Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Beckett back to work

PHILADELPHIA — Since the moment they met, on an August weekend 12 years ago, Philadelphia Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee has known that Josh Beckett [stats] isn’t easily rattled.
Except, of course, when he has the flu.
A stomach illness laid up Beckett for several days last week, forcing the Red Sox [team stats] to delay his next start, first by five days, then by three more. By the time he went to the mound for last night’s interleague
series opener, it had been 12 days since his previous start, a complete-game one-hitter against the Tampa Bay Rays .
Turns out, the layoff left just enough rust for a game when Beckett couldn’t afford any margin of error. And sure enough, he was upstaged by Cliff Lee in a 5-0 loss that left the Red Sox even more relieved that the Phillies ace lefty didn’t sign with the New York Yankees as a free agent last winter.
“It seems like that damn flu gets me every year,” Beckett said. “If it doesn’t get me in the offseason, it gets me in spring training or gets me some other time. I’m going to have somebody give it to me in the offseason so I don’t have to deal with this (expletive) anymore.”
Beckett, who entered with a major league-best 1.86 ERA, gave up home runs to Domonic Brown and Shane Victorino and saw his ERA rise to 2.20 with the five earned runs allowed. Lee, meanwhile, gave up two hits against the Red Sox’ stripped-down lineup in a complete-game performance and ran his career-high scoreless streak to 32 innings.
Before the game, Dubee recalled his first impression of Beckett. It was 1999, and the Brockton native was the pitching coach for the Florida Marlins, who had just drafted Beckett in the first round. Beckett traveled to Houston to meet the team, and upon walking into the clubhouse at the old Astrodome, the high schooler predicted he would be pitching in the All-Star Game within two years.
One veteran Marlins pitcher, Alex Fernandez, took exception to Beckett’s bravado.
“Alex really kind of lit into him in front of the whole team — ‘I’ve been in the big leagues 10 years and I haven’t pitched in the All-Star Game. I’ve got 100 wins, and you think, coming out of high school, you’re going to be in an All-Star Game,’ ” Dubee said. “You knew Josh was tough because Josh didn’t bat an eyelash.”
These days, Beckett is no less defiant. Amid doubts that he could regain his ace status after a nightmarish 2010, Beckett has been as dominant as ever. And after losing a duel with Lee, he pointed the finger at himself.
Beckett said he left a pitch up to Brown, who belted it into the right field seats in the second inning. He was trying to pitch around Victorino in the fifth, but instead left a pitch over the plate that was also blasted beyond right field.
“I pitched like (expletive),” Beckett said. “You can’t give that guy (Lee) two runs in the first or second inning.
“It just lets him go to his whole deal.”
In fact, Lee was surprised to be pitching with such a cushion.
“I wasn’t expecting us to get five runs off Beckett, the way he’s been pitching,” said Lee, 5-0 with a 0.21 ERA in his last five starts. “I was anticipating it being a closer game from start to finish.”
But Beckett remains the Red Sox’ most consistent starter, and from afar, Dubee could have predicted his resurgence.
“He’s going to find a way to succeed, and he’s never going to accept mediocrity,” Dubee said. “He’s still got tremendous stuff. He’s changed his pitching style a little bit over the years, but he’s still a bulldog and he prepares himself to win.”
It’s just a little more difficult after he’s been sick as a dog.

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