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Beckett downs Rays with composure

Beckett downs Rays with composure

ST. PETERSBURG -- This is what happens when Josh Beckett gets another chance in a postseason series.

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History shows that Beckett has a way of topping himself, from his shutouts in the National League Championship Series and World Series in 2003 to his 11-strikeout gem against the Indians in Game 5 of last year's American League Championship Series. When his team is in need of a comeback, Beckett answers.

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Saturday's performance wasn't anywhere near a gem, but Beckett's five innings in Game 6 of the ALCS gave the Red Sox what they needed to force Sunday night's Game 7. Given what he's going through physically, the outing was more than what many expected. And it was enough to improve Beckett to 7-2 during the postseason in his career, including 6-0 over his last eight playoff starts.

Whatever the status of his injured right oblique, and whatever the readings on the radar gun, Beckett took what he had and made it work. With his fastball in the lower 90s, the right-hander's other stuff seemed to creep that much slower to atone for the difference.

"I thought he threw with a lot of guts," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "It's not vintage Josh Beckett, but he also proved who he is, again. He gave us what we needed. I don't think it was real easy for him at times, but he pitched with a lot of composure and a lot of guts."

Beckett had enough fortitude to shrug off what could have been an ominous opening inning. After Beckett struck out leadoff batter Akinori Iwamura, B.J. Upton made him work to a full count before belting one of his 92-mph fastballs for his second homer off the right-hander in eight days. Only the "C" ring catwalk prevented the ball from flying well into the upper deck beyond left field.

An ensuing walk to Carlos Pena put a runner on for Evan Longoria, who also took Beckett deep in Game 2. Beckett, unaffected, went at Longoria with fastballs. Longoria hit the second of them to start an inning-ending double play.

Tough act to follow
Josh Beckett's playoff stats in 2007 and '08
YearWLIPHERHRERA
2007403019411.20
20081014 1/3221478.79

That was the play Beckett needed to get his night going in a better direction.

"I felt like I executed pitches when I needed to," Beckett said.

Out of the three Rays to reach base on Beckett over the next 13 batters, one was a hit-by-pitch to Jason Bartlett on an 0-2 curveball and another was a bloop single from Carl Crawford. In between were pitches that somehow worked.

Beckett dropped a 71-mph curveball on the corner to Cliff Floyd for a called third strike in the second inning. He changed speeds well enough to get Gabe Gross looking at a third strike leading off the third. He induced Iwamura to pop up a 3-1 pitch to second base.

"He had to be really deliberate," catcher Jason Varitek said, "and he had to pitch a little different. He had less misfires than he had last game. He threw the ball through me, through the zone -- where he was trying to -- and he had better results."

The change of home-plate umpires from Derryl Cousins to Tim McClelland left Beckett unaffected, as his final out in the fourth inning featured some of his best pitching of the night. After Crawford singled and stole second, Beckett came back from successive mid-70s curveballs with a 94-mph fastball, his hardest of the night, to get an inning-ending groundout from Floyd.

Red Sox in Game 6s
With a win Saturday vs. the Rays, the Red Sox are 8-0 in Game 6s when they are trailing 3-2 in a best-of-seven or best-of-nine postseason series.
YearSeriesFoeGame 6Series
1903WSPittsburghWonWon in 8
1967WSSt. LouisWonLost in 7
1975WSCincinnatiWonLost in 7
1986ALCSCaliforniaWonWon in 7
2003ALCSNew YorkWonLost in 7
2004ALCSNew YorkWonWon in 7
2007ALCSClevelandWonWon in 7
2008ALCSRaysWon???

"I thought [he threw] more breaking balls tonight than he had last time out," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He relied on the curveball more. ... I thought primarily, [his] velocity was the same as we saw last time, [but he threw] more breaking balls tonight."

Beckett didn't say anything about how he felt, but his manager could tell. Francona had left-hander Javier Lopez warming up to start the fourth, then he put the bullpen on full alert when Bartlett pulled a hanging curveball down the left-field line for a game-tying homer in the fifth.

"Josh didn't complain or anything like that," Francona said, "but it was a long delay [for Cousins' injury], and if he goes out and struggles, when we rush Javi, that doesn't do any good. ... It was almost like a rain delay."

Beckett's exit after 78 pitches took on a similar feeling. In terms of pitches, it was the shortest start of his postseason career, briefer than even the 4 1/3 innings he threw at Tropicana Field in Game 2. In terms of the game, it was effective enough pitching to let the bullpen take it from there.

Beckett's teammates could tell it was a battle. As it turned out, they fed off that.

"I think Josh's performance said it all," second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. "He's out there with everything he's got, trying to keep us in that game, and he did an unbelievable job and set the tone for the game."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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