Josh Beckett did not speak like a man amidst the greatest run of his pitching career. His statements were riddled with self-criticism as he attempted to offer praise to anyone but himself.
Beckett dominated Oakland on Tuesday for his 10th win of the season. He gave up two runs and six hits (two of them infield dinks) in 6.2 innings, getting 15 of his 20 outs via groundball or strikeout.
And yet, in a performance that had Red Sox manager Terry Francona describing him as “one of the best” and “fearless,” and that had A’s skipper Bob Geren calling him “one of the elite pitchers in the league,” Beckett held himself to a different standard. When an infield single chased him from the game with two outs and two on in the seventh, Beckett shouted his displeasure at the world, his frustration with a bad outcome on a good pitch.
As for the rest of his outing, here are Beckett’s self-assessments:
“I made some mistakes. I got away with a few mistakes.”
“I didn’t think my curveball was exceptionally sharp, but I threw it when I needed to.”
“I didn’t really think my sinker was very good today. … I guess I didn’t think it was that good tonight. I got some groundballs on some changeups and cutters.”
Clearly, Beckett is no glory hog. But if he wanted to be one, he would have grounds upon which to do so.
The 2007 season stands as the basis of comparison for Beckett’s dominance, at least during the regular season. He went 20-7 with a 3.27 ERA, came in second in A.L. Cy Young voting. But in many respects, what he is doing now is even more impressive.
Since a two-start hiccup at the end of April, Beckett is now 8-1 with a 2.38 ERA in his last 12 starts. In his last nine starts, he has been even better, with just a 1.68 ERA.
“Obviously, I blew it in April,” Beckett said of his 2-2 record and 7.22 ERA at the end of the season’s first month. “But I feel like I’ve had a good couple of months, really getting back on track.”
In many respects, he has been just as good a pitcher as he was in 2007. In some respects, he has been better.
The fact that the Oakland hitters could not hit the ball in the air against him offered one demonstration of the notion. More than at any point in his career, Beckett is getting hitters to pound the ball into the ground, resulting not only in his highest career groundball-to-flyball ratio (1.43:1), but also explaining how opponents are slugging a paltry .358 against him (5th lowest in the A.L.).
Beckett has been using a sinking two-seam fastball, particularly to left-handers, to complement a changeup and curve that have both proven effective at getting groundballs. He is employing more weapons to deny batters solid contact than he did even in his best previous season.
“If you look back to ’07, he was down in the (strike) zone like he’s been now. He’s been extremely powerful,” said pitching coach John Farrell. “Even when we were in spring training and we saw the first two bullpens healthy, we expected another strong year for him.
“He might be better (than he was in 2007) in terms of using the two-seamer into left-handers late in the count. We would hope that he’s better for all that he’s experienced the last two years…He drives himself to set a standard for himself as far as being a key member of our rotation, setting a tone with the competitive nature he has.”
Beckett’s numbers at this point (10-3, 3.62 ERA) are fairly close to what he did in the first half of ’07 (12-2, 3.44). Following a 2008 season in which he was never able to develop a consistent rhythm while facing a litany of injuries, he has re-established himself as one of the foremost pitchers in the American League, something that was confirmed when A.L. players elected him to the All-Star team.
“It’s great. Obviously, we strive for that in the first part of the year,” said Beckett. “It’s nice to be voted in by peers. … I really take pride in that.”
So, it would appear that Josh Beckett can, on occasion, take a compliment. Here are four other things we learned from the Red Sox’ 5-2 victory over the Athletics (RECAP):
JASON BAY IS A POWERFUL MAN
Obviously, Jason Bay had been in a slump. He had gone 11 straight games without a longball -- his longest such streak as a member of the Red Sox -- and 48 at-bats since going deep against Nats starter John Lannan on June 23.
But Bay ended that with a majestic blast in the bottom of the second, and in the process, offered a reminder about his elite power-hitting standing in the game.
The mash was Bay’s 20th of the year, making him one of five major leaguers who has hit at least 20 homers in every season since 2004 (when Bay won Rookie of the Year honors). The others on that list are Albert Pujols, Adam Dunn, Jermaine Dye and Mark Teixeira.
Perhaps more importantly for the Sox, Bay suggests that over the past couple of days, he has started to rediscover the feeling that made him, perhaps, the Most Valuable Player in the American League through the first couple months of the season.
Bay went 2-for-3 with a homer, double, walk and two steals (his first multi-steal game since April 12, 2006). The performance was in stark contrast to his prior 17 games, when he hit .172 with a .239 OBP and .536 OPS.
“I knew (the slump) wasn’t going to last forever,” said Bay. “I’m always reluctant to pronounce a slump or a rough patch over. But today definitely felt like the first couple months of the season for me, where things were just kind of happening without forcing it.”
JONATHAN PAPELBON WOULD HAVE BEEN THE MONEYBALL JACKPOT ... BUT WILL HE BE THE A.L. CLOSER IN THE ALL-STAR GAME?
