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

Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

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Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

BOSTON -- “I didn’t feel that love after I made a pitching change in the sixth inning,” Terry Francona said after a 45-second standing ovation from Boston fans upon receiving the MLB Manager of the Year award from the BBWAA Thursday.

It’s without question the love for Francona runs deep in the city. Why wouldn’t it? He was the leader in breaking the 86-year old curse, and wound up winning another World Series title for Boston three years later.

Actually, he was more of a co-leader, working alongside the same person who won the MLB Executive of the Year honors from the BBWAA for 2016.

Theo Epstein -- who received an ovation 17 seconds shorter than Francona, but who’s counting -- reminisced about the Red Sox ownership group that took a chance on a young kid who wasn’t necessarily the ideal candidate to take over as GM of a team, but now that’s helped him build the Chicago Cubs into a winning franchise and establish a great working environment.

This October marks 13 years since the ’04 championship, 10 years since ’07 and six years since the pair left Boston. Without question they’ve left their mark on the city and forever changed Red Sox baseball.

And while the fans showed their undying gratitude for Francona with an ovation almost as long as his acceptance speech, the Indians manager recognized the favor the current Red Sox brass has done for him.

“I’d like to thank Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox for getting Chris Sale the hell out of the Central Division,” Francona said.

Offseason just like any other for Bogaerts

Offseason just like any other for Bogaerts

BOSTON -- At first, 2016 seemed like the “Year of Xander.” It turned out to be the “Year of Mookie,” with Bogaerts dropping off a little as the season progressed.

The Red Sox shortstop saw his average peak at .359 on June 12. At that point he’d played in 61 games, hit eight home runs, 20 doubles and knocked in 44 runs. Although Mookie Betts had six more home runs and three more RBI in that same span, Bogaerts had six more doubles and was hitting 69 points higher.

The two were already locks for the All-Star Game and Bogaerts still had the edge in early MVP talk.

Then things took a turn after the very day Bogaerts saw his average peak.

Over the next 61 games, Bogaerts still managed seven homers, but only had six doubles and 27 RBI, watching his average drop to .307 by the end of that stretch. At first glance, .307 doesn’t seem like an issue, but he dropped 52 points after hitting .253 in that span.

And in his remaining 35 games, Bogaerts only hit .248 -- although he did have six homers.

But throughout it all, Bogaerts never seemed fazed by it. With pitchers and catchers reporting in less than a month, Bogaerts still isn’t worried about the peaks and valleys.

“You go through it as a player, the only one’s who don’t go through that are the ones not playing,” Bogaerts told CSNNE.com before the Boston baseball writers' dinner Thursday. “I just gotta know you’re going to be playing good for sometime, you’re going to be playing bad for sometime.

“Just try to a lot more better times than bad times. It’s just a matter of trusting yourself, trusting your abilities and never doubting yourself. Obviously, you get a lot of doubts when you’re playing bad, but you just be even keeled with whatever situation is presented.”

Bogaerts level head is something often noted by coaches and his teammates, carrying through the days he finds himself lunging left and right for pitches. That’s also carried him through the offseason while maintaining the same preparation from past seasons -- along with putting on some weight.

“I don’t know how much I put on, but I feel strong,” Bogaerts said to CSNNE.com “I mean, I look strong in the mirror.

“Hopefully, I’m in a good position when the season comes because I know I’ll lose [the weight].”