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JACKIE MACMULLAN

Surprise ending-- after 1 1/3

NEW YORK -- Of all the possible scenarios, this surely was not one that occurred to anyone wearing red socks.

Or, as it turned out, the guys in the blue socks, either.

"You never -- ever -- expect a game like this with Beckett pitching," said Yankees ace Mike Mussina.

The start of yet another Boston-New York baseball series held delicious promise, with Mussina and the cocky young Josh Beckett ready to match precision with power. Mussina came into the game with a 7-1 mark, a 2.42 ERA, and an unbeaten record at home (3-0). His changeup has been absolutely nasty (thanks to some spring training tips from catcher Jorge Posada), and, as always, his control masterful.

Conversely, Beckett has been all about emotion and heat. He had already beaten the Yankees once this season, 14-3, May 9, and of course Red Sox fans love to recall his 2003 heroics in Yankee Stadium, when he spun a five-hitter in Game 6 of the World Series to win, 2-0, and clinch the title for Florida. Whenever anyone questioned whether Beckett could handle pressure, Sox fans quickly pointed to that magical night in the Bronx, which led to a Series MVP award to go alongside his championship ring.

With that backdrop, it was nothing short of stunning to watch Beckett stride off the mound after 1 1/3 innings -- for good.

It was a seven-run second inning that did him in, with the lowlights including six consecutive hits from New York's depleted yet perpetually potent lineup. One was a three-run shot by Andy Phillips over the left-field fence; another was a titanic three-run homer to right by Jason Giambi, who deposited Beckett's 96-mile-per-hour fastball just a tad below the upper deck. The ball caromed off the trim that separates the second tier from the third, and it sounded as if someone had lit an M-80 in a trash can with the lid on.

The two long balls were the 15th and 16th home runs Beckett has given up this season. He remains neck and neck with the White Sox' Jon Garland and Baltimore's Bruce Chen (they've both given up 17) for the dubious honor of allowing the most home runs in the majors.

Even more stupefying, Beckett already has matched his career high in home runs allowed in a season -- and it's only June.

Early June.

Beckett logged 156 2/3 innings in giving up 16 homers in 2004. To date, he has pitched 70 innings.

``It's all about executing pitches," Beckett said in the quiet of the clubhouse. ``You can't throw the ball down the middle of the plate with these guys. You know that going in."

A shellacking of the type Beckett endured last night in a horrendous 13-5 Red Sox loss does extremely undesirable things to your ERA -- like inflating it from 4.46 to a Lowe-esque 5.27. What it will do to Beckett's psyche remains to be seen.

Beckett has never been one to lack confidence, but he admitted that sketchy back-to-back outings have allowed that poisonous culprit -- doubt -- to creep into his thinking.

``It frustrates the hell out of me," he said. ``I'm a competitive guy. I can't have a second inning like that. It's ridiculous."

Beckett was rocked last Tuesday by the Blue Jays in Toronto, giving up 7 runs, 10 hits, and a career-high 4 home runs. That outing was dismissed as an aberration, particularly since he had won his last four starts.

Velocity is not the issue. Beckett was pitching in the mid 90s last night. As often is the case with Beckett, the issue was locating and mixing pitches.

``You've got to be able to throw something [besides fastballs] for strikes to keep them honest," observed Mussina. ``If you come in with off-speed stuff and they don't swing and you don't get it over the plate, it puts you in bad counts all the time, because they will sit on the fastball so often."

We have come to expect rough beginnings for Beckett. But he generally has worked through his early problems.

Not last night. He started the game by walking Johnny Damon, and it deteriorated from there. Beckett flummoxed the next batter, Melky Cabrera, into hitting a double play ground ball, but when it came back to the pitcher, Beckett threw wildly to second. Alex Gonzalez grabbed the errant ball, then leaped onto the bag to save an error -- and salvage an out.

Beckett was involved in another bizarre play with the next batter, when he got ahead of the ever-dangerous Giambi, 1-and-2, then uncorked a wild pitch. The ensuing confusion (a wild throw by Jason Varitek and the failure to cover home) resulted in an unearned run.

The hope was that Beckett would settle down in the second inning. Instead, he allowed a string of sharp hits. He started by giving up a single to Jorge Posada, then a single to Robinson Cano, then the three-run homer to Phillips. Bernie Williams followed with a single up the middle, leading pitching coach Al Nipper to approach the mound for consultation.

Nipper had barely made it back to the dugout before Beckett gave up another single to Miguel Cairo, an RBI single to right by Damon, then Giambi's blast. His night ended when he walked A-Rod, and left in an 8-2 hole.

He was asked why he stayed with his fastball so often.

``I threw some breaking balls," Beckett offered. ``And the pitch Cairo hit was a changeup. If that pitch is down a little more, it's a ground ball and we probably get an out there. It's about executing pitches."

Manager Terry Francona maintained that Beckett only missed by a little on both home run pitches. The problem, Mussina said, is that a small margin is enough when guys are sitting back and waiting for the heat.

``At this level, you can throw it 100 miles per hour," Mussina said, ``but if guys know it's coming, they're going to get a good swing at it. You've to keep them off-balance by mixing up your stuff."

Beckett reported he felt great in warmups and is completely healthy. He hasn't detected any mechanical flaws. He just can't put the pitches where he wants them right now.

``It's hard to pinpoint one thing," Beckett said. ``Maybe work on repeating my delivery? I don't know. If it was that easy to figure out 45 minutes after the game . . ."

One more statistic to chew on: Beckett's numbers at Fenway this season are 3-0 with a 2.16 ERA. After last night, his road outings have produced a pedestrian 4-3 mark with an ERA of 7.00.

A trend or a fluke? Inquiring minds want to know. So do the folks wearing the red socks.

Jackie MacMullan is a Globe columnist. Her e-mail is macmullan@globe.com

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