Beckett outing bad, but Sox’ batters are better
TORONTO — The best pitching performance by a starter at Rogers Centre last night came long before the first pitch was thrown. Daisuke Matsuzaka stepped onto the mound in Toronto for a simulated game, and demonstrated command and feel in preparation for his return to the rotation.
That was far more than could be said for either Dana Eveland or Josh Beckett. The Blue Jays starter gave up four runs in the third inning, then the Red Sox starter yielded six in the bottom half. In fact, neither got an out in the fourth before their respective managers decided that they had seen enough — more than enough, really.
The Red Sox’ starting rotation has hardly lived up to its advance billing. It had a 5.06 ERA entering last night’s game, and that ballooned to 5.56 after Beckett allowed eight earned runs over his three innings. He gave up nine hits and three walks while striking out three, and continued a horrendous stretch.
“That was not the way we drew it up,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “I think I’ve said that a few times this year. It’s a challenging way to play the game.’’
Fortunately for the Sox, they were facing the Jays.
Even though Toronto is ahead of the Sox in the standings, that is an early season fluke. The Sox’ bats were alive, and after a four-run sixth inning they led, 13-9. And that lead, miraculously, held up in a 13-12 victory, even though things were in doubt until the end.
Of the Sox’ last five wins, all have come by a run.
“Just trying to figure out how we were going to win,’’ Francona quipped. “Once we got to 13, we were trying to figure out, OK, do you go for 2?’’
Jason Varitek went 3 for 5 for the Sox with a pair of two-run singles and Marco Scutaro was 3 for 5 with a walk against his former team. Boston had 18 hits.
Both Beckett and Francona insisted that the starter is healthy.
“Too many pitches in the heart of the plate,’’ Beckett said. “Good fastball hitters hit fastballs. Just a bad night.
“You get paid to make adjustments, and that’s what I’ve got to do. Unfortunately, every adjustment I made ended up getting hit harder than the last one.’’
Beckett wasn’t alone. No one could hold anyone down. No one could stop anyone else.
Manny Delcarmen entered at 10:11 p.m., exactly three hours after the first pitch, after Lyle Overbay had homered to start the bottom of the sixth. Yes, the sixth — that’s how long it was taking. For the few fans that deigned to attend this one — 13,847 was the announced attendance — it wasn’t looking like there would be any bars open after this one ended in which to drown their sorrows.
Of the seven pitchers who had worked before Delcarmen, every one allowed at least one run. Beckett allowed those eight. Eveland allowed seven. Scott Atchison allowed one. Scott Schoeneweis allowed one. Jeremy Accardo allowed one. Shawn Camp allowed three. Casey Janssen allowed two. Delcarmen worked two scoreless innings.
It wasn’t a game that, as the Sox jumped to a 5-0 lead, seemed destined to include Jonathan Papelbon. Yet, there was Papelbon entering as the Sox’ seventh pitcher in the ninth. The Sox allowed 12 runs on 16 hits and still prevailed, just two days after giving up 17 hits to the lowly Orioles and winning. And these games are against the dregs of the league.
It was finally a victory for the bats, as the Sox went 11 for 20 with runners in scoring position and five members of the Sox order had three hits, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, and Adrian Beltre joining Varitek and Scutaro.
“I think we finally responded, we hadn’t really swung the bats real well,’’ said Varitek. “It was a big [game] for us to win offensively because we haven’t put up those kind of hits and runs yet this year.’’
There is a long way to go this season. There is more time to form an opinion of this edition of the Sox. So far, though, the picture of this season’s team has been far more bad than good, far more muddled and mistake-prone than anyone could have predicted. Yes, the offense was there last night, against a pitcher who entered with a 17.36 ERA against the Sox, only to see it rise. But the pitching was not.
Beckett’s first two innings didn’t quite foreshadow what would come in the third. In the first, he allowed two-out hits to Adam Lind (single) and Vernon Wells (double), but escaped the jam by getting Overbay to pop to short. In the second inning he allowed a two-out double. but it was harmless.
The third, though, was entirely different. Fred Lewis opened the frame with a triple, followed by an RBI single, a fly out to right field, two doubles, another single, and a three-run homer by Jose Bautista. Beckett struck out John Buck and walked Travis Snider before finally getting back around to Lewis, who struck out looking to finally end the inning, six runs later.
He began the fourth with two walks, and Francona began the long walk to the mound. Beckett’s night was over.
“A lot of balls in the middle of the plate,’’ Francona said. “In three innings, that’s a lot of hits. Try to send him back out, hoping he can gather himself, and he walked the first two. It’s kind of an uphill battle.’’
Those six runs marked the first time Beckett had allowed that many in an inning since Aug. 17, 2008, also against the Blue Jays.
So it was another lost night for the Boston starters, another night of double-digits in hits, another night with too many innings by a weary bullpen.
Not that the Sox are panicking over what they’ll get from their starters. They’ve been through this before, with rough Aprils from Jon Lester and from Beckett, who recorded a 7.22 ERA over 28 2/3 innings in April last season.
This season? That same 7.22 ERA through his first five starts.
“The numbers tell everything,’’ Beckett said. “It’s not good.’’