Josh Beckett had his full repertoire. No aches, no pains, no strains, just vintage Beckett stuff. "He was phenomenal," the Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona said after Beckett pitched seven innings in a 5-3 victory over the defending AL champions the Tampa Bay Rays on opening day at Fenway Park.
"You're taking the way he was throwing the ball in spring training and applying a game plan. When you're in a bind, you have an idea what you want to do. He just executed so much." Dustin Pedroia and the catcher Jason Varitek hit home runs to help the Red Sox get the first win in what looks likely to be a season-long AL East struggle. Beckett's 2008 season was a physical struggle, starting with back problems that kept him from pitching on the opening day to the oblique strain that hampered him later on.
But he started 2009 with the form he showed two years ago, when he won 20 games and led the Red Sox to the championship. "He keeps pitching like that, and we've got a chance to do some great things this year," teammate Kevin Youkilis said. Beckett allowed two hits, walked three and struck out 10 in a game that had been postponed a day because of rain. Two walks led to the Rays' first run, which came on Carl Crawford's sacrifice fly in the third. Beckett was at his best in the sixth. After Akinori Iwamura walked and Crawford doubled, he dispatched the heart of Tampa Bay's line up, getting Evan Longoria on a foul pop, Carlos Pena on a called third strike and Pat Burrell on a ground ball. "That was pretty impressive," Francona said.
"He looked like his old self, I thought," said the Rays manager Joe Maddon. "You could see he was on his game from the very first inning." After Pedroia's home run the Red Sox broke a 1-1 tie with three in the third. Youkilis, JD Drew and Mike Lowell drove in the runs and Varitek homered in the sixth. "This is a pretty cool place to be around on opening day," Beckett said. "You think about that - that is something you're striving for as a pitcher."
In the eighth, Hideki Okajima walked one batter and hit another. The Rays pulled off a double steal, and both runners scored on Longoria's single off Justin Masterson. But Masterson escaped further damage and Jonathan Papelbon worked a perfect ninth, striking out two to end the game with a flourish. Elsewhere, the National League Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum struggled through just three innings for San Francisco but the Giants still managed to see off the Milwaukee Brewers in a 10-6 win.
The Atlanta Braves continued their home-run spree in a 4-0 win over the World Series champions the Philadelphia Phillies. Jorge Cantu and Dan Uggla hit two-run homers to lead the Florida Marlins to a 8-3 victory over Washington Nationals, and Albert Pujols hit his first home run of the season as the St Louis Cardinals thrashed Pittsburgh Pirates 9-3. The Chicago Cubs forced a 10th inning but still ran out 3-2 losers to the Houston Astros while Heath Bell struck out the Los Angeles Dodgers in the ninth inning in the San Diego Padres' 4-2 win, and Troy Tulowitzki homered for the second consecutive game as the Colorado Rockies beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 3-0.
* With agencies