Beckett's intensity obvious in win

Beckett's intensity obvious in Red Sox win

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The game didn't count. But to Red Sox right-hander Josh Beckett, that doesn't change the way the game of baseball should be played.

So, sure, Beckett took plenty of offense when he felt that Ryan Howard, last season's National League Rookie of the Year, lofted a fly ball to left-center field and walked a little too slowly out of the batter's box.

As it turns out, the ball landed on the warning track and in the glove of center fielder Adam Stern, not Howard's preferred destination, which was the cheap seats.

When Howard ran across the mound and back toward the Phillies' dugout on the third-base side, Beckett had some choice words for him.

"I'm kind of about respecting the game," said Beckett. "Even if it is a home run, I don't think it's the right thing to do. I didn't think it was the right thing to do. I've never been the type of guy to not say anything just because ... That's where it kind of started, after he was jogging in after it was a popup."

Howard insisted that he wasn't trying to show Beckett up and said he thinks the pitcher must have misinterpreted his motion after he hit the ball.

"I just hit the ball and didn't see where it went, so I kind of hesitated and looked up to try to find the ball, hit the bag, I'm running back to the [dugout], he starts popping off," said Howard. "If I was going to do something like pimp it or whatever, he'd have known. But I was looking up to try to see where the ball was, and when I saw it, I started running."

Once the inning was over, Howard went to first base and heard some more from Beckett. Then Howard -- all 6-foot-4 and 252 pounds of him -- had had enough. He threw his glove on the ground and challenged Beckett -- no small man himself at 6-5 and 222 pounds -- to come out on the field and settle it there.

The Red Sox prevented that from happening, with an assembly line of peacemakers forming before the precious right arm of Beckett could get anywhere near Howard. Players from both sides did convene on the field, but nothing close to an altercation took place.

"It's not like I wanted to fight the guy," Beckett said. "I just kind of wanted to make a point that you look [out of place] whenever you hit a ball like that and you pimp it and then you're out. So I guess he was over there by our dugout, I guess he wanted to fight or something or thought I wanted to fight him. I didn't want to fight him -- I just wanted him to know my point."

And one point in all this is that the Red Sox have acquired an intense young man, in addition to a talented pitcher.

"He's pretty competitive," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "He might be one of those guys you don't talk to in the middle of an inning. He's competing. I've got no problem with that."

Over six innings, Beckett scattered six hits and gave up two runs while walking three and striking out six. He threw 96 pitches, 57 of them for strikes. In fact, Beckett was far more interested in talking about his outing than about what took place with Howard.

"Let's talk about the outing," Beckett said. "I felt pretty good today, let's start with that. I don't want to fill it up with stuff like that, negative stuff. Let's be positive here."

Beckett's only complaint from his outing was that he had a "2" under the earned runs column instead of a "0."

"You know, I felt intense, I felt focused today," Beckett said. "Days when you have great stuff, you probably shouldn't give up any runs, and I still found a way to give up two."

As for the incident with Howard, Beckett, with the benefit of hindsight, admitted that he shouldn't have kept the matter going once the inning was over.

"That's my fault," said Beckett. "It was kind of a heat-of-the-battle thing. I probably should have just let it die and gone on about my business and let him go on about his, but I didn't. That's all right. I'm sure I'll face him again sometime down the road."

Why did the normally mild-mannered Howard drop his glove and invite Beckett to meet him outside the dugout?

"I really wasn't thinking about it anymore," Howard said. "But I go over [to first base] and he's like, 'Fly ball.' And he threw in some curse words and called me a couple names. I was like, 'It's over,' but he started popping back off.

"I'm not going to take nothing away; the dude's a good pitcher. He had good stuff. His stuff was working nice today. But that's just uncalled for. Let it go."

Letting it go is precisely what Beckett has done this spring when it comes to pitching, which has been a huge matter of satisfaction for the Red Sox considering that their prized offseason acquisition had a tired shoulder at the end of 2005.

"I think he's throwing the ball great," said Francona. "I think the one big thing we really wanted to see is have him look like he's healthy, and I think everyone would agree that when he rears back, he's not nursing it up there."

In the meantime, Beckett is eagerly awaiting April 5, when he will make his first official start in a Boston uniform -- on the road against the Rangers.

"I've got a Minor League game on Friday," said Beckett. "I just need to keep the intensity and stay focused and get out there and get my work in."

Judging by the events of Sunday, Beckett's intensity and focus are right where they need to be.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.