Beckett, Red Sox stop Indians
Right-hander hurls seven strong innings, giving up two runs
BOSTON -- Blistering hot. No, not Josh Beckett's right middle finger, which was in top working condition after missing two starts with an avulsion. But the Red Sox themselves are in an overheated state at the moment.
By riding Beckett's powerful right arm and the sweltering bat of Kevin Youkilis to a 4-2 victory over the Indians on Tuesday night, the Sox stretched their latest winning streak to five games while improving their Major League-leading record to 36-15.
These are good times for the Red Sox, who have won 17 of their last 22 games. While maintaining their 11 1/2-game lead over the Orioles, the Red Sox extended their edge to a whopping 14 1/2 games against the Yankees, who will be at Fenway Park for three games this weekend.
Beckett had gone 15 days without pitching, and it was all but impossible to tell. By displaying the exact same form (seven innings, three hits, two runs, seven strikeouts) as was commonplace before he went on the disabled list, Beckett tied John Lackey for the Major League lead in wins.
Making a strong push to make the All-Star team for the first time, Beckett is now 8-0 with a 2.65 ERA.
"I think it's really a testament to his work ethic," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "He went down there [to the bullpen] the last two weeks and did a lot of things. You know, five innings of simulated hitters -- and things like that. For him to not really skip a beat is pretty phenomenal. He came right out from the get-go and established all three of his pitches just like he's been doing."
It was evident early on that rust would not be an issue for Beckett and neither would any lingering finger woes.
"That was one of those things I definitely worked on in the last three or four days, convincing myself that I'm fine, that my finger is fine," Beckett said. "You replay some of the good pitches that you've thrown in the past to try to visualize the way you were getting outs. It ended up paying off."
If any Sox player has done Beckett's share on the other side of the ball, it's been Youkilis, who extended his hitting streak to 21 games by producing his ninth consecutive multihit game. Youkilis, who put one over the Green Monster a night after hitting an inside-the-park home run, became the first Sox player since Jim Rice in 1978 to have nine multihit games in a row. The first baseman is hitting .358.
"He's a really good young improving hitter who is feeling good about himself," Francona said. "That's for sure."
With David Ortiz out of the lineup for a third straight day with tightness in his hamstrings, Youkilis seamlessly moved into the No. 3 hole of the batting order. Ortiz will be back in there Wednesday night.
"We'll take [Ortiz] any day of the week," Youkilis said. "It's great that we're winning games. It just goes to show that this team is not made on just one player. It just shows you this is a good team. It's not about one player; it's not about one pitcher."
It was Youkilis who gave Beckett and the Sox a quick lead, belting an RBI double off the Monster in the bottom of the first. Jason Varitek hit a mammoth homer over everything in left field in the fifth to make it 2-0.
After a rough year at the plate in 2006, Varitek appears to be back in his comfort zone. He's hitting .270 with five homers and 25 RBIs.
What was his approach on the Monster mash against Indians starter Jeremy Sowers?
"I hit a cutter in," Varitek said. "I got two strikes and was just trying to make sure I saw the ball well, and I was able to get the good part of the bat on the ball."
Youkilis lined one over the wall in left in the sixth, and Dustin Pedroia walked with the bases loaded later in that frame to boost the lead to 4-0.
The Indians had their first breakthrough against Beckett in the seventh, thanks to an RBI triple by Travis Hafner and a fielder's-choice grounder by Victor Martinez. Beckett got through the rest of the inning without further damage, ending his night by tipping his cap to an appreciative crowd.
"If you can take anything good out of that seventh inning, it's that my finger didn't blow up on me," Beckett said. "The bullpen came in and did a great job. We scored enough runs."
Once Beckett exited stage right, Brendan Donnelly and Javier Lopez got the Sox through the eighth. After Jonathan Papelbon's laborious save Monday, Francona opted to go with Hideki Okajima in the ninth. The lefty continued his standout rookie season by striking out two en route to his fourth save.
The torrid run the Red Sox are on?
"A little bit of everything," Francona said. "You need a lot of contributions from a lot of different areas. You need your bullpen to pitch well. Good baseball starts and ends with pitching -- not just starting pitching, but all pitching -- plus, some timely hitting, things like that."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.