Josh Beckett’s text message moments after the Red Sox’ final regular season game this year described the injury as a “freak deal”. The hurler also reported he “felt better” Sunday, two days after the cause for all the chaos.
Still, even with the reassurances of both Beckett and his manager, Terry Francona, the news that the scheduled Game 1 starter for the Sox’ American League Division Series against the Angels had strained his right oblique turned perception – and the serenity of New England baseball fans -- upside-down just hours before the Red Sox board their flight for the West Coast.
Beckett was always the post-season difference-maker. Now the Red Sox will have to wait to hold their breath regarding how much of a difference he can make.
In an indoor bullpen session Friday afternoon, Beckett was forced to halt his workout due to the grabbing in his side stomach muscle. After an examination it was determined by the Sox that he would be best-served forgoing Game 1 or 2, and plan on making his first 2008 post-season start Sunday at Fenway Park in Game 3.
"It was on his 40th pitch," Francona said. "He was almost done. And again, I don't think it was something where he threw it and grabbed it. It was almost between pitches and he took a deep breath and he was, like, 'I feel something,' so he stopped. He went out and got treatment. They've been working on him. Initially, when you hear something like that, you're kind of like, '[Oh, no].' But Dr. (Thomas) Gill came in and said, 'Relax, this is going to be all right.' That was kind of reassuring."
The Red Sox, and Beckett, appear cautiously optimistic that the newly-crafted schedule – with Jon Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka starting Wednesday and Friday, respectively, in Anaheim, and the injured ace pitching back in Boston – will hold up.
But they are all also fully aware of how tenuous injuries of this nature can be, even though Beckett said he had never experienced such a problem before.
“I don’t think we would slot him in … if it goes the wrong way, we’re going to use pretty good, hopefully very good, judgment … but I think we’re slotting him in (Sunday) because we think he can pitch there,” said Francona following his team’s 4-3, 10-inning win over the Yankees. “I mean, Friday (Game 2) was actually discussed. I think after Theo (Epstein) and I, and (pitching coach) John Farrell talked about it more and more and more, we thought that was pushing it because then you’re messing around with maybe cutting short a side session or not having enough throwing, so it’s not just health, but it’s competing also. He has to go out there and execute his pitches. But I think he’s going to be OK.”
Beckett last pitched Sept. 22, against Cleveland, in which he gave up four runs over six innings. The Red Sox had already decided he wouldn’t be pitching prior to making his scheduled Game 1 start against the Angels, Wednesday.
“I don’t think it’s frustrating,” Francona said. “Things happen and if you deal with them well enough you handle it and if you don’t you go home. Things happen and you have to deal with them and find a way to win. I think Lester and Daisuke will do just fine.”
The move does work to the strengths of both Lester and Matsuzaka. Lester’s numbers are markedly better at Fenway Park, which may factor in if there is a Game 4. The lefty is 11-1 with a 2.49 ERA at home, with a 5-5 mark and a 4.09 ERA on the road.
Matsuzaka, on the other hand, will now pitch where has had the most success this season, away from Fenway. The righty is 9-0 with a 2.37 on the road, holding opponents to a .178 batting average. His numbers at home are 9-2 with a 3.18 ERA.
Mike Timlin is another Red Sox pitcher to have suffered an oblique injury, having endured the ailment in the early stages of the 2007 spring training. And while it is thought that the reliever’s issue with his oblique was more serious than Beckett’s predicament, he can offer some insight as to what it is like to pitch while worrying about the problem.
“You have to be able to trust it, like with any muscle injury,” Timlin explained. “You have to be free and easy. There’s always that part where you aren’t sure, so you have to be able to trust it.”