For the better part of a windswept, rain-drenched morning in the Fens, there appeared to be as much chance of the Red Sox playing yesterday as pizzas flying in the stands, Josh Beckett being wide awake before breakfast, or Julio Lugo looking as good in leather as Alex Gonzalez.
But the window of opportunity predicted by Sox chief operating officer Mike Dee -- relying on the team's private meteorologists -- materialized, and all the other improbabilities fell into place. The Sox squashed the Angels for a third straight time, 7-2, completing a three-game sweep of a presumed American League contender by a cumulative score of 25-3. Sox manager Terry Francona, asked if there was any way to explain the one-sided tilt to the series, said, "No, because if I tried to explain it, it's over, and we're moving on."
Beckett, despite being asked to perform at an hour that he likened to "pitching in the losers' bracket of an AAU tournament," answered his 6:47 a.m. wakeup call, waited a couple of hours longer than he expected (the start of the 10 a.m. game was pushed back to 12:05, then 12:18), then made a California omelet out of the Angels' lineup.
Beckett, while winning for the third straight start (3-0, 1.50 ERA, 18 Ks in 18 IP), allowed just one run in six innings, on Orlando Cabrera's first-inning home run, which is precisely the allotment of runs Beckett permitted in his first two starts.
Beckett received splendid assistance from shortstop Lugo. His double started the Sox' six-run uprising in the bottom of the first off Angels starter Ervin "No Magic" Santana, one of four doubles the Sox stroked in an inning in which they exploited a two-base throwing error by second baseman Howie Kendrick. But it was Lugo's two plays afield -- a sprint into shallow center field to nab Casey Kotchman's flare while on his knees in the fourth, and a terrific snatch and throw from deep in the hole with two runners aboard in the fifth -- that kept the Angels somnambulant while evoking memories of Gonzo.
"He made two unbelievable plays," said Beckett, who became the first Sox pitcher to win three games this season and extended a run of six games in which Sox starters have allowed just seven earned runs in 42 innings (1.50 ERA). "One of 'em saved me a run, the other one saved me a couple more pitches."
While the Sox announced a sellout of 35,424, thousands of fans, scared off by the nor'easter, missed out on Paul Revere III, a seventh-generation descendant of the Revolutionary alarm-sounder, throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before the home team's fourth straight Patriots Day win. They also missed an unceremonious fling of a pizza slice by one box-seat patron at another, the man on the receiving end of some chunky cheese having already lost a cupful of beer while trying to grab J.D. Drew's foul fly ball in the seventh.
"Whatever turns them on," shrugged Francona, who didn't see the play live but should catch a replay provided by NESN, which showed the play repeatedly during yesterday's broadcast. "As long as they're not throwing them at me or us, that's OK."
These days, they're throwing nothing but bouquets at Beckett, the echoes of last year's brickbats fading with each successive strong outing. Washed out of his scheduled start Sunday, Beckett knew he had to prepare a little differently for yesterday's matinee.
"Do I go to bed at 8 or 9?" he said, reflecting on a choice of bedtimes that hardly fall within his usual range. "I think I laid down at 8 and went to sleep at 9. Tried to, anyway."
Beckett struck out five, walked one, and was undeterred by a first-inning warning from plate umpire Rick Reed, who was motivated to act after Beckett struck Angels star Vladimir Guerrero on the right wrist with an 0-and-2 fastball. Guerrero, who was the next batter after Cabrera's home run -- the first in eight games by an Angel -- left the game, but X-rays were negative and the injury was described as a soft tissue bruise.
"Rick Reed explained it to me that any time you give up a home run, then hit somebody, it's like they're just trying to control the game and not let things get out of hand," said Beckett.
The Angels began the season 5-1, but now have lost six of their last seven. They were 1 for 7 with runners in scoring position yesterday -- their other run coming on Kendrick's home run in the ninth off Kyle Snyder, the fourth Sox pitcher -- and are just 13 for 80 with runners in scoring position in their last eight games. The Sox now turn their attention to the supposed iron of the AL East: the Blue Jays, whom they face five times in the next eight days, and the Yankees, whom they get three times on each of the next two weekends.
The Blue Jays will be without closer B.J. Ryan (elbow strain), third baseman Troy Glaus (heel, hamstring), and Sox killer Reed Johnson (herniated disk) while the Yankees have three starters on the DL -- Mike Mussina, Carl Pavano, and Chien-Ming Wang.
"A time to extend ourselves maybe?" Sox third baseman Mike Lowell said. "It would be great. If we keep playing baseball like we did this weekend, we've got a good chance.
"[Ryan] is a big-time closer. I don't know who to compare him to. That's their guy. He did a great job for them last year. It's by no means a small thing. It's like taking Paps [Jonathan Papelbon] away from us."
For now, the Sox are fully intact. The pizza? That's another story.