right now,” said Sale. "You look at the talent on this team as a whole... you can't ask for much more.”

Sale was in contact with Price Tuesday, who was the first Red Sox player to reach out. He also spoke with some mutual friends of Porcello.

That three-headed monster will carry the rotation, and the internal competition could lift them all to new heights.
     
"The good thing in all of this,'' Sale said, "is that I can definitely see a competition (with) all of us pushing each others, trying to be better. No matter who's pitching on a (given) night, we have as good or better chance the next night. That relieves some of the pressure that might build on some guys (who feel the need to carry the team every start).”

But Sale isn't the least bit interested in being known as the ace of the talented trio.

"I don’t think that matters,” he said. "When you have a group of guys who come together and fight for the same purpose, nothing else really matters. We play for a trophy, not a tag.”

Sale predicted he would be able to transition from Chicago to Boston without much effort, and didn't seem overwhelmed by moving to a market where media coverage and fan interest will result in more scrutiny.

"It's fine, it's a part of it, it's reality,” he said. "I'm not a big media guy. I'm not on Twitter. I'm really focused on the in-between-the-lines stuff. That's what I love, playing the game of baseball. Everything else will shake out.”

After playing before small crowds and in the shadow of the  Cubs in Chicago, Sale is ready to pitch before sellout crowds at Fenway.

"I'm a firm believer that energy can be created in ballparks,” he said. "I don't think there’s any question about it. When you have a packed house and everyone's on their feet in the eighth inning, that gives every player a jolt.”