Bats, Beckett carry Sox to series win
Boston ace records eight Ks, including the 1,000th of his career
DETROIT -- The theme for Boston's starting pitchers this week has been making big pitches in key situations.
They've given up all sorts of hits, they've had plenty of runners in scoring position, but they've hunkered down and made the pitches they've needed to make in order to escape.
Right-hander Josh Beckett became the latest example in Thursday night's 5-1, series-clinching win over the Tigers before 38,952 at Comerica Park. His solid seven innings of one-run ball, including his 1,000th career strikeout, propelled the Red Sox to their eighth win in the last 10 games.
"I thought I made pitches when I needed to," Beckett said. "That's what it boils down to. I could have given up a few more runs, but I made pitches when I needed to."
Beckett's performance, along with yet another home run by Kevin Youkilis, helped the Red Sox improve their record to a season-high nine games over .500. They have won 18 of their last 26 games. The latest victory finished the regular-season series with the Tigers, with the Red Sox taking five of the seven games, including three of four this week.
"This is a big win for us," Beckett said. "We want to win most of our series, and it's tough to win a four-game series, especially in someone else's ballpark."
Beckett had arguably the best command of the season, throwing 72 of his 102 pitches for strikes. He allowed one run on six hits while striking out eight. He got stronger as the game went on, retiring the final 10 batters he faced, with four coming via strikeout.
And speaking of strikeouts, Beckett registered No. 1,000 when he fanned Brandon Inge to lead off the seventh inning.
"It's a cool accomplishment," he said. "That means you stuck around for a little while. When you stick around for a while, you'll get your share of strikeouts."
By that time, though, Beckett already had a four-run lead thanks to a two-run single by Jason Varitek and sacrifice fly by Jacoby Ellsbury in the second, and a two-run homer in the fifth from Youkilis, who had himself quite a series.
The first baseman batted .350 with two doubles, four home runs, seven RBIs and five runs scored. That includes his second career two-homer game, on Wednesday night. But none of it should come as a surprise, considering he has hit .310 with seven home runs and 17 RBIs in 14 career games at Comerica Park.
"Our entire staff did a poor, poor job the entire series against Youkilis -- not with the thought process, but executing pitches," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "You have to execute pitches to get people out, and we just gave him cookie after cookie for three days. He just beat our brains out."
In his last six games, Youkilis is hitting .425 (10-for-23) with four doubles, five home runs and 12 RBIs, lifting himself into the top five in the American League in average, home runs and RBIs.
The recent home run streak is not a surprise, but the Red Sox have not tried to get him to hit more balls out.
"We already appreciate his approach," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "As he grows into a veteran, with 500, 600 at-bats, if he keeps this approach, we'll be happy with whatever he does. You can make mistakes with players, and try to pigeonhole them, want them to be something. His approach is pretty good."
Youkilis has no explanation for the power surge. He has made no adjustments to his swing, and has not changed his mind-set at the plate. He's just trying to hit balls hard.
"I don't think there's anything to it, other than I'm swinging at some balls and hitting them out," Youkilis said. "I'm not trying to; it's just happening. If I could tell you the reason, I would tell you the reason, but there's no reason behind it.
"If you're looking to get paid, you hit more home runs. I'm just playing. I'm just trying to get hits. It's not like I'm trying to hit home runs. I'm trying to put a good swing on the ball. I think when you hit home runs, a lot of times you're squaring the ball up and hitting the ball real well."
Youkilis' 355-foot smash, which evaded the glove of leaping Tigers left fielder Matt Joyce, gave the Red Sox a four-run lead, but that lead had been made possible by some clutch Beckett pitches in earlier innings.
With one out in the first, Beckett hit Placido Polanco on the hand, and with two outs, he gave up a single up the middle by Magglio Ordonez that put runners on the corners. But then he wasted little time escaping the jam. He quickly jumped ahead on Miguel Cabrera, 0-2, and then blew him away with a high mid-90s fastball to end the inning.
Then, in the third, with the Sox leading, 3-0, Beckett gave up back-to-back singles to right to put runners on the corners again with two outs. This time he got Ordonez to chase a pitch out of the zone and lift a lazy fly ball to right.
Joyce, a recent Triple-A callup for the Tigers, watched in awe as Beckett escaped his jams.
"First time seeing him, I was pretty impressed," Joyce said. "The ball just exploded out of his hand. That's why he's one of the best pitchers in the game."
The Tigers scored in the fourth, with three consecutive singles plating their only run of the game. Beckett had runners on first and second with two outs, but again he had the answer, striking out Curtis Granderson to start his string of 10 straight retired hitters.
The Tigers had their chances, but Beckett simply made the right pitches at the right time.
"I thought he got stronger as the game went," Francona said. "Against a dangerous lineup, he made good pitches."
Scott McNeish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.