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Beckett at his best

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  April 11, 2011 02:23 PM

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Playing nine innings while wondering whether Orel Hershiser has gotten a word in edgewise yet . . .

beckettjosh414.jpg1. Well, that was beyond encouraging, wasn't it? Josh Beckett's eight-inning, two-hit masterpiece -- against a Yankees lineup (minus A-Rod) that he held to a sparkling 10.04 ERA in five starts last season, with just nine homers allowed in 26 innings -- was as excellent as it was surprising. It's funny, I remember thinking before the game that it wasn't so long ago that Beckett vs. Sabathia would have been a matchup worth anticipating, but with his struggles last season and his recent ugly history against the Yankees, there was almost a sense of foreboding entering this game. Instead, he threw his rediscovered sharp curve for strikes, had the two-seamer working to keep the lefties in the lineup honest, and his velocity was consistently at 94. Derek Jeter said he was "filthy" after the game, and that was confirmed by the 10 strikeouts next to Beckett's name on the scoresheet. It was his first double-figure strikeout game since July 27, 2009, and this may well be the best game he's pitched since then. Now, for his next challenge: let's see him do it with Jarrod Saltalamacchia behind the plate.

2. The best thing about the Red Sox thus far this season is one of the best things about any recent season: Dustin Pedroia. After his third three-hit game of the Yankees series last night, he's now hitting .400, and any concerns we had during spring training that his foot injury might linger have been put to rest. Perhaps as importantly, he's been a voice of reason during the Sox' slow start, noting bluntly that they need to pitch better after Saturday's loss, but also putting it all into perspective last night: "We're four games out of first place with 153 to go. ... It looks doable." Robinson Cano might be a better player, but there's no way he means as much to the Yankees as Pedroia does to the Red Sox.

3. Over the past four seasons, Adrian Gonzalez has played 161, 162, 160, and 160 games. When he got drilled on the hand by a Sabathia pitch in the fifth inning, I immediately wondered if his remarkable record of durability would be a casualty of this bizarre, unpredictable start to the season, and the ESPN crew didn't ease our concerns by emphasizing how much he was shaking his beaned pinkie and speculating on whether it might be broken. So to read in the paper this morning that he didn't even get an X-ray . . . well, it felt good to exhale.

4. You could make the argument that Marco Scutaro's two-run double in the seventh inning last night was the biggest hit of the season. Suddenly, after taking two of three from the Yankees, it feels like the reset button has been hit on this season and all will be well going forward. Had the Red Sox wasted Beckett's gem and lost the game (and the series) by leaving 16 runners on base? Hell, I might have called the Whiner Line to howl that they're ruining my summah. So, huge hit . . . but I'm not changing my stance. Jed Lowrie should have more than 12 plate appearances at this point.

5. Carl Crawford has spent nine years in the major leagues before this one. In every single month from May through September, his career batting average is at least .296 and his lowest OPS is .770 (in August). In April, however, he's a .276 hitter with a .716 OPS. He's a traditionally slow starter who is off to an even slower start than usual in his new baseball home. This doesn't mean he's struggling with the pressure or can't play in a big market. You know what it means? That much better things are to come. Why some are so quick to screech about his problems -- particularly since he's a player we should be rather familiar with given that he's tormented the Red Sox -- is one of the real disappointments of the season's early days.

6. If you're one of those stubborn old-schoolers who remain adamant in the face of common sense that the won-lost record gives a good accounting of a pitcher's actual performance, I counter with this: John Lackey got a W next to his name for that mess Friday, a day after Jon Lester had nothing to show for his seven-inning, no-run, nine-K gem at Cleveland. Explain, please. And show your work. I want to see this logic unfold.

ramirezmanny414finn.JPG7. I don't think any of us are surprised that Manny Ramirez's departure from the game is bizarre; it just figured he wouldn't show up to the ballpark one day and that would be that. But I never thought it would be so sad, and I mean that in every sense. I'll miss him -- hell, I still miss watching him for the Red Sox, and you know there were many more good times as bad. But even his most ardent apologist can't begin to defend how he carelessly abandoned the Rays, and it's hard to defend his legacy when it's apparent how little it matters to him.

8. I know I've been preaching that it's much too early to draw any real, concrete conclusions about this season. But we'll slap an asterisk on that when it comes to judging the Yankees, because . . . well, because rash judgments are pretty darn fun when it comes a rival, as honest Yankees fans will attest themselves. So, three thoughts on the eventual 2011 AL East runner-up: 1) The Red Sox are grateful that Phil Hughes left his fastball in Florida, but as an impartial baseball fan, 2) Used to work with a Yankee fan who liked to tell me that Derek Jeter would make a run at 4,000 hits. Watching Jeter now -- and over the second half of last season, when he hit .265 with a .342 slugging percentage -- I'm wondering how many beyond 3,000 he'll get, and how long of a plod it will be to reach that milestone. He just doesn't seem to hit the ball hard anymore. 3) Not to kick a calm-eyed captain while he's down, but the Yankees' infield defense would be better with Eric Chavez at third and a slimmed-down A-Rod at short.

9.Carl Yastrzemski was the perfect choice to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day. But after last night, when Ron Johnson's beaming 11-year-old daughter Bridget did the honors, ol' Yaz is already relegated to the No. 2 starter in this rotation.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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