It was the sixth inning and Josh Beckett had just thrown one of his no-hit pitches.
It couldn't get much better, this pitch, 94 mph, tailing toward the outside corner of the plate. Up until this point Beckett had gotten to a three-ball count just once, mixing in curveballs and changeups to go with a fastball that seemed to be in perfect concert with Red Sox' catcher Jason Varitek's mitt.
Yet there was the Sox starter, slapping his right hip while letting out a short yell. Despite appearances, he had done something wrong in delivering the pitch.
Beckett knew that he was riding a no-hitter, and that the likelihood of a Detroit hitter changing that were getting slimmer by the moment. But, as the starter likes to remind people, he is pretty good at minding his own business, and in this case his business was making sure the next pitch was as dominating as the one before.
And it was this moment -- even more than the entirety of Beckett's 7 2/3-inning, two-hit outing in a 10-5 Red Sox win over the Tigers -- that showed why he might just be the most important piece of the Red Sox' puzzle.
There is no novelty when it comes to being great for Beckett. He's done it and expects it. Truth be told, it's the kind of presence a team with the expectations of the Red Sox simply can't go without.
"I was locating well," Beckett told reporters after the Red Sox' 10-5 win over the Tigers, at Comerica Park in Detroit, admitting he was well aware of the no-hit bid that was ultimately broken up by a Curtis Granderson line-drive single with two outs in the seventh inning. "I was trying to stay pitch to pitch. That's not hard at all to do. You just stay with the program."
Beckett did it all. He threw first-pitch strikes to 21 of his 29 batters. He threw his curveball 29 times, 14 for strikes. And he even was able to save one of his best images for his last batter, Placido Polanco, who had drawn one of the only bits of imperfection from Beckett prior to Granderson's hit, a first-inning walk.
Against Polanco, Beckett started by alternating 93 mph fastballs with changeups on the first four pitches. He threw one more change for a foul ball, and then got one of eight swings and misses on a 94 mph heater to close out his outing.
Beckett has been good of late -- totaling four wins and a 1.94 ERA in his last six starts, with the team carrying a 5-1 record during the stretch. But this was different. As productive as he has been since the beginning of May, this was the first time in a while you were reminded of what that post-season stretch in 2007 was like.
As bad as life gets for the Red Sox, with all the ups and downs that come with the imperfect performance of a 25-man roster, they now know they once again have a difference-maker waiting every fifth day.
David Ortiz hitting home runs would be welcome, as would Daisuke Matsuzaka's emergence, or the solidification of the shortstop position. But sorting out such particulars will only become palatable if the Red Sox know they have the Beckett that has re-appeared.
It might just make all the difference in the world. This we were reminded of Wednesday night... along with four other things:
BARD ISN'T A SECRET ANYMORE
Daniel Bard was back to throwing his high-90's heat Wednesday night, but while doing so he was offered the reminder that the scouting report on his bread and butter is circulating throughout the majors at a rapid pace.
After striking out five straight in Toronto, Bard saw Detroit hitters Miguel Cabrera and Granderson sit on his 97 mph heater with some success. Cabrera reached on an error from Sox' third baseman Mike Lowell on a grounder down the line, which was followed by Granderson's three-run triple.
Bard threw his curveball twice in his 16-pitch outing, one resulting in a grounder and the other missing the strike zone. But it still might be the slider he tinkered with last week that might be proving to be a difference-maker.
Against his final batter, Detroit's Jeff Larish, Bard broke out his new four-seam slider on the final two pitches, with the final one getting a weak ground-out to second. Bard will have to make adjustments, and, as Wednesday night reminded us, that pitch might be just the gateway to that next level.
BETTER LATE FOR ORTIZ
You could say it was just 81 mph -- not the troublesome 90-plus-mph heat -- or that it came off a pitcher, Nate Robertson, who is closer to Dontrelle Willis than he is Johan Santana in the world of left-handers. No matter. David Ortiz hit Robertson's slider with the bases loaded into the right-center field gap. And he did it in the eighth inning.
Ortiz could finally head home flush with the confidence of a good final at-bat.
In case you haven't noticed, Ortiz' most productive at-bats -- especially of late -- have come earlier in the game. The sixth (.083), seventh (.077), eighth (.174), and ninth (.167) innings have been unkind to the DH, a notion that has befuddled many.
"The first time up (Tuesday night), he stays on it and it's a nice little liner (for a single)," Red Sox manager Terry Francona told the Boston Herald. "Not a ball in the stands but from there you're hoping he'll feel better and take it and run with it.
"But I think as the games progress it's almost like he's fallen into a little bit of trying to almost go 3-for-1. You see a lot of guys do that early in a game. It's seems like he's trying to do that as the game progresses. Maybe he has time to sit around and think."
There is no question Ortiz gets anxious as the game progresses, a trend that has picked up on this road trip. Since the road swing began, the DH has walked just once (in the first Minnesota game). There have been more than a few pop-ups (11 fly balls, four ground balls during the trip), sometimes suggesting lunging at inopportune times. And, of course, there is that .152 batting average during his eight-game stretch.
Maybe it was the fact former team barber L'Montro showed up to trim Ortiz' beard for the first time year. Or maybe the DH was right when he left Toronto saying, "It's just going to take one swing..."
HAS ANYBODY NOTICED?
Much has been made of Jacoby Ellsbury being dropped to the eighth spot in the Sox' lineup, but while the center fielder's on-base percentage (especially against left-handers) has come under great scrutiny, it should be noted what kind of trip he his having.
Through the first nine games of the road trip Ellsbury is leading the team with both a .389 batting average and .436 on-base percentage after getting on base two more times via hits Wednesday night. The speed hasn't hurt on this stretch either, with Ellsbury tying Dustin Pedroia for the team lead for stolen bases (4), while scoring five runs.
And since the lineup switch was made Ellsbury is 6 for 10, with a .667 on-base percentage. It has paid off, with the Red Sox totaling the third-best batting average (.315) and third-most runs (23) in the majors over the last three games.
And, of course, there is that other little thing -- the Red Sox have won all three games.
MILESTONES ARE COMING IN BUNCHES FOR THE RED SOX
Motown has been Milestone City for the Red Sox over the past couple of days. First it was manager Terry Francona recording his 500th victory as the Boston skipper. Then, on Wednesday, a pair of his players underscored what Francona always says about his success, namely that it is the byproduct of the quality of the players he manages.
First, J.D. Drew destroyed a hanging slider in the top of the first inning, depositing Tigers starter Armando Galarraga's pitch 400 feet away into the right-field bleachers. The shot was the 200th of Drew's career. And, of course, his first blast of June offered a reminder that Drew is capable of turning his season around in a hurry. It was a year ago that Drew produced his most memorable stretch as a member of the Sox, hitting .337 with a .462 OBP and .848 slugging mark while swatting 12 homers and driving in 27 in the month of June.
Mike Lowell joined the milestone frenzy with a sixth-inning single, the 1500th hit of his career. He chose an unusual way to celebrate: in the top of the ninth, he was ejected for an argument with home-plate umpire Bob Davidson related to a dispute about balls and strikes.