Beckett shines in All-Star debut
Red Sox ace throws two scoreless frames to pick up victory
SAN FRANCISCO -- Josh Beckett was cooling off in the American League dugout after two shutout innings of work in his first All-Star Game when he expressed a thought to Mike Lowell, his longtime teammate dating back to their days in Florida.
"[Josh] actually said to me, 'What are the odds of us putting two on the board and getting me the [win]?" said Lowell. "And I think three pitches later, Ichiro [Suzuki] hits that ball. Pretty good moment."
The moment Lowell spoke of occurred in the top of the fifth inning and will go down as one of those All-Star highlights that will be remembered for decades in the AL's 5-4 victory over the National League on Tuesday night.
Ichiro belted a two-run inside-the-park home run to right-center field that took such a bad bounce on Ken Griffey Jr. that the speedy Mariners outfielder was able to come into home plate standing up. It was the first inside-the-parker in the history of the All-Star Game.
The two-run homer turned a 1-0 NL lead into a 2-1 AL lead. And given that Beckett was the pitcher of record at that time and the AL never relinquished its lead, the ace right-hander of the Red Sox earned the win. Beckett became the first Red Sox pitcher to win an All-Star Game since Pedro Martinez's brilliant outing at Fenway Park in 1999.
"I vultured that win," said Beckett. "It's one of those deals -- right place, right time."
Considering that the Red Sox were the only team to have six All-Stars this year, there was a good chance some of them would play a role in the outcome.
Lowell smacked a single to center to lead off the eighth and wound up scoring on a two-run homer by Indians catcher Victor Martinez. Those two insurance runs wound up being huge in light of a precarious bottom of the ninth in which the AL's undefeated streak at the All-Star Game was nearly halted at 10.
"Any time you push more runs across, it can be important," Lowell said. "It's great. Victor Martinez crushed that ball, so it gave us a nice cushion and we were able to mess around there a little bit in the ninth and still be OK."
Lowell is now 4-for-7 lifetime in All-Star competition.
"It felt good," said Lowell. "I hit it hard, it dropped."
And not to be forgotten was the work of Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, who was thrust into the role of setup man on this night. Papelbon navigated his way around a bloop single and was otherwise dominant, registering two strikeouts in a scoreless eighth. It was sweet for Papelbon after not pitching in last year's All-Star Game.
"It was huge," Papelbon said. "For me, it was a big growing and learning experience to get out there in those situations and obviously represent the Red Sox in a good way and have Beckett win it and me throw up a zero and everything else."
Beckett's only blemish occurred with the first batter he faced. Jose Reyes hit a fluky double -- a soft grounder -- that went just to the right of third baseman Alex Rodriguez and then took a wicked hope down the foul line.
"It was unbelievable, the amount of spin that was on that ball," Beckett said. "It was crazy."
Up next for Beckett was Barry Bonds, who put a charge into a 94-mph fastball and narrowly missed what would have rivaled Ichiro as the highlight of the night. But Bonds came up short in his bid to go deep in front of his hometown fans. His drive landed just in front of the wall, in the glove of left fielder Magglio Ordonez.
"Every time he hits a ball, it has a chance to go out, so I thought it had a chance," Beckett said. "I felt good. It was fun. I had a good time. It was kind of cool to be a part of something like this."
After the initial hit, Beckett retired the last six batters he faced, including two strikeouts. He gave a national audience a glimpse of what Red Sox fans have been watching all season.
"[He was] good," David Ortiz said of Beckett. "Same guy, 97 [mph], cheese all over the place."
Boston bashers Ortiz (0-for-2 in a starting role) and Manny Ramirez (0-for-1 as a pinch-hitter) had uneventful performances.
In Ortiz's second at-bat, he drilled one to right field, but the line drive was caught by Griffey.
"It was good. It didn't go nowhere, but it felt good," said Ortiz.
The sixth Sox player on the team -- lefty setup man Hideki Okajima -- didn't get a chance to pitch.
All in all, the Boston contingent had a good time.
"It's awesome," said Beckett. "Each one of those guys should be proud to be here. I know I am. And to share that with so many individuals that I go out to battle with every day, it's nice."
And perhaps there could be one more perk down the line for the Red Sox, who hold the best record in baseball. If the Sox do make the World Series, Tuesday's win solidified them home-field advantage.
"No doubt about it," said Papelbon. "Hopefully down the road, we have an opportunity to go to the World Series this year and have that home-field advantage. Hopefully we'll be talking about this in October."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.