Beckett brilliant for Sox
PHILADELPHIA - Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine walked through the clubhouse Sunday morning, making sure he had enough healthy players to field a representative lineup against the Phillies.
Against his better judgment, Valentine kept Adrian Gonzalez in right field and David Ortiz at first base. He also used catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia in a day game after a night game.
With outfielders Cody Ross and Ryan Sweeney out, the Sox started the game with only three players available off the bench. One was rookie Che-Hsuan Lin, who was summoned from the minors earlier in the day.
“We’re a little short,’’ Valentine said.
With Josh Beckett on the mound, it didn’t matter. The righthander carried a shutout into the eighth inning as the Sox stopped the Phillies again, 5-1.
That’s eight wins in the last 10 games for the Sox, now 20-21 and headed to Baltimore for a three-game series against the first-place Orioles.
Beckett allowed seven hits, four of them infield singles. He walked two and struck out five to beat the usually imposing Cliff Lee, who gave up five runs over seven innings.
“Josh was tremendous,’’ Saltalamacchia said. “That’s one of the best performances we’ve had.’’
Beckett (4-4) has given up one run on 11 hits over his last 14 2/3 innings with four walks and 14 strikeouts.
The two stellar starts came in the wake of controversy earlier this month when Beckett was criticized for playing golf while recovering from a strained muscle behind his right shoulder.
The Indians hit Beckett hard at Fenway Park a day after the golf outing became news and he was booed off the mound. Beckett also became the villain du jour on the sports pages, talk radio, and the Internet.
Beckett has been dominant since. Not that he feels that is unusual.
“I felt like I’ve had some other good starts this year,’’ said Beckett, who has recorded six quality starts in eight appearances. “You guys don’t see that. But I feel like I have.’’
Said Valentine: “I can’t speak to emotions or thoughts or anything like that. I just see a guy who every day is coming in here, seems like he’s excited about being here. What’s there not to like right now?’’
Beckett tired in the eighth inning, giving up a run on two hits and a sacrifice fly. Vicente Padilla came in and walked Hunter Pence to load the bases before getting Ty Wigginton to ground to second.
Beckett even produced at the plate, hammering a Lee pitch off the wall in center field. The ball struck just above the 409-foot sign. Beckett, who has homered twice at Citizens Bank Park, just missed a third.
It should have been a double, but Beckett strolled to first, his foot sore after he was stepped on covering first base earlier in the game.
“No way. Station to station,’’ Beckett said of his lack of base-running acumen. “I can’t do anything else. That’s it.’’
Lee (0-2) allowed five runs on seven hits in the first three innings. Mike Aviles hit the third pitch of the game into the left-field stands. It was his third homer in as many games.
Aviles is the first Red Sox player to hit leadoff homers in consecutive games since Harry Hooper in a doubleheader at Washington on May 30, 1913.
“In all honesty I just try and put the good part of the bat on the ball with Lee,’’ Aviles said. “He’s the kind of pitcher that, if you try and take big swings, he’s going to abuse you. He’s always been that way. He comes at you and throws strikes. I try and hit line drives up the middle.’’
Aviles added an RBI single in the second inning. He has driven in 27 runs, third-most on the team.
In the third inning, Gonzalez singled and took third on a double by Will Middlebrooks. Saltalamacchia then hit a changeup onto the concourse above the bleacher seats just to the left of center field.
The shot was estimated at close to 450 feet and one of the longest in the majors this season.
“I honestly was just trying to hit a fly ball and get the runner in,’’ Saltalamacchia said. “That was it.’’
Saltalamacchia left Friday night’s game in the fifth after being struck in the ear and suffering a gash that required 12 stitches. He is 4 for 8 since with two home runs, a double, and four RBIs.
“Might as well ride that horse when he’s feeling good,’’ Valentine said.
Daniel Bard, who threw the pitch that deflected off a hitter and nailed Saltalamacchia, joked that he would do it again if his catcher fell into a slump.
“Maybe somebody can just smack me a little instead,’’ Saltalamacchia said.
Though still in last place, the Red Sox are a changed team.
“The mood is good,’’ Aviles said. “We’re having fun, we’re playing ball, we’re playing the way we should play. Playing good defense, pitching well, and our offense is rolling pretty good.
“When you’re doing all three of those you have a good chance to win every night and that’s where we’re at. We think we can win every game.’’