It’s not very often someone has the opportunity to match a record held by Babe Ruth. It’s even rarer when a pitcher has that chance.
Josh Beckett looks to join Ruth as one of four Red Sox pitchers to win their first eight starts of the season when Boston concludes a three-game series against the visiting Baltimore Orioles on Sunday.
Beckett (7-0, 2.51 ERA) has been arguably the majors’ best pitcher through the first six weeks of the season. He is the first Red Sox pitcher to win his first seven starts since Roger Moret won eight straight in 1973. Ruth (1917) and Dave Ferriss (1945) also opened 8-0.
Beckett’s performance this season is in stark contrast to 2006 when he was 16-13 with a 5.01 ERA and 36 homers allowed. This year, he has surrendered two home runs in 46 2-3 innings.
The right-hander gave up a homer on his first pitch Tuesday at Toronto, but that was the only run he allowed in seven innings en route to a 9-2 victory. Beckett, who retired 14 straight in one stretch, gave up five hits, walked one and struck out five.
“We’ve been saying all along he’s matured,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. “He’s a better pitcher. He feels good about himself.”
Beckett worked eight strong innings in a 5-2 win at Camden Yards on April 26, improving to 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA in two career starts against Baltimore.
He will try help the Red Sox (24-11) beat the Orioles for the 19th time in 23 meetings since the start of last season.
Julio Lugo had four of Boston’s 15 hits and red-hot Kevin Youkilis added two hits and two RBIs in Saturday’s 13-4 win. The Red Sox, who own the AL’s best record, received 3 2-3 scoreless innings from four relievers.
“That was a phenomenal job. It’s a 4-4 game at that point and the bullpen comes in and does what it has done all year,” said Boston starter Curt Schilling.
Youkilis is 13-for-26 with six RBIs in his last six games overall, and 10-for-22 in five contests this season against the Orioles (18-19).
The loss ended a four-game win streak for Baltimore, which has dropped six of eight on the road.
Baltimore’s bullpen has worked 128 1-3 innings - second-most in the AL behind the New York Yankees. Boston’s relievers, meanwhile, had pitched a league-low 87 1-3 innings entering Saturday.
“I knew this was going to happen sooner or later if we kept going to the ‘pen like we did,” Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo said.
Jeremy Guthrie (2-1, 4.64) has the unenviable task of opposing the hottest pitcher in the majors. Guthrie, replacing the injured Jaret Wright in Baltimore’s rotation, earned another start with a strong performance Tuesday in an 8-3 win over Tampa Bay. He allowed one run and six hits in six innings, throwing 46 of his 67 pitches for strikes.
It was Guthrie’s first win in three career starts. His other major league victory came on April 16, when he beat the Devil Rays with 2 1-3 innings of one-hit relief.