Josh Beckett, a pretty good pitcher even when the calendar doesn't read October, keeps providing evidence to the contrary.
Beckett continued his breakout season by extending the season for the Red Sox Thursday, when he allowed one run on five hits while striking out 11 in eight innings as the Sox staved off elimination by beating the Indians, 7-1, in Game Five of the AL Championship Series at Jacobs Field.
The sellout crowd of 44,588 at Jacobs Field hoped to see the Indians clinch the pennant at home for the first time since LCS play began in 1969. Instead, the Sox—who scored twice in the seventh and three times in the eighth to break the game open—closed the deficit to three games to two and will attempt to extend the season again in Game Six Saturday night, when Curt Schilling takes on Fausto Carmona in a rematch of Game Two.
"Today we had a chance," Jason Varitek said. "Tomorrow, we have a chance."
Nobody gives the Sox a chance quite like Beckett, who has followed a 20-win regular season by earning both Sox victories this series and three of their five wins this month. In those three starts, he's allowed just three runs on 13 hits and one walk while striking out 26. Overall in the postseason dating back to 2003, Beckett is 5-0 in nine games with a 1.78 ERA and 34 hits allowed, 13 walks issued and 73 strikeouts in 65 2/3 innings.
"It's great to see," Mike Lowell said. "I don't know—his focus, his concentration seems like it's at a new level."
Beckett's focus was tested Thursday. The Indians needed just seven pitches in the first to put runners on the corners on Grady Sizemore's bloop double and Asdrubal Cabrera's single. Beckett induced Travis Hafner to hit into a run-scoring double play before he allowed a single to Victor Martinez, but he struck out Ryan Garko to end the inning.
"We had the people up there that we wanted to, but we really let him off the hook," Indians manager Eric Wedge said. "Really let him off the hook and weren't able to do anything beyond that."
He didn't allow another hit until the fifth, when Casey Blake and Sizemore singled with two outs in the fifth. But with the Sox nursing a 2-1 lead, Beckett whiffed Cabrera on three pitches.
"I thought early he was up in the first inning, and then once he settled down, started establishing that breaking ball, he really became the guy—the dominant pitcher—that we rely on so much," Terry Francona said.
Earlier in the fifth, Beckett got into an argument with Kenny Lofton, who got ahead in the count 3-0 and dropped his bat as the fourth pitch sailed into Varitek's glove. But it was called a strike, and after Lofton flew out on the next pitch, Beckett yelled at him. Lofton appeared to scream an obscenity back at Beckett, and after Manny Ramirez caught the ball, Lofton ran across the diamond to confront Beckett. Both benches and bullpens emptied and each player was kept away from the other and the incident passed with no punches.
"It was a lot of stuff," Beckett said. "It kind of goes back before today."
Beginning with Cabrera, Beckett retired 10 of the final 11 batters he faced. He threw 33 pitches in the first two innings but threw 13 or fewer in four of his final six frames and ended with 109 pitches. His 11 whiffs were the most by a pitcher in the playoffs since he struck out 10 Yankees in the clinching Game Six of the 2003 World Series.
"I felt good," Beckett said. "It's easy when you've got everything going. Once again, I had great defense and I held them off just long enough for us to put up some runs."
Beckett didn't have much room for error in the first six innings, when the Sox scored just two runs despite reaching base 12 times—via eight hits, two walks and two hit batsmen—against C.C. Sabathia. The Sox stranded seven runners, left the bases loaded in the fifth and may have lost at least two runs thanks to quirky plays involving the ever-quirky Ramirez.
Ramirez, who was thrown out at home trying to score on Mike Lowell's two-out single in the first, crushed a ball to centerfield in the third that bounced off the yellow line on top of the fence. The Sox believed it was a home run, but Ramirez trotted to first and never tried for second even as David Ortiz scored all the way from first. Francona came out to argue and was eventually joined by Ramirez, who was pulled away from the scrum by first base coach Luis Alicea.
Jacobs Field ground rules indicate a ball must clear the yellow line in order to be a home run. "Seeing it live and happening quick like that—I think there's a point as a manager where you don't care if it's right, you want the run," Francona said with a laugh.
The Sox finally got some insurance in the seventh, when Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis doubled and tripled and eventually scored, and the eighth, when the Sox turned three walks, a single and an error by Rafael Perez into three runs and removed any doubt the series was heading back east.
"This is not where we want to be," Beckett said. "But obviously, we're inching closer to where we want to be."
Diehard managing editor Jerry Beach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To receive a free issue of Diehard, call 888-501-5752. To subscribe to Diehard or diehardmagazine.com, please CLICK HERE
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