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After defeating the Detroit Tigers on Aug. 12, Josh Beckett’s record stood at 14-4 with a 3.10 ERA. In five starts since that time, Beckett is 0-2 with an ERA of 7.75. He has also given up a staggering 12 home runs in 31 1/3 innings pitched, after allowing only 10 homers in his first 22 starts of the season. What’s the problem?
Red Sox Nation holds its collective breath as we consider the possibility that the hero of the 2007 championship post-season may be hurt. I don’t think he is. I don’t think the Red Sox would send him to the mound every fifth day if they even suspected an injury, considering the way this team babies starters. Or, considering last season, when an injured and ineffective Beckett contributed to the team’s failure to defeat Tampa Bay in the ALCS.
So, again, what’s the problem?
I think he’s tired. I think he hit a wall in mid-August. I think he lost just enough bite on his curve, just enough movement on his two-seamer, and just enough control to get hit…and hit hard.
It happens, especially in August. The dog days of summer can take a bite out of even the best pitchers. This season, Roy Halladay lost his last three starts in August, and gave up 15 runs in 17 innings, before rebounding with a one-hit shutout of the Yankees. In 1988, Roger Clemens entered August with a 15-5 record and 2.24 ERA, before going 0-5 for the month. Of course, that was after throwing 311 pitches in consecutive complete game wins at the end of July. Yes, you read that right—311 pitches over two games. Imagine! It would be enough to make Tito’s head explode.
I know Clemens is persona non grata around here, and it is easy to dismiss his accomplishments in light of the steroids allegations, but he was truly a great pitcher. Those of you who remember the magic at Fenway when he pitched in the late 1980’s know what I’m talking about. Besides, steroids only “work if you work it,” as the drunks say. But, I digress.
Actually, speaking of “working it,” for those of us hoping the Sox can hold off those pesky Texas Rangers for the Wild Card, Beckett did offer us a glimmer of sunshine on Monday night. Although he lost the game, Beckett was much improved. Three earned runs over seven innings pitched isn’t bad. Zero home runs surrendered is even better. I certainly hope this is a sign of things to come, because other than Lester and, dare I say it, Clay Buchholz, the Sox rotation is in disarray.
Finally, what bothers me is that this all makes me question Beckett’s work ethic. He is a big, strong power pitcher in his prime. He shouldn’t be breaking down at the 170-inning mark. He should be dominating. I don’t know what he does in the offseason, but it doesn’t seem to be enough. Not this year, anyway.