Saturday, May 23, 2009

Mets' rally ruins Beckett's best start

Josh Beckett sprinted out to the mound before the top of Saturday's eighth inning, well ahead of anyone else in a white uniform. It was almost as if he wanted to get out to the mound so Terry Francona couldn't decide to take him out of the game.

After he'd struck out Angel Pagan (swinging at a 95-mile-an-hour fastball up in the zone) and Carlos Beltran (swinging at an 89-mile-an-hour changeup down and away) to end the inning, he walked off the mound so slowly he barely looked as though he were moving.

Given the way Beckett pitched on Saturday, though, it makes sense for him to have wanted to stay out there as long as possible.

Beckett allowed five hits and one unearned run in eight of the most impressive innings he's thrown all season. He struck out five and walked just one. The only run he allowed came in the first inning after he'd thrown the ball away on a pickoff play to allow Carlos Beltran to get to second; Gary Sheffield then singled home Beltran.

(Here's a question: Wouldn't it make sense to charge a pitcher with an earned run if it was his error?)

He almost prevented even that run from scoring, but he and Mike Lowell got crossed up a little bit on a pop fly in front of the Mets' dugout. Off the bat, Beckett believed he was the only player with a chance to catch it -- and by the time Lowell called him off, there was no way for him to get out of the way.

"At this point in the season, it's probably better not to have a big collision between me and Mike Lowell," he said.

After that -- and after the line drive David Wright rifled straight at Kevin Youkilis -- Beckett was untouchable. He retired 12 in a row after the Sheffield hit and retired the side in order in the second, third, fourth, sixth and eighth innings.

"I thought he was real good," Francona said. "He was very persistent in executing his pitches. I thought he made a lot of pitches -- especially the breaking ball -- that were, if not on (the plate), just off. He stayed with what he wanted to do. He threw some changeups late. ... He was great."

He looked like he might be done after the seventh inning; he'd thrown 103 pitches at that point and left a fastball over the middle of the plate that Luis Castillo hammered on a low line to center field. When Jacoby Ellsbury hauled it in, Beckett punctuated the out with a dramatic fist pump on his way to the dugout.

"That ball actually came back to the middle," he said. "I'd been pounding him in, all three of his at-bats, and I was fortunate that Jacoby got a good jump on that ball."

But he still had one more inning left in him.

"I thought he was throwing the ball extremely well," Francona said. "If a guy comes off and he's about had it, (he'd come out), but he had some more in him."

Said Beckett, who has failed even to get into the seventh inning five times this season, "I owe the bullpen plenty more innings still."

The first fastball Beckett threw in the eighth inning registered at just 89 miles an hour, but he still managed to break the bat of Daniel Murphy with his next pitch and induce a line drive that Nick Green gloved in short center field.

(Also: Talk about a statement game by Nick Green, eh? What's he doing that far out in left field making that sliding catch in the fifth inning?)

Beckett then struck out Pagan and Beltran to end his night.

"He talks so much -- and we all do -- about shut-down innings," Francona said. "He pitched very well. We never worry about him competing."

If Jonathan Papelbon hadn't left his 13th successive fastball out over the middle of the plate for Omir Santos to pound over the Green Monster, Beckett would have earned his fifth win along with shaving more than three-quarters of a run off his ERA.

"You never know with that wall," he said. "It seems like that wall grows sometimes; sometimes it seems like it shrinks. Unfortunately, tonight, it shrunk a little."

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