Can't knock him for one knockout
PHILADELPHIA - You liked the Red Sox' chances before the game with Josh Beckett pitching, you liked it when he had a 4-1 lead, and you liked it again when he hit a tying home run after allowing a four-run inning.
Well, I did, anyway.
But this is why I would never, ever bet on a sporting event. I don't know if anyone has ever told you this, but the great thing about sport is that You Never Know.
Some 15 hours after the Boston Red Sox beat the Philadelphia Phillies by an 11-6 score, the Philadelphia Phillies beat the Boston Red Sox by an 11-6 score. Is that a source of fascination for numerologists? Perhaps. Does it mean anything in the Big Scheme Of Things?
No. That is unless you think Beckett is going to pitch like this next time out.
What the Citizens Bank Park capacity crowd of 45,141 did bear witness to yesterday was the sudden mortality of Mr. Beckett, who had put together a very impressive string of pitching performances, capped by six innings of one-hit ball against the Yankees last Tuesday evening. His ERA took a serious beating, rising from 3.77 to 4.15.
It's hard to get much out of the postgame Beckett, even on his good days. Give him props for standing right up there and facing the music, however. But about all I could take away from the session was that his location problems were more "up and down" than "in and out."
Don't know about you, but I am sure prepared to give him a mulligan. We all know he's better than this.
Now, Terry Francona tried to get through this one with a lineup that would not have looked out of place at Jack Russell Stadium on a nice March afternoon in Clearwater, Fla. With southpaw J.A. Happ going, David Ortiz was sitting, of course. Dustin (4 for 39) Pedroia was also given a chance to observe. It was not only the day after a night game, but it was also the day after a night game following a 13-inning game, so Jason Varitek wasn't playing. And with the lefty going, it was a good excuse to give Rocco Baldelli some ABs and allow J.D. Drew to heal up from both the latest injury and perhaps get a head start on coming back from the next one.
Hence, the presence in the lineup of four players who were not with the team a year ago at this time: Jason Bay, Baldelli, George Kottaras, and, of course, the legendary Nick Green, who had three more hits and who combined with Baldelli on a back-to-back homer pairing in the second.
But offense wasn't the problem; no, sir.
"It's just a shame," Beckett said. "Your team scores you six runs, and you can't hold them."
This one was just not fated to go his way. Beckett had a 4-1 lead entering the fifth, and was coming off a strong third and fourth innings in which he needed only 18 pitches to retire six men. He looked as if he were entering official Cruise Gear, but things fell apart in the fifth, when the Phillies reached him for four runs on five hits, the last of which was a two-run double into the right-field corner by Ryan Howard.
However, are you ready for this? Guess who led off the Boston sixth by hitting the first pitch for a home run to left-center? Yup, Josh Beckett, who also homered here back in '06. Of course, given what happened afterward, he was in no mood to discuss his hitting.
The seventh was just plain ugly from a Boston viewpoint. Jimmy Rollins led off with a vicious line-drive homer to right on a 3-and-2 pitch. When Shane Victorino followed with a single, Francona lifted his ace in favor of Daniel Bard, who was last seen making some Phillies look very bad by striking out the side with his sick combination of 98-100-mile-per-hour fastballs and some pretty decent breaking stuff. Well, that was then.
He started by walking Chase Utley on four pitches. Howard chopped one to first, and there was hope for a double play that could have saved the inning. But Utley, who is one of those Ballplayer's Ballplayer types, made a great takeout slide on Julio Lugo, whose throw was way too wide to get Howard.
Before the inning was over, Bard would give up doubles to Jayson Werth and Pedro Feliz. But by far the worst thing he did was walk opposing pitcher Chan Ho Park. That was all for the young man, but just to underscore the kind of hopeless inning it was, the first thing Takashi Saito did was hit Rollins, forcing in a run.
When it was all said and done (and undone), the Phillies had pushed across six runs on four hits, three walks (one intentional), and a hit batsman.
Hey, it happens.
You could micromanage this carnage, but what's the use? If this, if that. Sure, the double play would have been nice, but give Utley credit for cleanly and aggressively taking Lugo out of the play. It was a winner's play, and the Phillies are reigning World Champions, remember?
In the course of the Big 162 all kinds of stuff, some logical and some inexplicable, is going to happen. You shrug it off and move on.
Francona's explanation: "The extra opportunities with a lineup like that finally caught up with us."
Sounds good to me.
There is no more inconsequential sampling in American sport than one baseball game. But there are recognizable trends, and the truth is that since Tuesday night this was a very good week for the Boston Red Sox. Beckett was sensational against the Yankees Tuesday. Wearing out CC Sabathia Thursday was a great thing. Not squandering the magnificence of Jon Lester Friday was uplifting. Pounding out the victory Saturday night to ensure a winning series against the Phillies was noteworthy.
A sweep would have been nice, but a sweep would also have been unrealistic. All Red Sox fans need to know about their team is that it is much better off than it was a week ago today.