That, my friends, is just about as good as it gets. We completed the sweep, we have our four-game (and counting) winning streak, Beckett completely bounced back from his rustiness, and we’re sending four to the All-Star Game. Gonzalez is going for the fourth time but his first as a starter, Papi is going for the seventh time, Beckett is going for the third time, and Ellsbury has received his first career bid. All four of them deserve every minute of that trip. Let’s not forget, by the way, that the stakes are high. We need to secure home field advantage for ourselves come October.
Speaking of Beckett and completely deserving a trip to the All-Star Game, yesterday’s start was all the proof you could possibly need that Beckett exudes all-star status. The game was literally almost all Beckett. He was the reason we won. He pitched eight innings of one-run ball. He gave up five hits and absolutely no walks. He was supremely efficient; he threw 102 pitches, sixty-nine of which were strikes. That’s a strike percentage of sixty-eight. That’s high. But my favorite part was the season-high eleven strikeouts.
His very first batter struck out swinging on a four-seam. The second inning was the first of four one-two-three innings; the first two batters struck out swinging, the first on a cutter and the second on another four-seam. He began the third with his only called strike, the result of four straight four-seams, and he ended the inning with another swinging strike on a four-seam. He began the fourth with a strikeout on a cutter and ended it with a strikeout on a curveball. Both strikeouts in the fifth were put away with curveballs; he also gave up his only run that inning, the result of the combination of a double and a single. He followed that inning with a one-two-three sixth, during which he achieved another strikeout using four straight four-seams and a cutter. He locked down his last strikeout in the seventh with a curveball (and hit his next batter, but still).
The outing really was a gem of purest form. It was a thing of beauty. And it was the reason why, to this day, we still wonder about last season. Beckett was so dominant that, by the time Paps took the mound, the game was still tied at one. We scored our first run in the fourth; the bases were loaded for Tek, but all he could muster was reaching on a force attempt, which led to an error. He hit a grounder to first base, but Brett Wallace fired home very poorly indeed, so Youk scored. Painfully. Carlos Corporan came down on his right ankle, which as we all know is not in the best of shape these days. We scored the winning run in the ninth; after a walk, a single, and an intentional walk, the bases were loaded for Youk. Youk didn’t have to do much to bring in a run. He didn’t. But he brought in a run anyway. He walked on five pitches. Five straight cutters. How embarrassing for the Astros.
So Beckett walked away with his third win in Houston, Paps walked away with his seventeenth save, and Tito walked away having bested our former pitching coach. What’s up, Brad Mills; thanks for intentionally walking Gonzalez in the top of the ninth while first base was occupied, because that made so much sense and didn’t backfire at all.
All in all, the road trip wasn’t our best. On the one hand, it was Interleague, so we should have been able to win easily. On the other hand, we were playing in National League parks, which threw off our lineup. But now we get to go home, and just in time for the Fourth of July. Few things are better on America’s birthday than America’s national pastime. It’ll be a great game.