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06/05/08 12:13 AM ET

Beckett OK after slip on muddy mound

On damp night at Fenway Park, Red Sox ace perseveres

BOSTON -- After slipping on the City of Palms Park mound before a Spring Training game March 8, Josh Beckett didn't pitch in a Grapefruit League contest and started the season on the disabled list with a sore back and right hip.

As a constant drizzle fell on Fenway Park during Wednesday's game against the Rays, Beckett may have flashed back to that misstep when he slipped throwing a pitch to Tampa Bay's Cliff Floyd with one out in the sixth inning.

"Well, yeah, but the first thing I think of is my arm, though," said Beckett after the Red Sox's 5-1 win over the Rays. "I can come back from a back injury, but have one little slip like that and screw up your shoulder or something, and you may not be able to come back from that.

"It was just one of those deals. It scares you more than anything. I think what happens is throughout the game we've got two guys that have mud in their spikes pretty consistent all night. We have a mat back there that you can get your spikes clean with and it just fills up with mud. ... So it's just one of those deals that the stars were all lined up and my foot just slipped."

At the behest of Sox manager Terry Francona, who raced to the mound from the dugout when his ace slipped, Beckett took one warmup pitch before finishing the inning -- and his night. Beckett went six innings, giving up one run on seven hits, striking out five, without allowing a walk, picking up the win, to improve his record to 6-4 with a 4.07 ERA. The victory was Beckett's first since May 18.

"[He was] pretty good. Not always as crisp as we've seen, but we did see the side of Beckett competing and not giving in," Francona said. "I think he got frustrated a few times, not making pitches or not following it up with another pitch. But he was good enough. He slipped. He had a ton of mud in his spikes.

"When we saw him with that slip, after the inning I said that's enough. I thought he had given us enough. He was at [92 pitches, 57 for strikes]. I just wasn't comfortable sending him back out. I think that will help with the next start and the start after that. He said he was fine, but I just didn't see the sense in sending him back out there."

In his past four starts, spanning 26 innings, Beckett has recorded 33 strikeouts, averaging 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings. He's issued just four walks, for a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 8.25. In those games, he is 2-1 with a no-decision, while his team is 3-1.

Catcher Jason Varitek is optimistic brighter days are ahead for his team's ace.

"Josh did a good job," Varitek said. "He had the one hit that drove in the run, but he took steps. He's getting into his groove and he's starting to pitch like he can.

"His location's getting better. He's able to get to his curveball and get to it instead of it taking two or three pitches. I think it's just the cleanness of his delivery of getting more comfortable out there.

"I think you have a guy that had to go out there and really without a Spring Training, and really that's big. So, as hitters get timing and you're getting your location down, there's a bit of a difference. So I look forward to a lot of better days to come for Josh."

Maureen Mullen is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.