NEW YORK - It was certainly time. Granted, it was just 16 games into the season, but a pitcher is bound to make a seven-inning start at some point. Last night Josh Beckett did what he is paid to do: be the Red Sox' ace.
With a slow (and delayed) start to the season, Beckett hadn't pitched a gem similar to what he produced throughout his magical 2007 season. He gave up five runs in 4 2/3 innings in his first start; three runs in 6 2/3 innings in his second. But last night, Beckett did everything that was needed. He stopped the Yankees' hot bats, he ate up innings, and he got his first victory of the year in the Sox' 7-5 win.
"He's done it so much, I mean, all of last year it was start after start," Dustin Pedroia said. "Sometimes you kind of take that for granted, you expect that every time out of him. But he still goes out there and makes quality pitches, and every chance he goes out there, we know what he's going to do."
Fatigue was the problem in his first start, when his legs grew tired and heavy in the fourth and fifth innings. That certainly didn't appear to be the case last night. He appeared to grow stronger and retired his final 10 batters before leaving after eight. He gave a tired bullpen a rare night off, except for Jonathan Papelbon.
"That's kind of what you're banking on your ace to be," manager Terry Francona said. "He pitched well, did a good job. He understands his responsibility and he's good enough to carry it out."
Of course, Beckett would have none of the praise. He might show comprehension of his job, the knowledge that an ace needs to win after the opponent puts up 15 runs the game before, but he doesn't often feel like sharing that.
"Some nights, whenever you don't have your good stuff, it's five, six innings, maybe three runs," he said. "But for me, it's just about going out there and doing my job."
Though he had a blip in the fifth inning, when New York scored three runs, Beckett kept the Yankees off the base paths. He allowed just one single over the first three innings, then, after allowing two more in the fourth, he struck out Jason Giambi and Jorge Posada to end the threat.
New York came back in the fifth, starting with a one-out walk to Melky Cabrera, followed by a Johnny Damon double, a Derek Jeter two-run single, and a Bobby Abreu RBI double. But he got Alex Rodriguez to pop to Jason Varitek in foul territory, and he didn't allow another base runner the rest of the way.
With the Red Sox hoping to keep Beckett around 105 pitches, which was his final count, there wasn't a big discussion about who would pitch the ninth. Papelbon finished it off, though he did allow two runs.
The pitch count will grow as Beckett settles in, as any memory of his slow start begins to fade. That might mean next time Beckett will go the distance.