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Josh Beckett continues to be AL East difference-maker

09.01.11 at 1:15 am ET
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Josh Beckett picked up his fourth victory of the year against the Yankees on Wednesday. (AP)

It is a measure of how spectacular Josh Beckett‘s season has been that his outing on Wednesday in a 9-5 Red Sox victory over the Yankees represented an effort that was merely ordinary.

Most pitchers would be elated by a night in which they limited the best offense in the majors to four earned runs on six hits and three walks in seven innings that featured eight strikeouts, particularly when earning a victory. Yet to Beckett, his outing was little more than a footnote.

He’d pitched brilliantly in six of his seven innings, but he also endured a four-run hiccup in the top of the sixth that gave the Yankees a temporary 5-4 lead.

But the Sox lineup lashed back with three runs in the bottom of the inning, positioning Beckett for a victory. It was Beckett’s third win in as many starts — his longest streak of consecutive starts with wins since the first half of 2009 — despite the fact that he matched a season-high in runs allowed (though it is worth noting that one of the five runs with which he was charged was unearned).

“This goes to show you, I might get the win next to my name. I’d say I contributed by eating up some innings, but the guys that probably stuck out all year, they stuck out again today,” Beckett said, deflecting praise to lineup members such as David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury. “I thought I made some pitches early whenever I needed to. [But] tonight wasn’t about me. We have some guys that have been sticking out all year that stuck out big-time.”

Still, Beckett featured the vast repertoire that has made him so effective this year. His fastball regularly sat at 94-95 mph, he had a nasty, biting curveball that he employed heavily early, and he featured a cutter and changeup to help him widen the plate.

Even Beckett — typically a perfectionist — could derive satisfaction from both his performance and his season. After all, it was just a year ago that he endured his career-worst season in which he went 6-6 with a 5.78 ERA. This year, he has re-established himself as one of the top pitchers in the AL with a 12-5 record and 2.54 ERA.

“I’m a different pitcher than I was at any time last year,” he said. “I’m making pitches when I need to. … That’s always what separates good seasons from mediocre seasons or mediocre seasons from bad seasons is making pitches when you need to.”

The Sox have had a shot in virtually every game that Beckett has started. He has permitted three or fewer runs in 22 of his 26 starts, making a team-leading 19 quality starts in the process. Beckett has not just shown the capacity to dominate. He has done so consistently, and on nights when he has fallen short of that gold standard, he has still kept the Sox in the game.

“It’s huge,” manager Terry Francona said of Beckett’s resurgence. “This is a guy we’ve relied on for so long now. I think we were kind of hoping he would come back with a vengeance. He has. Since that game he threw against New York, that second start of the year, he’s been so consistent, and so consistently good. It’s important in this game to know what you’re getting. He’s been that way all year.”

That has been especially true against New York. Indeed, a strong case can be made that the Sox owe their 1 1/2 game lead in the division to the right-hander.

The team is now 5-0 in his outings against New York. With the victory on Wednesday, Beckett improved to 4-0 with a 1.85 ERA in five starts this year against the Yankees. He is the first Sox starter to beat New York four times in one year since Al Nipper went 4-0 against the Red Sox’ chief rivals in 1987.

Moreover, Beckett is now just the third starter since 2000 to claim at least four wins against the Yankees in a single season. Roy Halladay had five victories against New York in 2008, while Brett Cecil collected four victories against New York in 2010.

Naturally, Beckett had a larger role in some of those victories than others. Wednesday was an occasion on which he pitched well, but not spectacularly. His offense was more than happy to pick up the load in a demonstration of reciprocity for what the team’s most consistent pitcher has done all year.

“He always comes through for us,” explained Ortiz.

That has been particularly true against the Yankees, helping to explain why the Sox enjoy their perch atop the division.

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