Josh Beckett wasn't unhittable last night, but he sure looked the part, disposing of the Rays in just 97 pitches, and earning a complete game shutout for his efforts. Almost every time he throws a dominating start, it's described as "vintage" Beckett -- he has been around long enough at this point for that moniker, of course, but it got me wondering just how good it was compared to the rest of his body of work with the Red Sox.
Using Game Score -- an admittedly imperfect measure of pitcher effectiveness, but for something like this, it'll do -- we can see just where last night's win against Tampa Bay ranks in the Beckett catalog.
#5: June 20, 2009 -- Red Sox 3, Braves 0 (Game Score: 84)
Beckett, who got his start in the National League, fittingly kicks off this list with a start against an old division rival. Beckett struck out seven Braves-- two a piece to Yunel Escobar and Brian McCann -- didn't hand out a free pass, and scattered five hits without allowing a run through nine innings pitched. His opponent? Another pitcher with a little bit of Red Sox history, one of the 25, Derek Lowe.
It's also worth noting that this game score of 84 -- and the four other starts we will cover here -- is higher than Francisco Liriano's from his no-hitter earlier in the 2011 season. Beckett gave up hits, but he did the rest in style, more than you can say about a no-no that had more to do with the Twins' defense than the man on the mound.
#4: October 3, 2007 -- Red Sox 4, Angels 0 (Game Score: 87)
Game One of the 2007 American League Division Series, or, the first step on the path to Boston's second World Series championship in four years. Beckett set the pace for this playoff run, shutting the Angels down with nine innings of four-hit ball, complemented by eight strikeouts, no walks, and a defeat of his now teammate and fellow Texan, John Lackey.
Kevin Youkilis supplied all of the offense that the Red Sox would need with a homer in the first, and Beckett didn't allow a single runner to get past first base, setting the Angels down in a brisk 2 hours and 27 minutes.
#3: April 10, 2011 -- Red Sox 4, Yankees 0 (Game Score: 87)
We don't have to go back too far for this one, a start that analysts were right to slap the "vintage" tag on. Like the other starts on this list to this point, this one took place in Fenway Park in front of a packed crowd, and was a huge lift for Red Sox fans feeling the pressure of a poor start weighing them down. With 10 strikeouts, one walk allowed, just two hits and no runs, it's easy to see how this got here -- it would rank a little higher were it also a complete game shutout, but Jonathan Papelbon closed the door on this one with Beckett already at 103 pitches after eight.
This was also the first indication that Beckett's back may be feeling okay, and, while tentative, gave Sox fans reason to hope that there would be three great pitchers atop the rotation this year, rather than two. So far, so good.
#2: July 12, 2009 -- Red Sox 6, Royals 0 (Game Score: 88)
Josh Beckett went nine innings, shutting out the Royals in front of 37,612 of Fenway's faithful. Beckett struck out all but three Royals in the lineup -- and got Billy Butler to go down on strikes twice -- giving him seven punch outs on the night, and against zero walks.
The one knock on this game -- or three of them, actually -- was three hits. Three isn't a whole lot, but when looking for little differences in the very best starts for one of the better pitchers of the last decade, it's enough.
#1: June 15, 2011 -- Red Sox 3, Rays 0 (Game Score: 91)
If you were thinking Josh Beckett looked particularly dominating last night, then your eyes were not deceiving you, as, via Game Score, it was his best start in a Red Sox uniform. It's the only one of these starts that didn't take place at Fenway Park, too.
Beckett threw just 97 pitches, with 68 of them going for strikes -- that's 70 percent -- striking out just six hitters (the fewest of any of these starts) but once again avoiding walks, and narrowly missing a no-hitter with one base hit allowed. Facing just 28 batters, keeping it under 100 pitches, and pounding the strike zone all night makes for an impressive start -- the most impressive of Beckett's Red Sox tenure, in fact.