Jonathan Papelbon has never read “Moneyball,” and so he has never taken much time to think about what the Athletics did in the 2002 draft. But the Red Sox closer is aware of part of Oakland’s activities that year, since he was taken out of Mississippi State by the A’s in the 40th round that summer.
Papelbon, then the Bulldogs’ closer, was a draft-eligible sophomore. The A’s liked his makeup and were impressed by his fastball, but Papelbon admitted that he was raw and had no intention of turning pro “unless I had been a first or second rounder.”
“I wasn’t ready to go, man,” said Papelbon.
Now, of course, he is ready to go to St. Louis for his fourth straight year as an All-Star game, solidifying his credentials as one of the best closers in the game. Last year, Papelbon became ensnared in controversy when the game was hosted at Yankee Stadium because of his statement that he’d like to close in Mariano Rivera’s home park.
(Papelbon later clarified that he was merely suggesting that he always wanted to close, but that he planned to defer any game-ending lead to Rivera. The matter became moot when the game went 15 innings, and the A.L. won in walk-off fashion.)
This year, Papelbon says that he would love to be the man on the mound in the ninth inning, with the opportunity to close out a victory and guarantee his league home-field advantage in the World Series.
“Of course I want to close (the All-Star game). Every closer there is going to want to close. There’s no difference (among them),” said Papelbon. “But (Rays manager Joe Maddon, the A.L. All-Star Game manager) is going to make the decision there.”
Papelbon has been tremendously effective in 2009 even though he has seemed, at times, less overpowering than in past years. On Tuesday, however, he turned in one of his most impressive outings of the year.
Papelbon recorded his 21st save of the year by striking out the side (while allowing one hit) and saw his ERA drop to 1.70 with a scoreless ninth. Each strikeout came on a 96-mph fastball.
While Papelbon has had slightly lower strikeout numbers this year than in the past, it is worth noting that he has now struck out the side in three different innings this year, matching his career high in any single season. Papelbon has now struck out the side exactly three times in each of his four seasons as a closer.
Papelbon will receive a $50,000 bonus from the Red Sox for his participation in the All-Star game, as will Beckett, Dustin Pedroia, Tim Wakefield and Kevin Youkilis. Jason Bay, who signed his current deal while with the Pirates, will receive a $25,000 bonus.
THE SOX DO NOT FEAR SOUTHPAWS … ESPECIALLY ONES WHO DON’T THROW 97-MPH SINKERS AND LETHAL SLIDERS
Athletics left-hander Dana Eveland allowed four runs, in the process permitting more baserunners (9) than he recorded outs (8). The Sox jumped on him in sufficiently convincing pattern that Oakland ended up designating the pitcher for assignment following his one-game call-up.
The Sox had been completely handcuffed by a couple of impressive young left-handed starters lately. Most notably, it was A’s starter Brett Anderson who fired a complete-game two-hit shutout against the Sox on Monday. That came just five days after the team had been dazzled by Brad Bergeson of the Orioles, who limited Boston to one run on four hits over eight innings.
Those games notwithstanding, however, the Sox have actually been quite good this year against left-handed pitchers. On the year, the Sox are 19-11 in games started against left-handers, good for a .633 winning percentage that is better than the team’s record (31-22, .585) in games started by right-handers.
THE GAME HAS CHANGED FOR THE BETTER
Red Sox manager Terry Francona wanted to be with his wife for the birth of their first daughter, Alyssa, on April 11, 1987. He inquired with Reds manager Pete Rose about whether it would be possible to do so. He was told that he could go to join his wife and daughter, so long as he had no intention of rejoining his ballclub.
And so, Francona played on April 11 and again on April 12 before getting to see Alyssa for the first time when the Reds had an off-day, on April 13. (Francona, it is worth noting, went 0-for-16 and 1-for-30 following his daughter’s birth that year.)
“My wife is still mad at me, 22 years later. That’s just the way it was,” said Francona. “It never really made sense to me. When I was born, my dad didn’t get to see me for a couple weeks because that was their next off-day. … Times have changed.”
And so it was that when Dustin Pedroia’s wife, Kelli, went into labor prematurely on Monday, the second baseman was encouraged to go to the hospital. He actually returned to the park at the insistence of his wife, but Francona told him that it was more important that he spend time attending to his family than being at the ballpark.
Kelli Pedroia is seven months pregnant, and so she will remain in the hospital while being treated in hopes of delaying the delivery for as long as possible. Dustin Pedroia spent Monday night in his wife’s hospital room, where he curled uncomfortably on a bed. (“It’s a good thing I’m small,” he joked.)
Both wife and child-to-be were responding to the care of the doctors, and so Dustin Pedroia felt comfortable returning to Fenway to play on Tuesday. Pedroia went 1-for-3 with a walk, and, more importantly, had the reassurance that he will be able to return to be with his wife and family whenever necessary.
“Playing these games, we have a responsibility. At the same time, when it’s time not to be here, you’ve got to go do what you’re supposed to do,” said Francona. “I feel like my job entails more than putting a hit and run on. It’s caring about (the players) and their families. I hope they know that. I think they do.”