Ace was hoping to finish what he started
BALTIMORE -- Just one out remained to be recorded yesterday when, clearly miffed, Josh Beckett let out his frustration by flipping the ball to the umpire. No, it wasn't about the two-strike pitch that Miguel Tejada sneaked past the glove of Mike Lowell for a single. Or the Kevin Millar double that brought Tejada home with the second Orioles run of the afternoon.
Instead, the reason was more altruistic: the fact that two of his teammates (Manny Delcarmen and Jonathan Papelbon) would have to be used in a game that was a pitch away from being a shutout for the staff ace.
"It's just frustrating, 'cause you've got to get a couple guys in there that normally shouldn't have to pitch," Beckett said after Papelbon finished off a 6-2 Red Sox win that was Beckett's 15th of the season. "That's where the frustration fell for me. It's nice to have complete games and they're good numbers to have and everything like that. To me, it's more important, save those guys in the bullpen. We're going to need them down the stretch.
"Not to be able to get that final out, and to have two pitchers come in behind me, that's the frustrating thing."
No sooner had Beckett tossed his first warm-up pitch of the ninth, the fans were on their feet, anticipating a quick ending. The ovation brought to mind the usual end-of-game scene at Fenway Park, rather than that of Camden Yards. But it was deserved, as Beckett already had pitched an excellent game, starting the ninth with just 91 pitches thrown, and on track to finish the outing in impressive fashion.
But after getting two outs, the second on a strikeout looking by Nick Markakis on a 97-mile-per-hour fastball, Beckett allowed the two runs, with Brian Roberts (double) scoring on the Tejada single on a curveball that he was "trying to bounce" but left up for a strike instead, according to catcher Jason Varitek. Tejada then came across on that Millar double.
That's when, after manager Terry Francona emerged from the visitors' dugout, Beckett flipped the ball to the ump, who then tossed Beckett a fresh one. Then, after he was removed for Delcarmen, Beckett sprinted off the field. Not exactly the typical response.
"Just didn't want to be there, I guess," Beckett said with a shrug.
With his 8 2/3 innings, Beckett became the major leagues' first 15-game winner, reaching the number earlier in the season than any member of the team since Derek Lowe and Pedro Martínez did it in the first days of August in 2002.
Though Beckett's curveball wasn't at its best, Varitek said the key to the outing was his sinker. He recorded eight strikeouts and issued no walks.
"He was pretty dominant," Varitek said. "You've got to make pitches. It's a very good-hitting lineup. He was in a little feel mode early, first couple innings, then after that he settled in pretty good. He threw some really good sinkers today, got some ground balls. Kept his pitch count down."
Even Beckett was happy despite the blip in the ninth. It was the third time in his last four starts he has allowed two or fewer runs, including a complete-game, one-run loss to Cleveland. It lowered his ERA a smidge to 3.24 (his road ERA to 1.65) but, more importantly, it staved off the Yankees for another day.
"I was mad at myself when I came out, but it's hard to find anything really wrong with that game before that," Beckett said. "They weren't exactly crushing the ball in the ninth inning, either."
Not exactly, even with the two doubles. The performance got the Red Sox another win, their 70th of the season, and gave them a chance to take a breath before they match up in the rubber game of the series today.
It's becoming easier to watch Beckett walk to the mound for the Red Sox. There's a confidence there, which blossomed out of spring training and has increased throughout the season. And with the way the Red Sox became unraveled Friday night, Beckett's gem was even more important.
"That's very reassuring," Francona said. "It allows us to put [Friday's game] in the past in a hurry. And that's a big compliment to Beckett."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.