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Trip Saved: Red Sox Sweep Astros Behind Dominant Josh Beckett

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HOUSTON, TX - JULY 03:  Pitcher Josh Beckett #19 of the Boston Red Sox pitches in the first inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on July 3, 2011 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - JULY 03: Pitcher Josh Beckett #19 of the Boston Red Sox pitches in the first inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on July 3, 2011 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
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It's confirmed: Josh Beckett's bad start against the Phillies? Just a little bit of rust. It's hard to draw any other conclusions after his start against the Astros Sunday: 8 innings, 5 hits, 1 hit batsman, 1 run, and 11 strikeouts.

Not a bad day at the office.

The first inning didn't exactly promise such impressive results, though. After striking out Michael Bourn to start the game, Beckett gave up two quick singles and an absolute rocket off the bat of Carlos Lee. The ball found a glove, however, and from there it was mostly smooth sailing.

The first time through the lineup, Beckett used primarily his fastball and cutter, blowing it by hitters or spotting it on corners, throwing strikes whenever he wanted to. The second time through, he started adding the curve in more, picking up four of his last five strikeouts with the bender. All night Beckett was throwing strikes, and all night he was getting swings and misses, proving as much as he has in perhaps any other game this year that the ace of 2007 has returned.

The Sox, however, were not providing him much in the way of backup, running into the same old stranded baserunner problems that kept them down earlier in the road trip. They left the bases loaded in the third, again in the fourth (after pushing one run across on an errant throw by Brett Wallace, attempting to force out a run at home), and ran into double plays in the fifth, seventh, and eighth. Jordan Lyles gave up five walks...and zero earned runs.

Beckett, meanwhile, had given back the one run he had been spotted, allowing a leadoff double to Wallace in the fifth, and then a two-out pinch-hit single to Angel Sanchez to bring him home. After exiting for a pinch hitter in the ninth, it seemed entirely possible that Beckett was going to leave without a win.

But Drew Sutton, the pinch hitter in question,  drew a walk with one out in the ninth, then moved to second on a single from Jacoby Ellsbury, and third when Dustin Pedroia grounded into a fielder's choice. The Astros decided not to pitch to Adrian Gonzalez, giving him the intentional walk, but that proved a fatal mistake. Mark Melancon could not find the zone against Kevin Youkilis, throwing three straight balls to start the at bat, and then giving up the go-ahead RBI walk with a low 3-1 fastball. 

Jonathan Papelbon closed out the game, showing a very good splitter and striking out the side around a single to (again) Brett Wallace, leaving the Red Sox with--of all things--a 5-4 record on their road trip.