After Taking Heat for Injury, Beckett Delivers the Heat, Silences Critics
Boston. There were no tee times Tuesday, and it was not one of Josh Beckett’s 18 days off. Beckett, the Boston Red Sox’s beleaguered pitcher, took the mound in Fenway Park for the first time since causing a firestorm in New England.
That contretemps began after he struggled in his first outing since being scratched from a start because of soreness in his shoulder and the latissimus dorsi muscle in his back. After being scratched, he earned the wrath of fans by playing golf the next day. “We get 18 off days a year,” he said at the time. “I think we deserve a little time to ourselves.”
In Boston, a high-priced player’s every action and word can draw scrutiny. So when Beckett came to the mound at Fenway Park minutes after 4 p.m. on his 32nd birthday Tuesday, he carried the baggage of a player scorned. Yet he pitched like the player who met enormous expectations when he arrived in Boston six years ago.
“Pitching with guile,” said Beckett, who redirected questions about the past week with answers about his pitching and preparation.
Beckett (3-4) pitched seven scoreless innings in the Red Sox’s 5-0 win over the Seattle Mariners. He recorded a season-high nine strikeouts and paced the Sox to their fifth consecutive victory.
Questions about his velocity were answered on his first pitch, when the radar gun read 93 mph.
Beckett, who confessed to a habit of checking the radar reading on the scoreboard, believed the key to his outing was location more than velocity. When he tries to accelerate a pitch, his arm angle lowers and the ball arrives flat to the hitter. Beckett thought he kept his hand above the ball Tuesday, which allowed him to pinpoint his spots.
“Josh Beckett was the king of the hill,” said manager Bobby Valentine, who called the Fenway Park mound Beckett’s “saddle.” Valentine said he had noticed a presence about Beckett in the past few days and considers him “the leader of the pack” of the Red Sox’s rotation.
A steady rain muddied the mound, making Beckett’s seven innings even more laborious. That was why Valentine took him out with a shutout in the seventh inning despite his having thrown only 93 pitches.
Before the game, Valentine was asked if he was concerned Beckett would try to do much. “Being that it’s his birthday and everything?” Valentine said, keeping a straight face. “I think the guys always like to perform well on your birthday.”
The fans did not boo Beckett during the game, and the pregame mood was jovial, because the Red Sox honored the retired knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. As Beckett’s start progressed, there was more applause after each inning despite many fans needing ponchos to endure the weather.
Beckett received his share of boos in his last start. He allowed seven runs before he was removed after recording one out in the third inning. Beckett conceded after the game that he understood why he was booed, but his surly responses — particularly when asked about the golf outing — became fodder in New England and beyond.
Complicating the reception is Beckett’s history in Boston. He received blame for the Red Sox’s 2011 collapse, which included a report of pitchers drinking beer and eating fried chicken in the clubhouse during games.
By comparison, the retiring Wakefield was a favorite during his 17 seasons with the Red Sox. It was a conspicuous coincidence that “Thank you, Wake” day fell on Beckett’s first start since the nadir of his Boston tenure. Wakefield defended Beckett and said the golf incident had been “blown way out of proportion.”
“A round of golf isn’t going to kill you,” Wakefield said. “It’s probably going to help you more than it hurts you.”
Beckett’s teammates expressed similar sentiment after Tuesday’s game. David Ortiz considered the incident a news media creation and said fans needed to understand that players have a personal life. Catcher Jarrod Saltamacchia called it a “dead issue.” Regardless, Beckett gave Boston a reason to cheer and put a five-day reprieve on the criticism he endured.
The New York Times