Of late, Beckett's been unstoppable
Red Sox ace shuts down Braves in series opener
ATLANTA -- A noted outdoorsman, Red Sox ace Josh Beckett would probably be wise not to plan any fishing or hunting trips over the All-Star break.
In recent weeks, the right-hander has consistently displayed the type of form that placed him second in the American League Cy Young Award voting two years ago, and his latest gem led the Red Sox to a 4-1 victory over the Braves on Friday night at Turner Field.
Over seven shutout innings and 98 pitches, Beckett scattered six hits while walking none and striking out six.
"That's the Beckett that we've known since Day 1," said Red Sox slugger David Ortiz. "When he pitches like that, he's nasty."
It was the 800th career win for Red Sox manager Terry Francona. But just as Francona wanted it, the story was about Beckett, who is now 9-3 with a 3.48 ERA.
More impressive than Beckett's overall numbers are what he's done since May 23. In a span of seven starts, Beckett is 5-1 with a 1.24 ERA. He allowed no earned runs in five of those seven outings.
Home or road, day or night, sick or healthy, Beckett has been mowing down the opposition.
In this one, he would have pitched into the eighth if not for what Francona referred to as "intestinal turmoil."
"All week, I've been dealing with some stuff -- throat stuff and other things," said Beckett. "I got some stomach cramps toward the end of the game."
Forgive the Braves if they don't ship any get-well cards to the visitors' clubhouse. For they are all too familiar with Beckett's recent surge. His past two starts have both been wins over Atlanta, as this one immediately followed his complete-game shutout at Fenway Park six days ago. In Beckett's past seven starts against the Braves since 2005, he is 6-0 with an 0.38 ERA.
But Beckett, who takes pride in his tunnel-vision approach, offered nothing of his recently overpowering track record against Atlanta.
"I just try to do the same thing I do every time -- just execute pitches and go pitch to pitch," said Beckett. "I don't try to go too far ahead of myself. Tonight, I made pitches when I needed to."
Boston as a team isn't quite as hot as Beckett, but it is close. Since May 31, the club has a 17-6 record, the best in the Majors over that span. The Sox have also reeled off 12 wins in their past 16 games and hold a four-game lead over the Yankees in the American League East.
As for Beckett, he didn't require much in the way of run support.
One big swing by Ortiz snapped the scoreless tie to start the top of the fifth. Big Papi belted a 90-mph heater from Braves starter Jair Jurrjens several rows back in the right-field seats for a solo shot. It was No. 8 on the season for Ortiz and the seventh since June 6.
"That home run, he just cheated and got it," said Jurrjens. "He wasn't getting to my fastball inside in these two games."
If Jurrjens was only willing to begrudgingly credit Ortiz, the Red Sox had plenty of praise for their rejuvenated masher.
"His swings are getting better and better each day," said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "We've got a lot of games left. It's time to turn it on."
The Red Sox got a much different kind of run in the sixth, putting together the epitome of small ball. Pedroia hit a little blooper that landed just in front of third baseman Chipper Jones. The ball took a weird hop, rolling past Jones and into left, and Pedroia hustled it into a double.
"He sees the field so well," said Francona. "He's always hustling. He puts himself in a position to do that. He certainly didn't rifle that ball in the gap. Most players, it's a hit and they're around first, and it's not that they're not hustling, but he's just able to see the field so well."
Pedroia then took a big lead off second, and Jurrjens, thrown off once he spotted him, committed a balk. That enabled Pedroia to score on J.D. Drew's fielder's-choice grounder to second.
"It was a little different," Pedroia said. "I haven't seen a balk in a while. I was trying to steal and he kind of caught me both times. He was going to try to go to second and kind of froze -- it worked out for us."
Beckett ran into some jams here and there, but he continually escaped them. In the fourth, the Braves had first and second and nobody out. But Beckett struck out Jeff Francoeur and got David Ross on a flyout to right and Diory Hernandez on a grounder to second. Following the third out, Beckett pumped his fist and had an animated chat with himself as he walked back to the dugout.
"The 0-2 hit I gave up to [Casey] Kotchman, I was a little upset about that," said Beckett. "It wasn't pitch selection, it was an execution thing. Those are things I can control. I was a little frustrated about it."
If one missed execution on a single is the most Beckett has to be upset about during a start, things are going well.
The ace has one more start -- Wednesday against Baltimore -- before the All-Star selections are announced on July 5.
The case might already be made.
"He's been great," said Pedroia. "You can just tell his confidence out there when he gets the ball. He's been giving us six, seven innings of quality every time out. It was huge for us."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.