On this night, he was total package
Is Josh Beckett ever going to be a dominant pitcher again? Are the 2011 Red Sox the most overrated local entity since Patriot Place?
Those were the questions folks were asking at Fenway Park before last night’s rubber match of the weekend set with the Yankees.
Sox fans got the answers they were looking for as Beckett returned to his 2007 form and Boston beat CC Sabathia and the Yankees, 4-0.
So there is hope, after all. The Sox just took a series from the Yankees, the 1-8 Tampa Bay Rays are coming to town, and Beckett looks like he might be better than your average No. 4 starter.
The Yankees owned Beckett last year, scoring 29 runs (nine homers) in only 26 innings against the big righty. Beckett’s brutal 2010 season cast doubt on his future and he didn’t help himself with his first 2011 start, at Cleveland.
Last night was different. Beckett smothered the Bombers. He allowed zero runs on two hits and a walk, striking out 10. He threw 103 pitches, 68 for strikes. (I say give the man another contract extension.)
It was the antithesis of everything Sox starters have done this season. There were no homers. The pitch count was decidedly low. It was the kind of dominance Beckett demonstrated when he led the Sox to the world championship in October of ’07. It was a veteran craftsman showing the kids how things are done. After watching Sox pitchers allow 19 homers in eight games, it was overdue.
“He was really, really good,’’ said a relieved Terry Francona. “Right from the very beginning he was commanding his pitches. When he’s getting that two-seamer to lefties, the plate opens up.’’
Beckett was typically understated in his postgame media session. He’s generally a better quote when he’s ineffective, which has been most of the time over the last few years. When he dominates, he clams up.
“I feel good about my outing,’’ he said. “I went eight innings and saved the bullpen a little bit.’’
It was, of course, much more than that. Beckett gave the Nation hope that Boston’s pitching staff won’t be a piñata all season.
If LeBron James and the Heat can sweep the Celtics in the second round of the NBA playoffs, John Henry and Tom Werner might petition the mayor for a duck boat parade down Yawkey Way. What’s good for LeBron is good for the Red Sox, and you have to take good news anywhere you can get it these days.
There was another positive development for the Sox when it was announced that Alex Rodriguez was scratched from the Yankee lineup due to flu-like symptoms. No word on the whereabouts of Cameron Diaz, who watched Friday’s opener from the State Street Pavilion.
Beckett took advantage of A-Rod’s absence. He retired the Yanks in order in the first, getting Brett Gardner and Mark Teixeira on called third strikes. He caught Teixeira looking at his front-door sinker — a pitch that starts out at the fists of a lefty batter, then breaks back across the plate, like a screwball.
The Sox had runners on all night, stranding a whopping 16 while going 3 for 14 with runners in scoring position. Poor Carl Crawford is down to .132 and Kevin Youkilis is at .148, but let’s not dwell on the negative. For at least a few days . . . Beckett is back.
The vaunted Yankee lineup couldn’t put a man on base until Eric Chavez cracked a one-out single in the third. Beckett hit the next batter, but got out of the jam when Dustin Pedroia made a spectacular play, turning two on a grounder that was headed to center field. Pedroia continues to be the Sox’ best player as the locals stagger through this early slump.
Did Beckett feel a need to restore order to the Red Sox’ universe?
“We all do that,’’ he said. “When our day comes, everybody tries to do their thing. We haven’t been getting a lot of breaks. That was a pretty tough week we went through.’’
It will be noted (again and again) that Beckett excelled on a night when he was throwing to old friend Jason Varitek. Francona loathes the notion that one of his pitchers needs a personal catcher, and Beckett has been quick to praise Jarrod Saltalamacchia, but the Beckett-Varitek tandem is going to be tough to split after last night.
“He is so calming back there,’’ Beckett said, before quickly adding that Salty is also calm back there. “Tek and I were really clicking.’’
There was a scary moment in the bottom of the fifth when Adrian Gonzalez was hit on the hand by a Sabathia pitch. Hearts went still across New England. Things are bad enough without losing the best new player.
Gonzo was examined at first base and stayed in the game.
No break for Gonzalez.
Finally, a break for the Sox. Josh Beckett is back. For at least one day.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.