NEW YORK -- When Josh Beckett walked off the mound last evening, the sky was still a soft blue, the lingering sun illuminating the Bronx courthouse that looms beyond Yankee Stadium in right-center. It was 8:04 p.m., and the 26-year-old pitcher's night was done before night had fallen.
``It goes back to the same thing: Unexecuted pitches get hit hard," said Beckett, who has come to sound like a broken record and is in the process of breaking a personal record for homers allowed in a season (he's been tagged for 16, matching his high established in 2004). ``You execute fastballs, they're not going to hit them 9 miles."
Beckett allowed nine base runners (including six consecutive second-inning hits) and eight runs (seven earned) while recording just four outs in the third-briefest start of his career, longer only than two one-inning appearances with the Marlins, one of which was abbreviated because he strained his elbow. His cameo was the beginning of a woeful night of baseball in which the Yankees sent 21 men to the plate over the second and third innings on their way to a 13-5 pounding of the Red Sox before the largest crowd of the season (55,246) in the Bronx.
Asked if Beckett has any health issues, manager Terry Francona said, ``No. He had some hit issues. But not health issues."
The Yankees, though decimated by injuries, cranked out double-digit hits (11) for the 12th consecutive game, eclipsing a club record set by the 1937 team. That helps explain why the Bombers are a season-high 12 games over .500, having won 8 of 10. Johnny Damon, whose night was microcosmic of the proceedings, reached base four times by the end of the fourth inning.
All told, the Yankees had 22 base runners by way of hit (11), walk (10), or hit batsman (1).
Beckett, in his last two starts -- also at Toronto -- has lasted just 6 innings total, allowing 15 runs (14 earned) on 17 hits, six of them home runs. The two homers he provided some oomph behind last night, both of the three-run variety, increased his season total to 16 (entering last night, the major league high was 17, shared by the White Sox' Jon Garland and Baltimore's Bruce Chen).
All 16 homers have come on the road, in 45 innings. He has yet to allow a homer in 25 innings at Fenway. (He doesn't have any explanation for that.) He's 3-0 with a 2.16 ERA in four starts at home, while he's 4-3 with a 7.00 ERA in eight road starts for an overall record of 7-3 and 5.27 ERA. As bad as Matt Clement has been at times and as good as Beckett has been at times, the Sox have nearly the same record when Clement starts (6-5) as they do when Beckett starts (7-5).
Those 16 homers have accounted for 34 of the 45 runs scored on Beckett.
``A joke," Beckett said, his voice laced with disgust, when told that 75 percent of the runs scored on him have come on homers. ``Those balls have to be up so they pop them up."
His health appears fine, because both homers off him came in at 96 miles per hour. The problem is that balls are leaving the park even quicker, and hitters seem plenty comfortable to dig in against Beckett and take some Sheffieldian hacks. This might be a good time to point out that Gary Sheffield (wrist), Hideki Matsui (wrist), and Derek Jeter (thumb) all were absent last night.
``Hitters who can do the damage they can do, they're looking for one speed," Francona said. ``I don't know if you can throw it hard enough. I think he knows that."
Beckett understands that most observers will look at the homer total, and the fact that the homers tend to be coming on fastballs, and assume he needs to throw more offspeed pitches. But there were times as a Marlin that he would be cruising into the fourth inning having thrown 90 percent fastballs.
``I'm a feel pitcher," he said. ``I go on what I feel is working."
Last night, most of those damaging swings came on fastballs and most came in the Yankees' half of the second inning. Jorge Posada led off with a grounded single to right. Robinson Cano then singled to center. Rookie Andy Phillips then unloaded on a 2-and-1 fastball for a three-run blast. Bernie Williams then lined a single to center. Miguel Cairo followed by singling to center. And Damon singled to right. Six consecutive hits.
Melky Cabrera ended the hit barrage by grounding into a fielder's choice. But Jason Giambi, up next, unloaded on an 0-and-1 heater. Beckett never moved as it sailed high into the evening sky (``disbelief" and ``awe" were words he used to describe the feeling). He could have closed his eyes and known exactly where the ball landed. It crashed into the facing of the third deck, the booming noise audible in the press box above home plate despite the noise of the erupting crowd.
``You can't have a second inning like that," Beckett said. ``It's ridiculous."
Beckett then walked Alex Rodriguez, and Francona had seen enough. He lifted Beckett after just 45 pitches and 1 1/3 innings.
``In a four-game series against this team, that's the last thing you want to do, go to the pen in the second inning," Francona said.
Jermaine Van Buren got out of the second but issued four walks and allowed a Cabrera double in the third. He left with two outs in the inning and the bases loaded, handing off to David Riske. Riske's first pitch hit Posada in the upper arm, forcing in a run. Riske threw two balls before Cano hit a rope double, plating two more runs. At this point it was 8:42 p.m., it was 13-2 Yankees, and Sox pitchers had recorded eight outs.
The Sox burned much of the bullpen, using Van Buren (1 1/3 IP), Riske (2 1/3 IP), Julian Tavarez (2 IP), and Manny Delcarmen (1 IP), leaving only Jonathan Papelbon, Rudy Seanez, and Keith Foulke rested for tonight, with 22-year-old righthander David Pauley starting (he made it through 4 1/3 innings in Toronto in his only start, allowing six runs on 11 hits). What's more, Foulke hasn't pitched since last Wednesday because of back stiffness.
``We don't quite know about Foulke," Francona said. ``He's getting better. Will he be available? I don't know. That's where we're at."
With that, the manager left the media behind to go call general manager Theo Epstein and discuss the possibility of dipping into the minor league system for some bullpen help for tonight.