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It's a piece of cake for Beckett and Red Sox

Josh Beckett had his most dominant start as a Red Sox pitcher against the Orioles.
Josh Beckett had his most dominant start as a Red Sox pitcher against the Orioles. (Reuters Photo)

Correction: Because of a reporting error, a story in yesterday's Sports section incorrectly described Mike Lowell as leading Major League Baseball in extra base hits. Albert Pujols does. The same story also incorrectly described Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett as having been the highest drafted right-handed pitcher since 1977. When Beckett was drafted in 1999, it was the highest a right-handed pitcher had been drafted out of high school since 1977.

BALTIMORE -- Average would have been enough. Six innings, eight hits, four runs, something like that would have done the job just fine against a woeful Baltimore team outscored, 56-20, by the Sox in seven games this season, all Boston wins, the latest being last night's 11-1 annihilation before 25,607 at Camden Yards. But average didn't get Josh Beckett selected second overall in 1999, higher than any righthanded pitcher since 1977. And average did not get him $7 million of John Henry's Marlins money as a 19-year-old.

And so, as a 2-1 lead became 6-1 became 8-1, Beckett only got sharper, better, more focused.

''I think his last two innings were better than the five in between," said Mike Lowell, who tripled in two runs and homered, lifting his extra-base-hit total to 24. ''He was getting quick outs. He threw only 16 pitches in his last two innings. A nice victory for him, a good birthday present. And we got him some runs.

''That's the talent. I've seen the talent to dominate lineups [in Florida]."

Indeed, the emotional Texan who at times shows the mound guile of a 35-year-old and at other times the immaturity of a teenager, turned 26 yesterday and pitched as crisp a game as he has at any point this year.

In seven innings, he needed just 80 pitches. He didn't walk or hit anyone, allowed only two hits in 22 Baltimore at-bats, and faced just one over the minimum over seven innings to improve to 5-1 with a 4.24 ERA.

His lone mistake was a 3-and-2 pitch in the first inning that Miguel Tejada lined 365 feet to left. At Fenway, it would have been a single, possibly a double. Here, it was gone, for a 1-0 lead that lasted about as the long as that ball's time in flight itself.

Once Beckett had given that up, he went to work, retiring the next 13 batters. Jay Gibbons flied to right. Ramon Hernandez popped to Jason Varitek. Jeff Conine flied to right. Corey Patterson popped to second. Javy Lopez fanned, looking, at a curveball. Nick Markakis grounded to Kevin Youkilis. Brandon Fahey flied to left. Melvin Mora fanned, swinging at a fastball that registered at 97 m.p.h. on the ESPN gun. Tejada lined to left. Gibbons fanned, on a fastball ESPN clocked at 99. Hernandez again popped to Varitek. Conine struck out swinging, on a biting curveball. Patterson, too, whiffed at a dynamic curveball. 13 up, 13 down.

''Aside from the pitch to Tejada, he threw a very strong and effective fastball and probably the most effective breaking ball we've seen this year," said manager Terry Francona, who earned his 500th career win.

Lopez finally ended Beckett's run of dominance, singling to left to lead off the sixth. But Markakis then grounded back to Beckett, who threw to Alex Gonzalez at second just about as hard as you'll ever see a pitcher make a throw on a fielding play. Gonzalez relayed to Youkilis for the double play.

The Sox, who now have beaten Baltimore more times in a row (12) than ever before, should be thankful for Orioles pitching. Baltimore starters, in seven games against the Sox this season, have averaged only four innings with a 12.86 ERA (28 innings, 40 earned runs). Other teams' starters have posted a 3.99 ERA against Boston. The Sox are 15-14 in those games.

Rodrigo Lopez, previously a Sox killer, now can't get anybody out. He lasted only four innings plus three batters last night, knocked out by Lowell's two-run triple in the fifth. The triple, only the fourth of Lowell's career, was the 10th hit by the Sox off Lopez and accounted for the seventh and eighth runs off the righthander.

In three starts covering 15 1/3 innings this year, the Sox have pounded Lopez for an astounding 27 hits and 16 runs. He's taken losses in all three with an ERA of 9.39.

''Maybe a couple times he missed his spots, but we put good at-bats together," Lowell said. ''Because he's sneaky. He's got good stuff. I actually don't think he's average. I think he's pretty good."

Lopez has proven as much in the past, but the past is looking to be well in the rearview mirror. He hasn't won since Opening Day and has given up at least four runs in all nine of his starts (1-6, 7.86 ERA).

The Sox went into the game having played all of six innings since last Thursday, when their three-game series at Yankee Stadium ended. They also had played just 10 games in May, the fewest of any team in the big leagues. The fear, Francona said, was that offensively they'd be stale.

They were not. They were coming to the plate in such rapid succession against Lopez that Youkilis had batted three times by the end of the third inning.

In the second, Varitek led off with a walk, and Wily Mo Peña sliced a ball to right-center that disappeared just to the side of the big scoreboard. The homer, his fourth of the season, carried an approximated 375 feet.

''He keeps getting more at-bats," Varitek said, ''and he's a big, big strong man."

The Sox scored four more for a 6-2 lead in the third. David Ortiz doubled with no outs and scored on Varitek's RBI single. Pena, later in the inning with the bases loaded, broke his bat but muscled a two-run single to center. Gonzalez tacked on a run with a sacrifice fly.

In the ninth, against John Halama, Varitek hit a two-run bomb to center, and Lowell followed with a solo shot to left.

The win was Beckett's, but the complete game wasn't. He probably could have finished. After needing 24 pitches in the first, he needed just 24 to complete the fifth, sixth, and seventh. But with the two rainouts, the bullpen needed some work. And when Beckett slipped on a warmup pitch in the sixth, that helped seal Francona's decision.

''It would have been nice to go out there and try to finish it," Beckett said. ''My lower back grabbed a little bit [when I slipped]. I think that had something to do with Tito taking me out. I was pitching pretty good to that point."

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