Wednesday, August 31, 2011 Updated: September 1, 9:37 AM ET
Beckett rises to the occasion -- again
By Joe McDonald ESPNBoston.com
BOSTON -- Red Sox captain and veteran catcher Jason Varitek has always said the club's pitching and defense would be the keys to postseason success.
Then, if the Red Sox could find ways to score, the team would be in good shape.
"I agree with that," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said after Boston posted a 9-5 victory over the New York Yankees on Wednesday night at Fenway Park. "It's fun to watch guys swing the bats and you certainly need to, but if you don't pitch, you're going to be chasing something you don't want to chase. We made some plays up the middle with [Marco] Scutaro and [Dustin] Pedroia -- highlight plays -- and with a team like this, you don't want to give them extra opportunities, or they'll more often than not put more runs on the board."
"I'm just trying to make pitches through the two, three, four in their lineup, and you know it's going to be tough," Josh Beckett said of facing the Yankees' lineup.
Finding ways to score runs has been the easy part in 2011 for Boston, which has one of the most potent offenses in the game. Defense has not been an issue, either. Pitching, however, has been a challenge at times this season, but it seems to be leveling off in a positive way.
Especially when Josh Beckett toes the rubber for Boston.
He worked seven gutsy innings and allowed five runs (four earned) on six hits with three walks and eight strikeouts to help the Red Sox collect the victory Wednesday.
Beckett improves to 12-5 with a 2.54 ERA this season, but, more importantly, he's dominated the Yankees in 2011. He's 4-0 with a 1.85 ERA in five starts.
Beckett no doubt struggled in 2010 (6-6, 5.78 in 21 starts), and he's currently showing he's a different pitcher in 2011.
"This is a guy we've relied on for so long now, and we were hoping he would come back with vengeance and he has," Francona said. "He's been so consistent and so consistently good. It's important in this game that you know what you're getting. He's been that way all year."
Beckett did not deny that he gets a little more fired up when he's pitching against the Yankees.
"Yeah, that's a good assessment," he said. "The Yankees-Red Sox thing has been here before I got here for a long time, and it'll be here long after I'm here. The big key, and I think you can talk to most of their guys and our guys, the big thing is we're both really good teams, and there's a reason why you've got to play these games a little bit differently."
Beckett and the Red Sox were in control and held a 4-1 lead heading into the top of the sixth, but that half-inning, Beckett allowed four runs (three earned) on two hits, including a sacrifice fly and hit batter, as New York gained a 5-4 lead.
The Red Sox pushed across three more in the home half of the sixth to take back the lead, thanks to an RBI double by Varitek and a two-run homer by Jacoby Ellsbury.
In the top of the seventh, it became vintage Beckett, circa 2007. The veteran right-hander retired the Yankees' Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira in order.
"I'm just trying to make pitches through the two, three, four in their lineup, and you know it's going to be tough," Beckett said.
Jeter grounded out, Granderson struck out looking and Teixeira popped out to second base. At that point, Beckett had thrown more than 100 pitches.
"Josh was able to come back out in that seventh, and really had to grit and bear down and make good pitches," Varitek said. "That's a good lineup, a real good lineup."
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The solid pitching performances continued for Boston as reliever Daniel Bard retired the side in order in the eighth inning. The hard-throwing right-hander also was on the receiving end of a couple of solid defensive plays by Scutaro and Pedroia.
Then in the ninth, the ball was handed over to closer Jonathan Papelbon. He retired the side in order, including a pair of strikeouts, in a non-save situation. In fact, he has allowed only three baserunners, all singles, and has struck out 20 in 17 scoreless innings in his past 17 appearances.
"The way Pap's throwing the ball right now, I think we can just send him out there and not even have anybody behind him," Beckett said.
The three-game set between these clubs is knotted at a game apiece with the rubber match Thursday night. It won't get any easier for the potent Yankees lineup with left-hander Jon Lester on the mound for Boston. The southpaw has an 8-2 record against the Yankees, along with a 3.62 ERA in 15 career starts.
Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.