Rocky outing for Beckett

Rocky outing for Beckett

BOSTON -- Josh Beckett's bid to become the first Red Sox pitcher since Roger Clemens in 1986 to open the season with a perfect 10 in the win-loss column was quickly dismissed by the revved-up Rockies, who belted the hard-throwing righty around over five shaky innings. And Boston's beleaguered bats continued their recent free-fall.

It all added up to a 7-1 loss on Thursday night in the rubber match of a three-game Interleague series in which the Sox saw their American League East lead over the Yankees trimmed to 7 1/2 games. The last time the Red Sox led the division by a smaller margin was on May 12. To get to this point, the Yankees have won 12 out of 14, while the Sox have gone 5-9.

Not that the players are posting the daily standings in their lockers.

"You can't worry about that right now," Beckett said. "It's not even the All-Star break. You can't start worrying about stuff like that. We're still ahead. Maybe if we were in their position, we might be worried about it. They're still behind us. For us, it's just going out there and taking it a game at a time. For pitchers, taking it a pitch at a time. For hitters, taking it an at-bat at a time."

The one pitch -- and the one at-bat -- that decided the night was on a 96-mph fastball that Garrett Atkins turned into a Monster mash grand slam in the third. That made it 5-0 in favor of the Rockies.

"I thought I had pretty good stuff," Beckett said. "But it's making those pitches when you need to, in those crucial counts. Dictating whether you are ahead or behind."

Perhaps Beckett was due for a night like this. The right-hander, who had been mainly brilliant over his first 11 starts, was pounded for season highs of 10 hits and six runs. He fell to 9-1, while his ERA rose above 3.00 (3.39) for the first time all season.

"It was a fun run," Beckett said. "Like I said, my last start, there is no way I take all the credit. I have to give a lot of the credit for these last two months to Jason Varitek, my offense and my defense."

Offense has generally not been a problem when Beckett takes the hill. He entered the night third in the league in run support. But Boston's bats came up dry in this one, making it seven times in the last nine games that the Sox have scored two runs or fewer.

Red Sox manager Terry Francona tried to revitalize the offense by moving J.D. Drew to the leadoff spot and putting Kevin Youkilis in the five-hole, but it didn't work.

Nobody will ever know what direction the game would have gone in had Drew's laser up the middle with the bases loaded and one out in the second gone through. Instead, Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki made a tremendous diving stop to save at least one run, if not two.

"I don't know necessarily if it's a slump," Varitek said. "Balls are hit at people at different times. Ball goes through for J.D., and then we have ourselves a different ballgame early. The guy makes a great diving play. Everything has to match up. We have to pitch well and swing the bats well. Today, they outswung us."

Down 6-0 in the bottom of the sixth inning, the Red Sox had runners on first and second and nobody out, at which point Rockies left-hander Jeff Francis came out of the game. But Julio Lugo flied out to center, Drew struck out looking and Dustin Pedroia grounded to first, and just like that, the rally was over.

"Not good, man," Sox slugger David Ortiz said of the offensive woes. "Not been hitting ... Hopefully, we get better. It happens. They were playing defense out there. Not too much you can do about it. We'll get them next time."

Francona, who never got too high when the Sox were rolling, isn't about to start sulking now.

"We're not scoring runs in bunches," said the Boston manager. "We will. You always get tested. With 162 games, you're going to be tested. We love this group. I don't think anyone's real thrilled with the amount of runs we've scored lately, but we'll keep at it. We'll get ourselves through it."

With Barry Bonds set to play at Fenway for the first time on Friday night and 2004 postseason hero Dave Roberts making his return to Boston, the crowd should come packed with adrenaline.

Perhaps that will send a surge to the Boston bats.

"I think this offense is capable of scoring 25 to 30 runs in one day," Beckett said. "They just haven't done it lately."

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