McAdam: Beckett's test starts now

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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

New MLB labor deal: All-Star Game no longer determines home field in World Series

New MLB labor deal: All-Star Game no longer determines home field in World Series

IRVING, Texas -- Baseball players and owners reached a tentative agreement on a five-year labor contract Wednesday night, a deal that will extend the sport's industrial peace to 26 years since the ruinous fights in the first two decades of free agency.

After days of near round-the-clock talks, negotiators reached a verbal agreement about 3 1/2 hours before the expiration of the current pact. Then they worked to draft a memorandum of understanding, which must be ratified by both sides.

"It's great! Another five years of uninterrupted baseball," Oakland catcher Stephen Vogt said in a text message.

In announcing the agreement, Major League Baseball and the players' association said they will make specific terms available when drafting is complete.

"Happy it's done, and baseball is back on," Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy said.

As part of the deal, the experiment of having the All-Star Game determine which league gets home-field advantage in the World Series will end after 14 years, a person familiar with the agreement told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal had not yet been signed.

Instead, the pennant winner with the better regular-season record will open the Series at home.

Another important change: The minimum time for a stint on the disabled list will be reduced from 15 days to 10.

The luxury tax threshold rises from $189 million to $195 million next year, $197 million in 2018, $206 million in 2019, $209 million in 2020 and $210 million in 2021.

Tax rates increase from 17.5 percent to 20 percent for first offenders, remain at 30 percent for second offenders and rise from 40 percent to 50 percent for third offenders. There is a new surtax of 12 percent for teams $20 million to $40 million above the threshold, 42.5 percent for first offenders more than $40 million above the threshold and 45 percent for subsequent offenders more than $40 million above.

Union head Tony Clark, presiding over a negotiation for the first time, said in a statement the deal "will benefit all involved in the game and leaves the game better for those who follow."

Key changes involve the qualifying offers clubs can make to their former players after they become free agents - the figure was $17.2 million this year. If a player turns down the offer and signs elsewhere, his new team forfeits an amateur draft pick, which usually had been in the first round under the old deal.

Under the new rules, a player can receive a qualifying offer only once in his career and will have 10 days to consider it instead of seven. A club signing a player who declined a qualifying offer would lose its third-highest amateur draft pick if it is a revenue-sharing receiver, its second- and fifth-highest picks (plus a loss of $1 million in its international draft pool) if it pays luxury tax for the just-ended season, and its second-highest pick (plus $500,000 in the international draft pool) if it is any other team.

A club losing a free agent who passed up a qualifying offer would receive an extra selection after the first round of the next draft if the player signed a contract for $50 million or more and after competitive balance round B if under $50 million. However, if that team pays luxury tax, the extra draft pick would drop to after the fourth round.

Among other details:

-For a team $40 million or more in excess of the luxury tax threshold, its highest selection in the next amateur draft will drop 10 places.

-While management failed to obtain an international draft of amateurs residing outside the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada, it did get a hard cap on each team's annual bonus pool for those players starting at $4.75 million for the signing period that begins next July 2.

-There is no change to limits on active rosters, which remain at 25 for most of the season and 40 from Sept. 1 on.

-Smokeless tobacco will be banned for all new players, those who currently do not have at least one day of major league service.

-The regular season will expand from 183 days to 187 starting in 2018, creating four more scheduled off days. There are additional limitations on the start times of night games on getaway days.

-The minimum salary rises from $507,500 to $535,000 next year, $545,000 in 2018 and $555,000 in 2019, with cost-of-living increases the following two years; the minor league minimum for a player appearing on the 40-man roster for at least the second time goes up from $82,700 to $86,500 next year, $88,000 in 2018 and $89,500 in 2019, followed by cost-of-living raises.

-The drop-off in slot values in the first round of the amateur draft will be lessened.

-Oakland's revenue-sharing funds will be cut to 75 percent next year, 50 percent in 2018, 25 percent in 2019 and then phased out.

-As part of the drug agreement, there will be increased testing, players will not be credited with major league service time during suspensions, and biomarker testing for HGH will begin next year.

Negotiators met through most of Tuesday night in an effort to increase momentum in the talks, which began during spring training. This is the third straight time the sides reached a new agreement before the old contract expired, but a deal was struck eight weeks in advance in 2006 and three weeks ahead of expiration in 2011.

Talks took place at a hotel outside Dallas where the players' association held its annual executive board meeting.

Clark, the first former player to serve as executive director of the union, and others set up in a meeting room within earshot of a children's choir practicing Christmas carols. A man dressed as Santa Claus waited nearby.

Baseball had eight work stoppages from 1972-95, the last a 7 1/2-month strike in 1994-95 that led to the first cancellation of the World Series in 90 years. The 2002 agreement was reached after players authorized a strike and about 3 1/2 hours before the first game that would have been impacted by a walkout.

The peace in baseball is in contrast to the recent labor histories of other major sports. The NFL had a preseason lockout in 2011, the NBA lost 240 games to a lockout that same year and the NHL lost 510 games to a lockout in 2012-13.