[photogallerylink id=35323 align=right]Josh Beckett was in command in his return from two months on the disabled list, and Bill Hall homered in the seventh inning to lift the Boston Red Sox to a 2-1 victory over the squabbling Seattle Mariners on Friday night.
Beckett was much like most pitchers against the team with the lowest batting average, fewest runs and fewest hits in the major leagues – barely threatened.
Throwing fastballs that clocked at 95 mph, Beckett allowed just five hits and one run in 5 2-3 innings. He struck out five in his first start since he felt a strained low back on May 18. His only issue was efficiency. He walked three and threw 98 pitches, 62 for strikes.
Hall golfed a low first pitch from Seattle starter Jason Vargas (6-5) leading off the seventh inning. Hall dropped his bat and admired the high drive, watching to see if it stayed inside the left-field foul pole. It did, for his 10th home run – and second in as many nights against the team for which he played 34 games last season.
Scott Atchison (2-1) pitched 1 1-3 scoreless innings behind Beckett to earn the win. Daniel Bard threw a scoreless eighth and. Then Jonathan Papelbon allowed a two-out double to Jack Wilson before he intentionally walked Ichiro Suzuki. Throwing 96 mph, Papelbon then endured five consecutive foul balls before he struck out Josh Wilson, who entered following the in-game benching of Chone Figgins, for his 22nd save in 26 chances.
The Red Sox improved to 4-5 since the All-Star break and stayed seven games behind first-place New York Yankees in the AL East.
The last-place Mariners sunk to a season-low 23 games under .500 with their 16th loss in 20 games. But at least they didn’t go down without a fight.
Figgins, who’s been struggling mightily all season in the first year of a $36 million free-agent contract, was standing near second base as Boston’s Mike Cameron was pulling into second on a double into the left-field corner leading off the fifth. Figgins inexplicably let the throw in from left fielder Michael Saunders bounce a few feet to his left and then dribble past the bag without moving toward it. Cameron alertly took third in another boneheaded play by the Mariners in a week full of them.
Boston squandered that chance when Hall popped out to the infield, Kevin Cash fouled out one-third the way up the first-base line and Marco Scutaro grounded out – all while Cameron stayed anchored at third and the game remained tied at 1.
After the top of the fifth, an argument broke out inside the Mariners’ dugout between Figgins at the far end and Wakamatsu, who was closer to the plate-side of the bench. While Figgins was shouting, third baseman Jose Lopez was between the two. Lopez was pushed back away from a teammate toward the far end of the dugout by numerous Mariners, and primarily by hitting coach Alonzo Powell. Lopez got his game jersey pulled off his back in the brief but intense scrum.
Minutes later, Wakamatsu pulled Figgins for pinch-hitter Josh Wilson. Wilson doubled – but was stranded at second when Gutierrez grounded out and Lopez – with his jersey back on – flew out.
Beckett’s only damaging mistake was a weird double by Lopez that scored Ichiro Suzuki, after Suzuki led off the first with his usual infield single. Lopez’s liner zoomed directly over third base, slicing toward foul ground. Third-base umpire Phil Cuzzi initially threw up both arms as if to call “foul,” then pointed vigorously into the field to signal a fair ball. The ball bounced into the box seats astride foul territory for an RBI, ground-rule double.
Boston manager Terry Francona came out to argue the odd sequence of umpire signals, to no avail.
The Red Sox tied the game at 1 in the fourth when Kevin Youkilis singled with two outs and former Mariner Adrian Beltre drilled an RBI double.
Vargas allowed eight hits and two runs in seven innings. He struck out three and walked three. His ERA improved to 2.94, seventh-best in the AL.
NOTE: Former University of Washington star basketball guard Nate Robinson, who just re-signed with the Celtics, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. He then made waiting home plate umpire Chris Guccione laugh when he grabbed a microphone and demanded over the public-address system that the crowd, half of them Red Sox fans, chant “Let’s go Mariners!” Half did. Only after Robinson yelled “Play ball!” did the game begin.