Commentary

Josh Beckett puts stop to negative talk

Updated: April 11, 2011, 3:04 AM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- A teammate of Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett once described the tenacity with which he pitches in such a colorful manner that it's too filthy so say publicly.

But it was Beckett who was filthy against the New York Yankees on Sunday night at Fenway Park. He completely dominated, working eight scoreless innings and allowing only two hits with one walk and 10 strikeouts to help Boston to a much-needed 4-0 victory.

[+] EnlargeJosh Beckett
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonIn limiting the Yankees to two hits over eight shutout innings, Josh Beckett yielded only three fly ball outs.

It was Dustin Pedroia who made the colorful comment about Beckett in the past, saying the pitcher uses every bit of his anatomy to help the club win. At a time when the Red Sox desperately needed a quality start from their rotation, Beckett dug deep and delivered.

"He was Josh, man. He was lights out," Pedroia said Sunday night.

It was Beckett's 11th career game with at least 10 strikeouts, his first since July 27, 2009. The two hits allowed were the fewest in his 34 career outings of at least eight innings. The last pitcher to work at least eight innings, allow two hits or fewer and record 10 Ks for the Sox was Pedro Martinez on July 25, 2002 against Tampa. And Beckett is the first Red Sox pitcher since Ray Culp (1968) to accomplish that feat against the Yankees.

He produced 11 ground-ball outs and just three outs in the air.

"Josh was incredible," Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said. "He gave us a great game and great pickup for us, to win the series, our first series. We start again tomorrow."

Safe to say it was a dominating performance by Beckett, and it was a welcome sign for the Red Sox.

"It's welcome to see anybody pitch like that," manager Terry Francona said. "But he was really good. He made pitches all night to a good lineup, especially with the score the way it was for most of the game. If you make a mistake, then all of a sudden, but he never did."

Beckett had command of the game from beginning to end. He was efficient with all of his pitches, especially his two-seam fastball, and he was able to change speeds effectively. He had the confidence to throw his breaking ball in all counts and kept the Yankees guessing.

Beckett retired the first seven batters he faced before allowing a one-out single to Eric Chavez in the top of the third. Beckett then drilled Russell Martin to put runners on first and second. Things could have gotten ugly, but Beckett gained his composure and was able to get Brett Gardner to hit into a double play.

"They definitely have a good lineup," Beckett said. "The strikeouts, they're great, but the biggest pitch I had to make was the double-play ball I got Gardner on. If he hits that anywhere else, it's so hard to turn a double play."

Pedroia was able to turn a spectacular unassisted double play to end the inning and keep the Yankees at bay.

"Josh was unbelievable," Pedroia said. "That was pretty darn good."

With Boston taking a 1-0 lead in its half of the third, Beckett got into another slight jam in the top of the fourth when he allowed a one-out walk to Mark Teixeira, followed by a base hit by Robinson Cano.

That's when the captain stepped in. Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek asked for time and visited the mound.

Beckett then retired the next 14 batters he faced en route to his first victory of 2011.

"He's just so calming," Beckett of Varitek's presence behind the plate. "He puts on that face. He's calming, and [Jarrod Saltalamacchia] does that too. Not to take anything away from Salty, Tek and I were really clicking. We do that a lot."

After retiring the side in order for the fourth consecutive inning in the eighth, Francona decided it was enough for Beckett. He finished with 103 pitches, and with the Red Sox holding a 3-0 lead at that point (they taked on a run in their half of the eighth), Francona had no intentions of sending his starter back out for the ninth.

"No," Francona responded quickly when asked if he considered keeping Beckett in the game. "It would have been right in the middle of the lineup, and if he walks a guy, or there's an error or hit … he pitched great, but no. We'd like Pap to have a nice, fresh inning."

Beckett has not thrown a complete game since 2009, and when asked if he wanted to go back out for the ninth, he simply said: "It's not my decision."

Many times in the past Beckett was considered a solid stopper for the Red Sox. When the club needed a quality start from the right-hander for whatever reason, he usually delivered. What makes his outing Sunday night impressive is the fact that history was not on his side going in.

Beckett entered the game with a 6.26 ERA in 22 career starts against the Yankees. Also, New York starter CC Sabathia was 4-0 in his previous seven starts against Boston. Beckett won this round, and it couldn't have come at a better time.

Beckett said he wasn't focused on his team's 1-7 start and the subpar performances of his fellow starters this season. He was only concentrating on the Yankees.

"When our day comes, we're not thinking about what happened yesterday, two days ago or what's going to happen in the future. Everybody's trying to do their thing. We haven't been getting many breaks."

The Red Sox didn't need any breaks Sunday as Beckett was in total control.

"It was great, one of his best," Varitek said. "We needed a good quality start, especially when you have that other guy [Sabathia] on the mound over there. We got a huge quality start out of Josh. He pitched eight strong, perfect innings."

Beckett struggled and was inconsistent in 2010. In fact, he doesn't remember many quality outings from last season.

The Red Sox will certainly remember his performance on Sunday.

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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