Beckett's workmanlike effort tames Tribe
Sox's ace healthy, overcomes rough start for win No. 17
BOSTON -- It wasn't Josh Beckett's best performance of the season, far from it. But the mere fact that the ace exited the five-inning performance against the Cleveland Indians on Saturday in a healthy state already puts him way ahead of where he was last year at this time.
After a wobbly start for Beckett, he settled down to earn an 11-6 victory -- his 17th of the season.
One year ago, with a few days to go before the postseason, Beckett had just injured his right oblique and was a shadow of his usual self during Boston's run, which ended in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series.
Despite a bout with back spasms that kept Beckett from his start earlier this week, there no longer seems to be anything wrong with him, and that is a very good thing for the Red Sox.
"For us to get where we want to go, he's going to have to play a real vital part of that," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "We know that and we're kind of looking forward to it."
All systems are go for Beckett in the American League Division Series, with speculation rampant that he will follow Jon Lester and pitch Game 2 against the Angels on Friday night.
"I want to do whatever would help us win," said Beckett. "That's the key to the whole postseason, is to put yourself in the best position to win, whether it be a five-game series or a seven-game series. We've discussed everything and I'm OK with whatever they decided to do. That's Tito's job. I'm glad I don't have that job."
In Saturday's performance, Beckett gave up seven hits and four runs, walking three and striking out five. He threw 98 pitches, 63 for strikes.
It was a game the Red Sox trailed, 4-1, only to overturn that by erupting for seven runs in the bottom of the second. The turning point was a grand slam by Victor Martinez, which broke a 4-4 tie. It was the first slam of Martinez's career, and the 28th start in a row he's had at least one hit.
Martinez had nearly fouled out earlier in the at-bat, but his popup was inches out of the reach of Andy Marte.
Exciting for Martinez to finally have a grand slam, particularly against his former team?
"It is. Why not? My very first grand slam, definitely, I'm pretty happy about it," said Martinez. "I know I hadn't hit a grand slam, but it wasn't something that was killing me, you know? I hit one grand slam in the [World Baseball Classic] against Puerto Rico, but for me it doesn't count like in my big league career."
It wasn't the only first for a Red Sox catcher. Prospect Dusty Brown belted his first Major League homer -- and first career hit -- in the eighth inning, clubbing a solo shot in the eighth. The always-astute Fenway faithful gave him a standing ovation.
"Yeah, good for him," said Francona. "You could see how excited the guys were. Our fans are amazing. I don't know how many places you would get a curtain call. It's a pretty amazing place."
With a lineup that didn't have Jacoby Ellsbury (rest), Mike Lowell (sore right thumb) and J.D. Drew (left shoulder), the Red Sox still found enough thump. Dustin Pedroia, who replaced Ellsbury in the leadoff spot, opened the first with a prodigious solo shot that sailed over the Green Monster and on to Lansdowne Street.
Brian Anderson, who might now land an ALDS roster spot depending on the state of Rocco Baldelli's ailing left hip, smashed a two-run homer in the third.
As for Beckett's early ineffectiveness, the long layoff seemed to have a lot to do with it.
"If they ever go to a nine-man rotation, I'm not in," said Beckett.
And his back?
"I feel good," Beckett said. "I've felt good for a couple of days now, actually for three days."
A healthy Beckett could mean monumental things for the Red Sox. The last two times he has been in good health during a postseason, he led his team to championship glory.
"I definitely don't want to limp in this year," Beckett said. "Everything is good and everything is in place."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.