Josh Beckett stood rigidly in the batter's box Monday night, looking like he would rather be fielding questions at a postgame press conference. Appearing not the least bit eager to face Josh Johnson — and why should he? — Beckett wanted to be anywhere but where he was. Too soon in the game for manager Bobby Valentine to use the bench for a pinch hitter (the Boston Red Sox trailed by three runs in the sixth inning), Beckett would have to swallow his pride and engage Josh Johnson of the Miami Marlins. Three pitches later, mercifully, the least athletic at-bat by any major leaguer all season was over.
Beckett didn't even wait for a ruling on the appeal to the first-base umpire, who took pity on the American League pitcher and euthanized the at-bat by signaling "swing" for strike three. But would Beckett have stayed had the ump ruled he checked his swing?
At least Beckett could walk back to the dugout and get ready to pitch the bottom of the sixth. That's what he's really paid to do, after all. Beckett had done his bit for interleague play, gone to bat for the Boston Red Sox in a National League ballpark because the DH is not allowed, and he lived to talk about it. That he didn't really talk about it (Beckett refused to speak with reporters again) matters little. Beckett's body language said enough.
Beckett figured he had no chance against Johnson, who was hitting 93 mph with well-placed fastballs and had been tying up actual hitters all night. Why bother taking a healthy cut and risk actually hitting the ball, putting it in play and having to run something out? This ain't like hitting golf balls on your day off. Beckett knew he had at least two more innings to pitch in order to ease the burden on the rest of the overtaxed staff, so he saved his energy for what mattered. The Marlins went on to win 4-1.
Beckett is not a bad hitter as pitchers go. He actually had a .378 slugging percentage in 38 career plate appearances with the Red Sox coming in. The hitting record he compiled with the Marlins was not as robust (.139/.182/.198 in 223 PAs), but you could do worse than Josh Beckett at the plate. But teams shouldn't have to.
It's fun and often funny to watch AL pitchers try to hit, but Beckett's plate appearance was a reminder of how farcical the system of different rules is in the major leagues, and how ridiculous it is, most of the time, to make pitchers bat. It's a waste. It's risky. It's amateurish. We're past it. Let's adopt universal rules. Everyone gets a spot for a Harold Baines or an Edgar Martinez. Nobody should have to go through what Beckett did.