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Beckett’s Best Too Much For Yankees; Red Sox Win First Series of 2011

Josh Beckett throws against the New York Yankees during Sunday's game in Boston. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Through their first eight games, the Boston Red Sox starting staff had thrown a league-fewest 16 1-2-3 innings. Sunday night at Fenway Park, Josh Beckett threw nearly half that in just one start.

Beckett’s best pitching performance since a June 2009 complete-game shutout of the Atlanta Braves sustained the Red Sox through six innings of scoring anemia, locking down a 4-0 Red Sox victory over the New York Yankees. It was Beckett’s first win in 2011, and Boston’s first series victory.

Beckett Uses Brains and Brawn

Red Sox fans were treated to a classic Beckett performance Sunday night, watching as he mowed down Yankee after Yankee. In eight scoreless innings, Beckett did not allow a baserunner in six. He struck out 10 while giving up just two hits, a walk and a hit batter.

The Yankees’ first of only two scoring chances came in the top of the third, when a single and a beanball put runners on first and second with one out. But Beckett got a grounder out of left fielder Brett Gardner on the second pitch of Gardner’s at-bat. Diminutive dynamo Dustin Pedroia ranged to his right, gloved the ball with a backhand, tagged second base and, with his momentum carrying him towards third, threw to first all in a single motion for the double-play.

Beckett got out of a fourth-inning jam with a strikeout and a groundout.

It wasn’t Beckett’s power that won him Sunday’s game, but rather his intelligence. No two consecutive pitches were ever of the same type, at the same speed or to the same location. Yankees hitters never looked comfortable in their at-bats, always unsure where the ball would end up.

Beckett’s curveball was especially strong Sunday, breaking sharply in a perfect 12-6 motion. If he wanted to bury a Yankee up and in, the curveball would look as if it would dip, but never do so. If he wanted a hitter to swing over it, the curveball’s bottom would fall out, leaving Yankees swinging at air. Beckett induced 14 swings-and-misses Sunday. 66 percent of his pitches were strikes.

Because Beckett threw 18 of 27 first-pitch strikes, the Yankees were constantly fighting uphill battles against both the count and Beckett’s clever pitch selection.

Beckett saved his best pitching for the end. In the sixth inning, he needed just nine pitches to retire the side. In both the seventh and eighth, he needed just eight.

Pedroia Lethal at the Plate and in the Field

After going 6-9 in his first two games against the Yankees, Pedroia added three more hits Sunday night. He finished the series 9-13 with five RBIs, four runs, three doubles, two walks and a home run. His batting average has jumped 133 points since Thursday’s finale against the Cleveland Indians.

Pedroia’s defense was as good as his offense. Although his most exciting play was obviously his third-inning double-play, that play may have overshadowed his seven putouts. Pedroia was rock solid in the field, not missing a single fielding opportunity. In the top of the sixth, Pedroia charged a bunt by Gardner, fielded it and underhanded it to first for the out.

Red Sox Offense Breaks Out in Seventh

Though the Red Sox put runners on base in every inning (and at least two in seven innings), through six innings they had only managed a Mike Cameron infield single in the third that scored Pedroia for the 1-0 lead. In six innings they stranded 12 baserunners. It seemed that every time the Red Sox were on the verge of breaking the game open, Yankees starter CC Sabathia would clamp down and get the necessary out.

In the seventh, however, the Red Sox finally broke through. After two walks and a single loaded the bases off Joba Chamberlain, Marco Scutaro (2-2, 2 walks, 2 RBIs) bounced a 1-0 pitch off the left field scoreboard, driving in two with a double that extended the Red Sox lead to 3-0.

The Red Sox squandered a bases-loaded opportunity that inning when Adrian Gonzalez (0-2 with runners in scoring position; hit on the left pinkie and ring fingers in the bottom of the fifth, but will not need x-rays) flew out to left on the first pitch he saw. In the eighth, David Ortiz plunked the center-field wall for his second hit of the game, an RBI double that drove in Kevin Youkilis to make it 4-0.

Carl Crawford led off and went 0-5 Sunday, personally stranding two of Boston’s 16 men left on base. Whatever the correct place for Crawford in the lineup may be, leading off clearly isn’t it. His high price tag may obligate Terry Francona to play him higher up, but Red Sox fans would undoubtedly be more happy with Crawford hitting more but getting slightly fewer at-bats due to a lower lineup position.

In Crawford’s one game batting seventh, he went 2-4.

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