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Closing Time: Red Sox get an assist from rain in washing away Tigers

07.31.12 at 11:17 pm ET
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Josh Beckett hands the ball to Bobby Valentine upon leaving Tuesday night's game. (AP)

For the first 2 2/3 innings of Tuesday night’s game at Fenway Park, Josh Beckett was in complete control of the Tigers. In fact, he was perfect, and it seemed as if the right-hander was well on his way to one of his better outings of the year.

But as the theme has carried on throughout Beckett’s disappointing campaign, it was not the case. After retiring the first eight Tigers in a row to start the game, Beckett wouldn’t record another out. He gave up an infield single, hit a batter and then walked a pair — the last one to force in a run — and was ultimately pulled after team doctors discovered he had a back spasm. On a rainy night at Fenway Park, boos showered on Beckett.

Luckily for Beckett, however, his teammates picked him up and caught opposing Tigers ace and reigning Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander on an off night in which he, like Beckett, struggled to command the baseball while fighting the conditions. The Red Sox offense put together a four-run outburst in the fourth inning to take a 4-1 lead they wouldn’t relinquish as the they beat the Tigers for their fourth consecutive win after the game was called due to rain in the sixth inning.

Though he allowed three walks, Clayton Mortensen relieved Beckett and pitched extremely well to help the Red Sox pull out the victory. The 27-year-old righty, called up Tuesday as roster filler after the Sox traded Matt Albers (with Craig Breslow still making his way across the country to Boston), pitched 2 2/3 innings, allowing one hit and no runs. He picked up the victory — first first of the year — and exited the game in the sixth to a standing ovation from the fans.

The victory was the fourth straight for the Red Sox, who are now two games over .500.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

• Beckett started the game exceptionally sharp, retiring the Tigers side in order in the first inning and second innings. First, he struck out Austin Jackson looking before forcing Quintin Berry and Miguel Cabrera into fly outs. In the second, Beckett generated three consecutive fly outs.

It was Beckett’s first clean first inning (no runs, no walks) since June 30 and the second straight game he hasn’t given up a run in the first inning. With the clean inning, he improved his 2012 first-inning ERA from 10.06 to 9.50.

• Mortensen, in for the injured Beckett in the third, came up big after Beckett left the bases loaded. Prince Fielder nearly snuck one inside the Pesky Pole in right for a grand slam, but it hooked just foul. Mortensen then settled down to strike out Fielder to end an inning that could have ended with the Red Sox in a much deeper hole than the 1-0 deficit in which they found themselves.

Mortensen escaped further trouble in the fourth. After surrendering back-to-back walks to put runners on first and second with one out, he responded by retiring the next two batters in two pitches, which included an impressive stab on a comebacker from Omar Infante to end the inning.

The lanky right-hander now has a 1.17 ERA in 23 big league innings this year. It is the fourth-lowest ERA in Red Sox history by a player with at least 20 innings pitched in a season.

Will Middlebrooks singled in the second to extend his hitting streak to eight games. In that stretch, he’s hitting .414/.433/.690/1.123.

Pedro Ciriaco continued to deliver impact hits, lining a sharp single with the bases loaded through the right side of the infield in the bottom of the fourth inning to tie the game.

Carl Crawford continued to show the ability to impact the game with his legs. With the bases still loaded in the fourth, he bounced a chopper to second for an RBI infield single. However, with second baseman Omar Infante mindful of the outfielder’s speed, Infante ended up trying to bare-hand the ball and misplayed it for an error, resulting in a second run crossing the plate.

• The rain certainly played the biggest part in the development, but the Red Sox’ patient approach also managed to drive up the pitch count of Verlander to lend an assist in snapping his remarkable streak of 63 consecutive starts of at least six innings, the third-longest streak by a starter in the last 50 years, behind only Hall of Famers Bob Gibson (78) and Steve Carlton (69).

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

• Beckett’s injury raised the possibility that the Sox will have their rotation depth tested. The team already appeared ready to experiment with a shift of Franklin Morales to the rotation, perhaps in place of Aaron Cook. If Beckett is sidelined for a prolonged period, the Sox would have to proceed with both Morales and Cook in the rotation.

• More generally, Beckett’s back spasms highlighted the ongoing appearance that the right-hander is becoming increasingly brittle. He has dealt with thumb, lat, shoulder and now back issues over the course of this season, having already missed three starts. Each injury not only impacts the availability of one of the pitchers upon whom the Red Sox expected to lean, but it also diminishes whatever potential August or offseason trade value the Sox might have been able to glean for the right-hander.

• The Red Sox worked Verlander’s pitch count to 35 and loaded the bases in the first inning but failed to take advantage of the opportunity against the ace. After Adrian Gonzalez and Cody Ross drew back-to-back walks, Jarrod Saltalamacchia struck out swinging to end the threat and the inning. In three plate appearances, Saltalamacchia struck out twice. He whiffed in 31 of 73 (42.5 percent) plate appearances in July.

Dustin Pedroia, who hit the decisive home run in Monday night’s win, and Gonzalez both went hitless, combining to go 0-for-5.

Read More: Closing time, Fenway Park, Red Sox, tigers
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