As crazy as it might sound, I don’t get as much pleasure out of watching the Yankees beat up on Josh Beckett anymore. He’s still the bad guy, but it simply isn’t as much fun when you expect him to get rocked, you know? Heck, even Red Sox fans are tired of him, so it’s hard for me to summon the energy to despise him. The cocky, young kid who silenced the Yankee bats to clinch a World Series almost a decade ago has somehow become just another pitcher, kind of like the neighborhood dog that chased you mercilessly when you were a kid, but years later couldn’t rise from his front porch.
And so it was on Sunday night.
Derek Jeter jumped on Beckett’s second pitch of the night and sent it deep over the head of Jacoby Ellsbury in center field for a double, and eventually came home on a two-out double from Curtis Granderson, and the Yanks were off and running. Beckett was stewing.
That one run almost looked like it would be enough. Hiroki Kuroda was on the mound for the Yankees, fresh off his two-hit shutout of the Texas Rangers, and he picked up right where he left off. He set down the first eight hitters without incident before Nick Punto singled, then cruised through the next three innings allowing just another harmless single. Suddenly it wasn’t much of a stretch to imagine him starting Game 1 in October.
To give Kuroda a bit of a cushion, the Yankee hitters chipped in a run here and a run there. With one out in the third, Jeter replayed his first inning at bat and crushed another double over Ellsbury’s head, this one bouncing over the wall. Nick Swisher followed that with a walk, and then Jeter and Swisher pulled off a double steal without a throw. Beckett’s next pitch skipped away from Jarod Saltalamacchia, allowing Jeter to score, and it was 2-0.
In the fourth inning, Ichiro came up to the plate with two outs. I always liked watching Ichiro hit, so it hasn’t been hard for me to start rooting for him as a Yankee. You would always here people talk about how he would effortlessly put balls into the seats during batting practice and claim that he could hit twenty or thirty homers a season if he wanted to, and he gave proof in this at bat. Beckett left a pitch up in the zone, and Ichiro jumped all over it, rifling it into the seats in right for a 3-0 Yankee lead. Two innings later he shot another ball into the bleachers, just because he could. I know the Moneyball folks led an OPS-driven backlash against Ichiro early in his career, but as he stepped to the top of the dugout steps, lifting his helmet to reveal his greying hair as he acknowledged the cheering crowd, I could only think that this was one of the best hitters ever to play the game.
Kuroda was still on the mound in the top of the seventh when the revitalized Adrian González homered to right. Since González plays first base for my fantasy team (Mike Pagliarulo Fan Club), I couldn’t get too broken up over it, and neither did Kuroda, though perhaps for different reasons. He finished the seventh, then ended his night by setting down the Sox in order in the eighth. Rafael Soriano untucked the ninth, and the game was over. Yankees 4, Red Sox 1.
[Photo Credit: Jason Szenes/Getty Images]