Beckett picks up sweet 16
Sox take twin-bill opener as ace grabs Majors victory lead
CHICAGO -- Delayed gratification can be a tricky thing. Josh Beckett waited, waited, waited and waited to pitch Thursday night before play was finally called following a delay of more than two hours.
When the skies finally parted so that Beckett could take the ball for Game 1 of Friday's day-night doubleheader, he appeared to be on the mound without a compass. Beckett could not find home plate. But persistence paid off for the right-hander, who regained his groove just well enough to pitch the Red Sox to an 11-3 victory.
Beckett tied the career high he set a year ago by notching victory No. 16 on the season. Thanks to a 36-pitch first inning, Beckett exited following 5 2/3 innings. He allowed seven hits and three runs while striking out four.
"I'm not too sure how much he settled down, but he was able to grind it out," said Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell. "I don't think he had his best pitches. But when you ride your No. 1 like that on days he's not doing good, he's got to be able to grind it out. He did a good enough job. Our 'pen did a great job."
At this time of the baseball season, however, there are no style points. The Red Sox, who improved to 77-51, gladly took what Beckett offered.
"We know we have a lot of innings to account for and you're first goal is to win the first game," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "I thought his stuff was good. I thought he made some mistakes, I thought his stuff was real good."
With the win, Beckett ran his record to 16-5.
"It was just one of those deals where guys picked me up today," Beckett said. "I didn't have great stuff -- I had good stuff. You prepare yourself for five days to pitch one day and you come in and get to the point where you're going to pitch that day and you get rained out. You have to come in and re-adjust your schedule and everything like that. The guys picked me up and played great defense again today."
And per usual, the Boston bats, which always seem to be in over-drive for Beckett starts, got the job done. Though the lead was just 5-3 when Beckett departed, the Red Sox piled on with two in the eighth and four in the ninth. The Sox have scored 153 runs in Beckett's 24 starts.
When the game was still stressful, lefty specialist Javy Lopez wiggled Beckett out of a two-on, two-out jam to end the sixth by getting Jerry Owens on a flyout to center.
Hideki Okajima (1.17 ERA) took care of the seventh. Mike Timlin, making career appearance No. 998, went the final two innings.
Captain Jason Varitek led the offense, going 2-for-3 with a homer and four RBIs. This, after stranding eight runners in Daisuke Matsuzaka's 2-1 loss, for which Varitek pinned the loss on himself.
"There's a million things you can say about Jason Varitek and I guarantee you a million of them will be positive," said Beckett. "He wears that 'C' on his jersey for a reason. It's not just because of what he does in the batter's box. It's what he does for his pitchers. He's out there grinding every pitch."
Early on, Varitek's job was to help Beckett pitch his way out of muddy waters. To say Beckett labored in the first inning would be an understatement. After retiring the first two batters, Beckett gave up a double and three consecutive walks, the latter of which forced in the first run of the game. Despite his whopping pitch count, Beckett minimized the damage in the inning by allowing just the one run.
"I just wasn't throwing strikes," Beckett said. "You have to throw strikes and I struggled like that, just not throwing strikes. When you don't throw strikes, you're generally going to give up runs. I was lucky to get out of that with just giving up one."
And the one was easily off-set. Alex Cora jump-started a two-out rally in the third with a double to right against Jon Garland. Julio Lugo ripped a single up the middle to score Cora and tie the game. Lugo was thrown out stealing to end the inning.
The caught stealing did nothing to derail Boston's momentum an inning later. Lowell smacked an RBI single up the middle to give the Sox their first lead at 2-1. Danny Richar committed an error on J.D. Drew's grounder to second, loading the bases with one out. Varitek capitalized on that opportunity by drilling a two-run single off the base of the wall in left. Eric Hinske followed with an RBI single, making it 5-1 in favor of Boston.
On a day Beckett didn't have his best stuff, Josh Fields roped a two-run homer in the fifth to trim the deficit to 5-3.
Varitek capped the scoring with a two-run homer in the ninth to give him four RBIs for the game.
"All our games are important now," said Lowell. "We can't downplay it just because it's a long day. We have to win. I wouldn't want to think that we're being complacent just because we won the first game."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.