I stand corrected. We ended up splitting the series after all, thanks to Messrs. Kickass and Papelbon.
I could tell by Josh Beckett's first few pitches that he was feeling his oats today. He delivered each one with a flourish, his left arm flying up behind him and his right leg lifted in a taut arabesque, the way they do when he's really pouring it on.
You haven't been able to take Beckett for granted this season the way you could last year, but tonight he was in perfect form, shrugging his shoulders between deliveries with that cocky, almost affronted expression on his face, as if he couldn't believe these sad little men with their bats up there thinking they were going to score runs off of him. Pfft. As if.
As great as he is, I don't think Beckett will ever throw a perfect game or a no-hitter. Though the Other Sox got exactly one run in Beckett's eight innings tonight, he gave up seven hits. This seems to be his pattern, even in his most dominant starts - hitters tend to get the better of him early on, and then Beckett buckles down to K the side with men on base.
That one run came in the third inning; for another three interminable frames after that, it seemed that this would be another Beckett gem that would go to waste at the hands of an inept offense, as the Sox were no-hit through the first six and a third innings. Thankfully, life with Parallel Universe JD Drew continues to be blissful, and he put up a key double to score 2 runs in the seventh. (Youk, who broke up the no-hitter, and Lowell, who walked after that.)
Beckett continued to lay the smack down with extreme prejudice before handing things off to the lineup for the top of the ninth. The hitters saluted his efforts with another three runs, first on another thundering double from Jed Lowrie, and an Ellsbury single to left.
Red Sox pitching dominance continued with The Precious, appearing for the first time in what feels like an eon for the bottom of the ninth. No doubt the bullpen coach has had to resort to letting Papelbon gnaw on rawhide bones on the bench while he waits.
Or, at least, that's the beastly image his brutal third strike to Jim Thome conjured in my mind. I think it was a fastball, but the mutant, swerving, looping magic-bullet kind, which darted under Thome's bat as if it had a mind of its own.
As Papelbon strode around the mound afterwards, he did that little routine I described last year as "shaking out his right arm as he turns away from a hitter he's just struck out, shrugging his right shoulder as if to say, 'Phew, felt that one a little bit...but not too much,' while the gun's still blinking 96."
After that I was all pumped up for more vicious K action, but instead he got the final two outs on fly balls. Ah, well. I'd been spoiled with plenty of nasty third strikes for one night.