The Boston Red Sox's record of 7-20 over the month of September, 2011 is ingrained in the fanbase’s memory, right next to 37 feet for the left-field wall and the retired uniform numbers hovering behind right field.
But does anyone remember what immediately preceded the beginning of that meltdown? That is, does anyone recall what happened on August 31 of last season?
The answer is Josh Beckett’s most recent start against the New York Yankees, an eventual 9-5 triumph at Fenway Park that gave him four wins in as many decisions on the year against the time-honored rival.
Granted, he allowed five runs on six hits and nine baserunners that evening, but Beckett simply worked with his defense and bat rack to one-up the Bombers, as he has so often done over his first six seasons in Boston.
Beckett has started 27 Sox-Yanks tilts since arriving in 2006, winning 14, losing seven and taking a no-decision six times. The team went 5-0 when Beckett started against the Pinstripes in 2011 and is 18-9 in that situation since the ace was acquired.
In the same span, including this season, Boston is 37-47 when it sends out another starter for a renewal of the rivalry.
Beckett is slated to wage his 28th bout with New York on Friday when the teams commence a four-part series at Fenway. It will be Boston’s second game since crossing the halfway mark of the 2012 season and Beckett’s first venture since a loss in Seattle that could not be blamed on him.
Last Saturday, Beckett authorized two runs on four hits in six full innings of work. His relievers combined to yield five hits and six baserunners within 4.1 innings, with losing pitcher Alfredo Aceves utterly falling apart in the bottom of the 11th.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox outhit the host Mariners 11-9, only to strand 10 runners, including four in scoring position and two on third base. All they could muster was a two-run seventh that drew a 2-2 knot and took Beckett off the hook.
Returning from a 2-5 letdown against two ostensibly weaker adversaries on the west coast, the Sox are two games above .500 and tied with Toronto for last in the ultra-competitive American League East. Yet they are also tied with the Blue Jays for the second-best offensive output in the majors with 411 runs scored.
With timelier hitting and better baserunning, they most likely would have emerged with a winning record on their latest road swing. It would not have taken much more than what they actually mustered to reward the likes of Beckett and Jon Lester, who had a similar outing in Oakland Tuesday night and is slated to wrap up the Yankees series on Sunday.
Under more favorable circumstances, Boston could have staked a partial claim to one of the A.L.’s two Wild Card spots by now. Instead, Beckett and company can start their do-over by taking the better part of this weekend’s games and at least whittling the 7.5-game deficit down to 5.5 in the East Division derby.
Another four sets of three games apiece with the Yanks will follow over the coming weeks and months, amounting to a maximum of four more potential big-game hunts for Beckett.
As much as Beckett has been rightly maligned for co-piloting the Sox through last year’s crash and burn and being of little help through the first half of 2012, he can still pass a telling test of commitment.
All through the unlikely unraveling of the 2011 campaign and amid his building a not-so-flattering, team-leading 4.06 ERA, he has yet to encounter the team’s topmost obstacle to replenishing its playoff viability.
That will change when he is summoned to thrust Friday’s first pitch, and his performance will all but set the tone, both from an individual and group standpoint, for the second half of the season.
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