Sox sail by Seattle
Beckett gets on track for victory
SEATTLE - Russell Branyan stood on third, with one run in and no outs. The Sox were in danger of losing a four-run lead yet again. It had already happened twice before on this road trip, both times ending in a loss. And Josh Beckett still needed three outs, without allowing the first baseman to travel just 90 feet.
So the Sox moved in, playing a medium-depth in the infield for Wladimir Balentien. Then the player who had allowed Adrian Beltre to get to first and subsequently score on Branyan's double, came through. Julio Lugo dived to get the grounder and kept Branyan on third. Dustin Pedroia followed suit, this time with the Sox infield in, a bouncer turning into an out. One walk and one fly out to right field later, Branyan ended the inning stranded on third.
The Mariners wouldn't score again as the Sox earned a 5-3 win to snap a three-game losing streak on their final West Coast trip of the regular season. It took those two plays - and a gritty performance from Beckett over seven innings - to disappoint the majority of the 42,589 in Safeco Field last night.
"That was huge," Pedroia said. "Lugey made a great play. I think in that situation, on Julio's ball, we weren't all the way in. We were kind of halfway. In that situation we're banking on them not running on contact, trying to keep the ball in the infield, and Julio did a great job of making the play.
"The next play, we were infield in, anticipating them running. It was kind of slowly hit to me. It was great to get out of that jam. It was kind of a momentum changer."
For Lugo, there wasn't time to consider. Even having just made his third error of his season, he had to move.
"That's a reaction play," said Lugo, who left the game in the middle of the seventh with tightness in his groin/hip flexor. "That's a reaction play where you see the ball and dive and hope you get it. I came up with it."
So too did Beckett, who came up with the win. It had been almost two weeks since a Sox pitcher made it through the seventh inning in a start, the last one coming May 4 by Jon Lester. Even as Beckett threw 108 pitches to end the sixth, manager Terry Francona left him out there for another inning and another 12 pitches.
He made it through, with Ichiro Suzuki's infield single the only blemish in his final inning. Although it might not signal a turning point for the starter, it was certainly his best effort in nearly a month and a half, since his season opener.
"They made him work real hard early, then as he got into the game, started using his two-seamer, his changeup, kind of off his fastball a little bit," Francona said. "It looked like he got his feet under him a little bit. The longer he got in the game, the better he felt."
Things since that point had been dire, culminating in a 14-out start against the Rays April 30. But May has been far kinder to Beckett. He allowed three runs (two earned) over those seven innings, and was helped by three Sox homers.
He was helped by another stellar defensive play, too, though he had already left for the evening. After Hideki Okajima allowed another double to Branyan in the eighth, the lights-out Ramon Ramirez came in for a single out. It took him three pitches - giving him nine outs on his last 19 pitches - as Ramirez induced a bullet from Balentien.
Mike Lowell dived to his left, picked the ball, and threw to first for the out that ended the inning, and brought up Jonathan Papelbon to close.
Powered by two-run home runs by Jason Bay (in the first) and Jason Varitek (in the second), the Sox went up by their seemingly customary four runs. That had proven unsuccessful lately, though.
It did seem, in many ways, like a couple of other games on this road trip that hadn't gone so well. The Sox had gone up by four runs over the first three innings twice on the West Coast swing, once Friday night against Chris Jakubauskas and the Mariners and earlier Wednesday against Matt Palmer and the Angels. The Sox lost both.
"It was nice to win tonight," Pedroia said. "I know we just got Bailes' home run to add on to the four runs, but we hit some balls really good, but still didn't kind of extend ourselves. We can still do a better job of trying to put the game out of reach. Teams are going to come back late, and it's hard to shut teams down. I know our bullpen's great. But we can't get away with stuff like that. You need to extend and get that two-run lead to four."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.