Idled for four days as a reward for an AL Division Series sweep over the Angels, the Red Sox came back to work looking rather machine-like, rolling over the Indians, 10-3, in Friday night's Game 1 of the ALCS.
What was supposed to be a pitchers' duel between the top two candidates for the AL Cy Young Award instead turned into yet another clinic by Beckett, who is pitching like an ace on a mission. Performing on eight days of rest, Beckett went six innings and allowed four hits and two runs, walking none and striking out seven. Thanks to the barrage of support provided by the offense, Beckett was able to call it a night after just 80 pitches.
"He gave us just what we needed," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "I thought, not looking at the linescore, but I thought every inning he went out -- I don't think struggle is the right word, but that first hitter of each inning, he had to kind of refine himself every inning. Once he did, he got in the flow of every inning and he was very good."
That seems to be a recurring theme for Beckett in postseason play, a stage in which he's 4-2 with a 1.87 ERA over eight outings.
"I'm just out there trying to execute pitches," said Beckett. "There's a lot of media and stuff that goes into this thing, and if you start buying into that, all it does is create distractions. I think we're just out there trying to play good baseball, and for me, it's just executing pitches."
But the man the Indians refer to as their ace -- lefty C.C. Sabathia -- didn't execute nearly enough of them. After beating the Yankees in a shaky ALDS opener last round, Sabathia labored (4 1/3 innings, seven hits, eight runs, five walks, three strikeouts) more than anyone could have expected against a patient and productive batch of Boston bats.
David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, who have made their living driving in runs, played the role of on-base machines in this one. Ortiz (2-for-2, two walks, hit by pitch) and Ramirez (2-for-2, two runs, three RBIs) each reached base in all five of their plate appearances. Mike Lowell also knocked in three runs. Kevin Youkilis scored three times and had two hits from the No. 2 spot.
In the four games the Red Sox have played in the postseason, Ortiz has made two outs. Ramirez is equally locked in.
"I've never seen anything like it," said Lowell. "They're unbelievable. They're aggressive, they're patient, they're picking their spots."
The Red Sox, in winning their first four games this October, have outscored their opponents by an aggregate score of 29-7.
But the Red Sox are trying to keep tunnel vision.
"It's good to get one," said Sox catcher Jason Varitek. "We have a long road ahead of us. We have to go out and concentrate and be ready tomorrow."
The best-of-seven series will continue Saturday night, when Curt Schilling puts his stellar postseason record (9-2, 1.93 ERA) to the test against the impressive young right arm of Fausto Carmona.
It didn't take long to realize that Beckett would be deprived of throwing a third consecutive shutout in postseason play. With two outs in the first, Beckett found too much of the plate on a 96-mph heater, and Travis Hafner crushed it over the wall in right to make it 1-0.
If Sabathia had been in top form, perhaps that slight lead would have lasted for a while. But he wasn't. Youkilis started a Boston rally with a one-out single to center in the bottom of the first. Ortiz followed with a base hit up the middle. Then it was Ramirez's turn to go to center, and his single scored Youkilis.
From there, Beckett got stingy.
|* -- won series|
"I think it's always important, especially with someone of C.C's caliber, the first few innings become a little more important to get your guys back in the dugout, particularly on a cold night," said Beckett.
But the Red Sox, with all their activity on the basepaths, had plenty of chances to stay warm.
Julio Lugo started a momentum-changing bottom of the third with a double down the line in right. Dustin Pedroia moved him to third with a bunt. And following a walk to Youkilis, Ortiz was hit by a pitch to load them up for Ramirez. Sabathia has been tormented by Ramirez (12-for-21 coming in) throughout his career, and perhaps that's why he nibbled around a little and walked the slugger to force in the go-ahead run.
Lowell followed with a ground-rule two-run double to right and the Red Sox suddenly had a 4-1 lead. Varitek pushed the cushion to four runs with a fielder's-choice groundout.
"Everyone kind of hit tonight or did something to help us out," said Youkilis. "It was a great win for us tonight. [We need to] let that all go and build confidence, but also be ready to play tomorrow."
Sabathia faced nine batters in the inning and was all the way up to 60 pitches after just three innings.
"I thought our approach was really, really professional," Francona said. "We didn't try to pull the ball. We didn't swing at balls. We really made him work hard."
Beckett, meanwhile, was at his cruise-control best. He took a two-hitter into the sixth.
The Red Sox landed a sound knockout punch on Sabathia in the fifth. The run producers -- Ortiz (walk), Ramirez (single) and Lowell (walk) -- this time served as tablesetters, loading them up with nobody out. Bobby Kielty -- who got the start in place of J.D. Drew because of his strong history against Sabathia -- lined a two-run single to right-center. That was Sabathia's final pitch of the game.
"I was very excited," said Kielty. "I was about as excited as I could be; definitely a little nervous, no question. To have an at-bat like that really helped me."
Varitek greeted reliever Jensen Lewis with an RBI double to center, and the rout was officially on at 8-1.
One thing few people expected was a romp. But the Red Sox weren't complaining.
"It was an amazing performance," said Kielty. "You wouldn't have thought we'd score 10 runs on a day like today with Sabathia on the mound and Beckett. Beckett threw great again, and we feel really confident when he's out there."
As for the layoff? It proved to be irrelevant.
"Sometimes it's a little hard to stay sharp, but we've been playing this game for a long time," said Ortiz. "And you definitely need to know what to do on those days off, and that way you can stay the same way that you were before."
Essentially, the Red Sox aren't looking for a whole lot more these days than the status quo.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less