By Jessica Camerato and Maureen Mullen
BOSTON - Call it swagger, call it confidence, call it what you want.
Whatever it is, the Boston Red Sox (3-10) like when Josh Beckett has it - and he brought it to the mound with him on Saturday against the Toronto Blue Jays (7-7).
Beckett (2-1) recorded nine strikeouts in seven innings while allowing only three hits and one earned run in the Red Sox' 4-1 victory.
Hes always been the leader of this staff, Terry Francona said after the game. I know he didnt pitch Opening Day, but guys look up to him. When hes going good and when he feels good about himself, hes got that, I dont know if its persona or swagger, I dont know how youd want to say it, but he gives our ball club a lot of confidence.
After giving up five hits and three earned runs in his first appearance of the season, Beckett has won his past two outings. He has struck out 19, given up only three walks, and posted an ERA of 0.60 during his back-to-back victories. Opponents are batting just .102 against him during this stretch.
Beckett is already noticing an improvement from last season, in which he went 6-6 with a 5.78 ERA.
I think execution-wise and health-wise and everything, I definitely think my last two starts have been a notch above what I was most of the year last year, he said.
Francona praised Beckett for using all of his pitches and working his way back if he fell behind in the count. Jason Varitek noticed him making adjustments to stay on top.
I didnt see us behind too too much, but he continued to make quality pitches if he did fall behind, Varitek said. He had a good game plan. We had to mix in a little more cutters today than we did in his last outing, but sometimes you have to adapt to what you have.
Beckett had enough on Saturday to give the Red Sox their third win of the season, one they hope will give them momentum.
Its nice to pitch well, Beckett said. Weve got to win some more games, however we got to do it, if we got to win 15-12, whatever. Weve got to win games. Like I said, its nice to pitch well but it doesnt make it any easier on the other days.
The good news is that everyone on the Red Sox is trying to boost the teams run production. The not-so-good news is that sometimes trying too hard can be counterproductive, resulting in an increased number of men left on base. On Saturday, the Red Sox left 11 stranded.
I think for the most part when you see guys in the lineup not getting it done and then its your turn, you press and you try harder, Adrian Gonzalez (1-3, 1 RBI) said. Usually that doesnt come out with good results. Ive been in it a lot of times in the past where its just a group effort, everyones trying so hard to get that run in, that it just doesnt happen.
Gonzalez expects there to be a domino effect once players start hitting the ball.
When we start getting those to fall and getting more hits, it will just kind of snowball into a point where were going to be hitting .500 for a period of time, he said. Thats just the game and weve just got to keep going out there and grinding out at bats.
Matt Albers will make a pair of rehab appearances in Pawtucket on Sunday and Tuesday. The right handed pitcher has been on the 15-day disabled list since April 6 with an oblique strain.
I hope to go down there and get into a game situation again, he said on Saturday. Thatll be nice. Ill try to get the juices flowing and make sure my arm feels good and everything. Thats what I hope to accomplish.
Albers has pitched in two games this season, recording three strikeouts and two walks without giving up a run over two innings. He is looking forward to getting back on the mound.
I think it just makes me get back out there and face real hitters and get some real at-bats, he said. I want to just keep doing what I was doing. Hopefully come in and be able to throw strikes and get outs.
As the Red Sox get their season underway, their fellow Boston athletes on the Celtics will kick off their postseason on Sunday against the New York Knicks. Many of the Sox are eager to see how the Cs will perform.
I want to see Rajon Rondo, said Mike Cameron. I just want to see him get back in his game, going off. And I want to see how The Truth handles Melo and see Ray Allen do his thing - sharpshooter, marksman.
Said Carl Crawford, I just like to watch good basketball. I know they have a good team and a highly competitive team, so Id like to see what theyre going to do.
Jed Lowries first-inning single was the first hit by a Red Sox lead-off batter in the first inning of a game. It took 13 games to accomplish the feat. Jacoby Ellsbury reached base by a walk on April 2 in Texas, and Carl Crawford reached when he was hit by a pitch on April 12 against Tampa Bay. It was Lowries first career appearance in the lead-off spot.
The Jays stole three bases in the game, getting caught once. That gives them seven steals in the series, against one caught stealing. Red Sox catchers are 3-for-19 (15.8 percent) throwing out attempted base stealers this season.
Ellsbury reached base three times two walks, and getting hit by a pitch once. It was the second time he has reached base three times this season. The last was Opening Day, April 1, in Texas.
Jessica Camerato is on Twitter at http:twitter.comjcameratonba
Maureen Mullen is on Twitter at http:twitter.commaureenamullen