Saturday, June 20, 2009

Beckett lets pitching do the talking

Here's a contrast for you: While the Red Sox were stuffing their No. 3 starter in an MRI tube and diagnosing weakness in his arm that almost certainly will land him on the disabled list, their No. 1 starter needed just 94 pitches to toss a complete game against the same team that had absolutely pounded the aforementioned No. 3 starter the night before.

Even better, it was a tremendous bounce-back effort from an ace who had allowed six earned runs in six innings the last time he pitched. He gave a taxed bullpen a night off, and he gave a packed house at Fenway Park something to cheer from start to finish.

"He had good, quality location with his fastball, changed the tilt of his fastball, threw his sinker and four-seamer," catcher Jason Varitek said. "I don't think he had a great breaking ball tonight. He had good break to it, but he didn't have as good of a feel. He mixed in some changeups and cutters. Strike one with quality location."

"I thought he pitched unbelievable," shortstop Nick Green said. "His location was good with his fastball again today, and he was throwing everything else for strikes, too. He was fun to play behind, and he made it a quick game and got a lot of outs quick, so it was fun."

"It was good," Josh Beckett said.

The Red Sox ace allowed five hits and struck out 11 seven en route to his first complete game of the season. He had a chance to let things get out of hand in the eighth inning but started the inning-ending double play himself, fielding a one-hopper and throwing a strike to Green at second base.

"J.D. (Drew) thought I was going to put my glove down and swing at it," Green said. "It was a perfect throw, so it's easy to turn like that."

"That was probably the biggest pitch," Beckett said.

He then needed just five pitches -- including two 96-mile-an-hour fastballs -- to retire the side in order in the ninth inning. His velocity seemed to dip a little bit in the middle innings, but he looked as strong in the ninth inning as he did in the first.

"The whole game of baseball is predicated on the fastball," Beckett said. "It wouldn't do you any good to go out there and throw nothing but changeups if you don't throw any fastballs."

The 3-0 victory pushed the team's lead in the American League East to three games over the Yankees, losers by a 2-1 score in Florida on Saturday.

"We played good defense and scored enough runs," Beckett said.

The Braves had jumped all over Daisuke Matsuzaka on Friday. Nate McLouth hit the first pitch into the bullpen, and Matsuzaka never really recovered. Beckett threw strikes from the start -- he missed the strike zone just twice in the first inning, and one of those was a pitch in the dirt that led to Chipper Jones being thrown out trying to get to second base.

The more aggressive the Braves got, the better the Red Sox ace got.

"Efficiency sometimes is how aggressive they are," Varitek said. "They were aggressive and put some balls in play earlier in the count, and that's big for a power pitcher like Josh."

"We had a good plan going in, and I think we executed it really well," Beckett said.

The result was that he outpitched former Red Sox star Derek Lowe, who pitched 6 1/3 solid innings in his first trip back to Fenway Park since he received his World Series ring four years ago.

"D-Lowe, that's the guy we've seen so much," Francona said. "When it's down, there's not a lot you can do with it. You know what's coming, but it's hard to get it in the air. One inning, we squared up three balls and didn't have much to show for it. We stayed in the middle, and then he really established the two-seamer down and the breaking ball, and it was hard for us to do much with it. ... He was the guy we remember when he was going good. That was pretty effective."

"I'm trying to stay pitch-to-pitch and just worry about myself," Beckett said. "I can't worry about what everyone else is doing."

He did, however, notice the ovation Lowe got from the Red Sox faithful upon his exit from the game, a well-deserved tribute for the critical postseason innings he pitched in 2004.

"The Boston fans, they don't forget their guys," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "You would absolutely think that they would give him a standing ovation."

"Yeah, I saw it," Beckett said. "It was good."

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