With the way the 2011 season has begun, Sunday night had all the makings of a disaster for the Red Sox.
Boston, looking for its first series victory of the season, put the ball in the hands of Josh Beckett, the same pitcher who had a 10.04 ERA in five starts against the Yankees last season.
To make matters worse, the Yankees were turning to their ace CC Sabathia, who had not lost in his past seven starts against the Red Sox.
Yet as Red Sox fans might be learning early on this season, 2011 might be a year for Boston to expect the unexpected.
Beckett channeled his inner Yankee-killer -- best known from his dominating complete-game shutout performance in the 2003 World Series-clinching Game six, while with the Marlins -- which many didn't believe existed anymore.
He struck out 10 batters in eight scoreless innings of work, and allowed just two hits as the Red Sox shut out the Yankees.
Beckett became just the third Red Sox pitcher to allow two hits or fewer and strike out at least 10 batters against the Yankees in the live ball era (since 1920).
So how exactly did the Red Sox righty blank the Yankees?
Beckett baffled the Yankees batters with strong off-speed pitching. He threw 42 off-speed pitches (25 curveballs, 17 changeups) and the Yankees went 0-for-11 with six strikeouts in at-bats ending with an off-speed pitch.
For the season, opposing batters are 0-for-19 with nine strikeouts in at-bats ending with an off-speed pitch against Beckett.
He also did a good job keeping the ball down in the strike-zone. The Yankees went 1-for-17 with seven strikeouts in at-bats ending with a pitch down in the zone.
Perhaps most encouraging though was Beckett being able to give the Boston bullpen some relief.
Beckett’s start marked just the third time in nine games that a Red Sox starter was able to get through six innings.
Elsewhere around the Diamond:
• Jered Weaver struck out a career-high 15 batters in the Los Angeles Angels’ of Anaheim victory over the Toronto Blue Jays. It was the most strikeouts by an Angels pitcher since Chuck Finley had 15 against the Yankees on May 23, 1995. Weaver is the first Angels pitcher to finish with 15 strikeouts in a game in which he pitched fewer than eight innings.
• The Rangers improved to 8-1 for the second time in team history (also 8-1 in 1989) as they defeated the Baltimore Orioles. The Elias Sports Bureau tells us the Rangers are the first defending league champion to begin a season with eight or more wins in their first nine games since the 2004 Marlins (8–1) and they’re the first defending American League champ to do so since the 1998 Indians (8–1).
• Jim Thome hit his first home run of the season and now has homered in 21 straight seasons, the longest active streak in the major leagues. His first home run came back on October 4, 1991. The pitcher he hit Sunday’s home run off of, Jerry Blevins, was only eight years old then.