Beckett went seven strong innings, giving up two runs (the aforementioned homers) on three hits while striking out six and walking one. That made it easy pickings for the Sox offense as Boston rolled to an 8-2 win over the Tigers. Beckett is now 14-4, the most wins for any pitcher in the majors. And that is why the Cy talk is heating up around the Boston ace.
Look at his effort last night. 12 pitches in the first inning, including a three-pitch strikeout of Clete Thomas that made him look ridiculous. Of Beckett's six strikeouts, four were swinging strikeouts. He needed only seven pitches to retire the side in the sixth. 69% of Beckett's pitches were for strikes. He threw first-pitch strikes to 19 of 24 batters, a ridiculous 79% success rate. And you could say that with the two homers this was his "worst" effort in almost a month. Most pitchers would kill to have an outing like this one.
If you go to ESPN's Cy Young predictor, it's a three-horse race in the AL right now between Beckett, Roy Halladay and Felix Hernandez.* If everyone maintains their level of performance, you have to give the edge to Beckett since he'll be the only pitcher on a contending team. The only stat where he noticably trails his competitors is in ERA. A couple of more starts like last night and that won't be an issue any more.
As it stands, Beckett leads the AL in wins (14), is second in WHIP (1.11), third in complete games (3) and win percentage (.778), and fifth in strikeouts (145) and ERA (3.10). That's a solid pedigree. And with the way he has been pitching, I would bet he'll climb the list in a couple of these categories.
But a starting pitcher is only as good as the bullpen that backs him. And the Boston 'pen did a fine job cleaning up for Beckett. Okajima and Ramirez took an inning each and made it look easy. Each of them had a pair of strikeouts and a hit batsman was the only runner to reach base in the final two innings. It was a fine piece of work by the relief corps and you get the sense that they are regaining their confidence after the horror show in New York.
The lineup continued to dominate Detroit's pitching. Andres Galarraga was scratched at the last minute, so Zach Miner took the mound and promptly got shelled for five runs on seven hits in 4.2 innings. Mike Lowell led things off in the second with his third home run in his last four at-bats. Jason Bay continued his hot streak in the third with a two-run blast, his third straight game with a home run. And then pretty much the whole team got in on the act in a fifth inning where the Sox scored five runs (all with two outs) and sent 10 men to the plate. Ellsbury had the "honor" of beginning and ending the fifth with an out. All in all, the Sox were 4-12 with runners in scoring position. Oh, if only they could have done this in the Bronx...
We also found out about the suspensions yesterday for Kevin Youkilis and Rick Porcello. It is a bunch of BS that they both got five games. So now Youk misses five games while Porcello misses none. Even though everyone with working vision and common sense could tell that Porcello intentionally drilled Youk in the back? Porcello should miss one start for his role in the brawl, and it's a joke that he essentially gets off the hook on this. I guess it's open season on batters, and woe to the hitter that actually gets fed up with it.
The series winds up today at 1:35 with Detroit's best chance at a win. They're sending Justin Verlander to the mound to face Clay Buchholz. Buchholz pitched decently in his last outing in New York. With a friendly crowd behind him, you'd hope for even better results today. But Verlander can be tough. Boston's lineup will have to get to him early to give Clay a cushion to work with.
* Interesting that Boston was tied to Beckett's two closest competitors for the Cy as the trade deadline approached. Even more interesting is the consistent low-level buzz that Boston and Seattle will revisit a possible deal for King Felix in the off-season. Can you imagine both Beckett and Hernandez - along with Lester - pitching for the Sox in 2010?? No one could match that kind of firepower...not even the Yankees.