That was old school Josh Beckett Sunday night.
En route to a 4-0 win over New York, Beckett locked down, got in a rhythm with catcher Jason Varitek, worked quickly and provided the kind of ace stuff that Red Sox fans have only seen in spurts the past two years.
Through eight innings of work, Beckett surrendered just two hits and one walk, struck out 10, didn’t allow a run and was economical in his approach, needing just 103 pitches to work through the Yankees on Sunday Night Baseball. And were it not a chilly and wet April night, it’s easy to imagine Beckett going out there to finish what he started in the ninth.
Alas, after retiring the final 14 batters he faced, Jonathan Papelbon was called into duty, and quickly retired the side. Inning over, game, over, and the Red Sox took two of three from New York after dropping the first six games of the season.
There was a lot to like in this series. Beyond the downer of Clay Buchholz getting rocked for eight hits and four earned runs on Saturday, Gonzalez enjoyed success in his first games at Fenway Park, slapping the ball through the shift all weekend, and even dropping down a bunt to start a rally in Friday’s game. Meanwhile, Dustin Pedroia is filling his role as Boston’s spark plug. The Red Sox’ second baseman had three hits each on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and was all over the field, including starting a beautiful 4-3 double play on Sunday night, no doubt provided a huge emotional boost to a team struggling with confidence.
But as much fun as it is to watch Pedroia (and watching Pedroia is one of the truly great pleasures in baseball these days), there’s nothing quite like watching a pitcher work his magic against a tough lineup. On Sunday, Beckett was magic. Alex Rodriguez didn’t play for New York, but Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, Russell Martin (two home runs on Saturday) and Derek Jeter looked lost against the right-hander. Beckett never looked frustrated, never fell back on his fastball by habit. He just put his head down and worked.
It’s been a troubling start to the season, but there have been positives for Boston. David Ortiz has started out this season strong, bucking a trend of the past two Aprils. Adrian Gonzalez seems to be fitting in and finding his stroke just fine. Pedroia, of couse, is just hitting everything he sees.
Now, add Beckett to that list. A decent, but not great, start in Cleveland welcomed him to 2011, but Sunday night, the Beckett that Sox fans remember so fondly returned.
And honestly, it’s hard to fault them for wondering if we’d ever see him be this good again.