Beckett is back in control

Hopes to continue dominance vs. NY

By Nicole Auerbach
Globe Correspondent / August 7, 2011

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It’s no secret that 2010 did not go the way Josh Beckett wanted.

He posted a career-high 5.78 ERA. He won just six games, his lowest total since 2002. He dealt with back pain that caused him to miss nine weeks of the season.

His struggles didn’t come only against the rival Yankees, but those seemingly stand out more than the others. The Yankees are the measuring stick for any Red Sox pitcher.

So how did Beckett do against them last year? A 1-2 record and a 10.04 ERA in five starts.

Ouch. Especially for a guy who had defined himself as a premier pitcher against the Yankees in the 2003 World Series while with the Marlins.

But his disappointing outings in 2010 seem light years away from the 2011 version of Beckett, particularly against the Yankees.

In three starts this season, Beckett is 3-0 with a 0.86 ERA.

“Probably the biggest thing is he’s healthy,’’ Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “His velocity is back. I think his curveball has been outstanding against us this year.’’

Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek - who has caught Beckett more than anyone else in the pitcher’s career - agreed that Beckett’s change in performance this year started with his improved health.

“He wasn’t the same pitcher last season and it was a constant battle,’’ Varitek said. “This year, he’s been able to throw all of his pitches for strikes and finish them off.

“Whether it’s the Yankees or anybody else, he has a plan and he sticks to it. The Yankees have such a deep lineup, you have to go batter by batter and he does that. Josh is prepared when he goes out there.’’

Tonight, he’ll go up against Yankees righthander Freddy Garcia (10-7, 3.22 ERA) in the deciding game of this weekend’s three-game series. The winner will sit alone atop the American League East.

The Yankees who have faced Beckett this year and last year have seen a difference in his pitching. They don’t think it has anything to do with pinstripes, though.

“Just across the board,’’ Curtis Granderson said. “He’s only faced us three times but other than that, he’s had numerous amounts of other starts and his numbers are still as good as they are.

“This year, everything’s been working on all cylinders for him. He’s been able to execute very well. When he’s gotten himself in jams, he’s been able to get himself out.’’

Yankees left fielder Brett Gardner said that Beckett is putting up good numbers against nearly every opponent he faces because he’s getting ahead of batters and going to his cutter more often.

Yankees slugger Mark Teixeira thinks it comes down to Beckett’s execution of pitches.

“He’s having a great season,’’ Teixeira said. “He’s one of the top two or three pitchers in the American League.’’

Statistics help to support that claim. Beckett’s 2.20 ERA is second best in the American League, and he allows 5.9 hits per nine innings, which leads the league.

As they find themselves in the midst of a competitive division race with the Yankees, the Red Sox hope Beckett will continue putting up the kind of numbers he has.

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