The story of tonight's game was the relationship between Josh Beckett and Jason Varitek, and the step they took together. Tossing 96 pitches over six innings, allowing 5 hits and three earned runs, fanning four and walking two, Beckett was able to quiet (at least a little) the naysayers who credited his sparkler against the Royals to the offensive deficiencies of the Kansas City club. There was no hail of home run balls to spoil the otherwise dry California air, nor was there a steady parade of Athletics over home plate. Instead, there was simply a quality outing.
This is interesting simply because of how it began: poorly.
It is almost universally observed by Sox fans that Beckett's biggest enemies are pitch count and his reliance on throwing pure gas. Tonight, the majority of his pitches in the first inning were four-seamers, and to top it off, they were four-seamers that weren't hitting their spots. Despite the fact that his velocity looked as high as it's ever been, the location just wasn't there. Still, Varitek eventually began to call for more breaking balls and off-speed stuff, and Josh began to settle. He didn't allow a hit until the bottom of the third, and held them scoreless until the fifth.
Though this was not the first time that 'Tek has called for breaking balls from Beckett, it was certainly the most confident mix of pitches we've seen. If Varitek can duplicate the success that Mirabelli had with on the 19th against KC, it is not unreasonable to believe that Beckett will become more effective against these AL lineups that find a steady diet of fastballs to be a sure-fire cure for HR droughts.
The idea is to keep the hitters off-balance, to disrupt their timing. It has been for years past, and it will be for years to come. It's tough to keep pitch counts low and go deep into games when there is no easy out in the pitcher's spot, but smart use of every pitch can help counter this development. Beckett certainly has this ability, as we've seen batters buckle at the snap of his curve, we just need to have a catcher who will call it with confidence. Until now there has been hesitation, but with a little bit of luck, we can all move on to the next step in #19's (hopefully) memorable Red Sox career.