EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 29, 2008

Beckett injury puts playoff hopes in jeopardy

Red Sox playoff hopes in jeopardy as Beckett hurt

By Alan Siegel

BOSTON — The horror movie "Nightmare on Yawkey Way" opened to ghastly screams last night. Red Sox ace Josh Beckett, the most dominant postseason pitcher of the decade, is suffering from a right oblique strain.

The initial report, which appeared in the Boston Herald, indicated that the 6-foot-5, 220-pound right-hander might miss the playoffs entirely. Manager Terry Francona offered a slightly less grim take.

Beckett will not pitch Wednesday's American League Division Series opener in Anaheim, Francona said. Beckett is, however, scheduled to pitch Game 3 Sunday night at Fenway Park. Jon Lester will start Game 1 and Daisuke Matsuzaka will start Game 2 Friday.

"We'll pitch those two guys first and slot him in Sunday," Francona said. "Hopefully we'll be rolling. That's the whole idea."

Sometime between 4 and 4:30 p.m. Friday, Francona said, Beckett sustained the injury during a side throwing session. After his 40th pitch, he felt like something was off.

"I think for obvious reasons and competitive reasons he wasn't going to pitch anyway," Francona said. "But that's sort of stating the obvious there."

Still, Francona is confident Beckett will be ready for Sunday. He'll throw a side session Thursday in Anaheim, the manager said.

"If it goes the wrong way, we're going to use very good judgment," Francona said. "(Beckett starting) Friday was actually discussed and I think after (general manager) Theo (Epstein) and I and (pitching coach) John Farrell talked about it more and more and more we thought it was pushing it, because then you're messing around with maybe cutting short a side session or not having enough throwing. It's not just health, it's competing. He has to be able to go out there and execute his pitches."

Beckett was fantastic in Boston's 2007 World Series run, going 4-0 with a 1.20 ERA. His career postseason totals are also stellar. In 72<2/3> total innings over 10 appearances, he is 6-2 with a 1.73 ERA. In three World Series starts, he is 2-1 with a 1.16 ERA.

He has struggled with injuries this season, spending two stints on the disabled list for a lower back strain (late March to April 6) and right elbow inflammation (Aug. 18 to Sept. 5).

In 27 starts this season, Beckett is 12-10 with a 4.03 ERA. He seemed to have turned a corner recently, going 1-1 with a 2.16 in four starts this month.

"I don't think it's frustrating," Francona said of pushing Beckett back to Sunday. "Things happen. If you deal with them well enough, you handle it. If you don't, (you) go home."

Beckett joins J.D. Drew (herniated disk) and Mike Lowell (right hip) on the list of key veterans who are ailing. Drew did play Game 1 of yesterday's doubleheader. Lowell did not. As of last night, Lowell's status for the playoffs was uncertain.

When asked if he has a contingency plan, Francona delivered a fittingly acerbic response.

"Oh," he said, "I hope so."