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Friday, April 22, 2011
Sox lean on Beckett to the max (125 pitches)

By Gordon Edes

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Red Sox went to extraordinary lengths Thursday night to try and win behind Josh Beckett, who responded with his third consecutive dominating performance but emerged with a no-decision in Boston’s 4-2, 11-inning win over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Josh Beckett
Josh Beckett threw a season-high 125 pitches and held the Angels to two runs in eight innings, but he didn't factor in the decision.
The extraordinary part? Beckett threw 125 pitches in eight innings, one fewer than his career high of 126, which came when he was with the Florida Marlins in 2004. This was only the ninth time in his career he has thrown 120 or more pitches in a regular season game, fourth time since coming to the Red Sox before the 2006 season.

That should answer any questions about whether the Sox are harboring any doubts about Beckett’s health.

Since Terry Francona became manager of the Red Sox, only four pitchers have thrown more pitches in a game than Beckett did Thursday night: Jon Lester threw 130 in his no-hitter against the Kansas City Royals on May 19, 2008; Daisuke Matsuzaka threw 126 and 129 in starts 17 days apart in 2007, and 39-year-old Curt Schilling threw 133 on April 25, 2006 in Cleveland.

Why did Francona go against his customary practice Thursday and not pull Beckett after he completed the seventh inning having thrown 107 pitches?

“What do you mean, go against?’’ Francona said. “First of all, the bullpen threw a lot [Wednesday in Oakland]. He was fine. I saw no reason to take him out.

“If I bring up a number, you guys hammer me for using a number. I thought he was able to pitch and ... he got ‘em out.’’

Beckett said he didn’t have to argue his case to the manager to stay in the game, not on a night that he didn’t give up his first hit until Erick Aybar chopped an infield single to the right of the mound to open the sixth. The Angels didn’t score until the seventh, when Beckett walked Bobby Abreu and Torii Hunter hit a 3-and-2 cut fastball over the trees in center field to tie the game at 2.

Francona had Daniel Bard up in the bullpen, but Beckett came out for the eighth.

“I was going out there, anyway,’’ Beckett said. “Tito and I had a little chat, more a pow-wow than anything.’’

The decision appeared like it might backfire when Erick Aybar opened the eighth by lining a double into the right-field corner, but Aybar was out trying to stretch the hit into a triple, cut down by a perfect relay from second baseman Dustin Pedroia. Beckett then finished his night by retiring Peter Bourjos on a ground ball to third and Maicer Izturis on a pop to short.

“He was tremendous,’’ said Francona after the team’s fifth win in six games, a stretch that mirrors a huge upgrade in the performance of the rotation, which has allowed a total of 6 earned runs in 39 1/3 innings over that span, an ERA of 1.37.

Beckett relied primarily on his fastball and cutter to subdue the Angels. His velocity averaged 92 and topped out at 95, and was still at 91 in the eighth inning. Of the 97 fastballs he threw, 67 were for strikes, a percentage of just under 70 percent, well above the norm.

“It’s nice to have confidence in your pitches,’’ Beckett said. “I have that right now. I’m throwing three or pitches for strikes when I need strikes and for balls when I need to throw a ball.’’