BOSTON - Josh Beckett waited four extra days for a chance to show his postseason brilliance.
Boston Red Sox starter Josh Beckett shouts toward home plate after the final out in the first inning of Game 3 of baseball's American League division series in Boston, Sunday, Oct. 5, 2008.
(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
That shine wore off with his very first pitch.
The Red Sox right-hander had the worst outing of his 10 postseason starts as Boston lost 5-4 to the Los Angeles Angels in 12 innings on Sunday night. He gave up a double to Chone Figgins on his first pitch and needed 30 pitches and 22 minutes to record three outs.
The Angels cut Boston's lead in the best-of-five AL division series to 2-1. Game 4 is Monday night at Fenway Park.
"They really made him work," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "Right from the very first pitch of the game he was (pitching) out of the stretch."
One year and two days earlier, Beckett was at his best against the Angels.
He pitched a four-hit shutout in the opener of Boston's three-game sweep, a 4-0 win. He struck out eight and walked none.
He was on track to start the postseason opener this year when he hit a detour. He strained his side in a bullpen session and was pushed back in the rotation.
"I felt fine," Beckett said. "Some of those pitches just missed and a lot of 1-and-1 counts turned into 2-and-1, instead of 1-and-2 counts."
If the series goes the distance, Beckett won't be rested enough to pitch Game 5 on Wednesday night. But the Red Sox have Jon Lester, who took Beckett's place in the opener and was outstanding in a 4-1 win. Daisuke Matsuzaka started Boston's 7-5 victory before the series moved east.
One more win and the Red Sox would have their third straight three-game sweep of the Angels in a first-round series in the last five years. And Beckett, pronounced recovered after a bullpen session last week in California, seemed to be the man to complete it.
"It meant a lot even having him take the ball, being able to make this start," catcher Jason Varitek said.
But was Beckett healthy?
"I can't answer that," Varitek said.
Figgins led off the game with a double down the right-field line and scored on a two-out, bases-loaded walk to Juan Rivera. Beckett limited the damage by getting Mike Napoli to ground into a fielder's choice.
But his night just got worse from there.
Napoli hit a tying two-run homer in the third and a solo drive in the fifth that gave Los Angeles a 4-3 lead. Napoli was 0-for-6 with three strikeouts against Beckett before Sunday night.
Was there one pitch Beckett had trouble with?
"The hanging curveball to Napoli" on the first homer, he said.
He ended his evening by striking out Figgins to end the fifth, and Kevin Youkilis' RBI double in the bottom half got him off the hook.
"I don't think his command was what it can be, what it will be," Francona said. "We seemed like we were pitching out of the stretch every single inning."
Beckett left with a 2.09 ERA in 11 postseason performances after entering the game at 1.73. He allowed four runs after giving up just one in 16 innings in his other two first-round appearances in his career.
"They're definitely a tough lineup," Beckett said. "I don't think you win 100 games without having a decent team."
The Angels' 100-62 record was the best in the majors.
Beckett had won his previous five playoff starts with a 0.92 ERA. Last year, when the Red Sox won their second championship in four seasons, he went 4-0 with a 1.20 ERA in the postseason.
But in his last outing before Sunday, he had problems with his control in a 4-3 loss to Cleveland on a night when the Red Sox could have clinched a wild-card berth. He hit a career-high three batters, threw a wild pitch and ended the season with a mediocre 12-10 record and 4.03 ERA after going 20-7 with a 3.27 ERA last year.
"We played a good game, just as good as they did," Beckett said after Sunday's loss. "They just happened to score one more run. They had opportunities, we had opportunities. I thought we played a good game for the most part."