Beckett powers Sox past Rays

Posted April 07, 2009, at 10:06 p.m.

BOSTON — This was a different Josh Beckett than the one the Tampa Bay Rays knocked around in last year’s AL championship series.

The Red Sox right-hander struck out 10 in seven innings of two-hit ball to lead the Boston Red Sox to a 5-3 victory over Tampa Bay on Tuesday in a makeup of their rained-out opener.

For Beckett, who was recovering from a side strain when he faced the Rays in the playoffs last year, it was a chance to show the form that made him a 20-game winner and Cy Young Award contender in 2007.

“A healthy Beckett,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. “We’ve got a long way to go. But watching the way he’s throwing is big. We want to lean on him.”

AL MVP Dustin Pedroia homered on the second pitch he saw this season, and Jason Varitek also homered to help Boston get off to a fast start against the team that edged it by two games for the AL East title last year. The Rays knocked the Red Sox out of the ALCS in seven games after pounding Beckett for eight runs in his first start, and hitting a pair of homers off him in Game 6 when he struggled to overcome reduced velocity.

“He did not make it easy for us,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “On an opening day, he looked like his old self.”

The Rays, who had finished last in the division nine times in their first 10 years in the majors, went on to reach the franchise’s first World Series before losing to Philadelphia in five games. As they opened their pennant defense, they were reminded that the AL East hasn’t gotten any easier.

“We’ve got to prove it again this year,” catcher Dioner Navarro said.

James Shields gave up five runs on nine hits and three walks, striking out two in 5 1-3 innings. Tampa Bay scored one run off Beckett and two in the eighth off Hideki Okajima before Justin Masterson pitched out of a jam and Jonathan Papelbon got three outs for the save.

Beckett allowed a third-inning single to Akinori Iwamura and Carl Crawford’s sixth-inning double to go with three walks. He struck out Gabe Gross on a 93 mph fastball to end the seventh and finish his second career opening-day start, and first with the Red Sox.

“It’s something you’re always striving for as a pitcher, to get to that point in your career,” Beckett said. “It’s awesome. This is a pretty cool place to be around on a home opener or opening day, period.”

Brisk weather replaced the steady downpour that forced the Red Sox to postpone Monday’s game four hours before the scheduled first pitch. The sky was overcast but dry for the makeup, with the wind blowing out toward center.

The Red Sox changed the traditional baseline introductions by having their players come out of the stands, high-fiving fans on the way to the field. The Boston Pops took over the national anthem from singer Seal, who had been scheduled for Monday but couldn’t stick around.

Newly elected Hall of Famer Jim Rice drove out in a golf cart with U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who has been diagnosed with brain cancer. The Massachusetts Democrat walked to the mound, with Francona and the help of a cane, and bounced a short toss to Rice; (on the second try, he made it on a fly).

“That was an honor,” Francona said. “I’ve been pretty fortunate here to get to do some pretty neat things, and that was one of them.”

Beckett took care of the first three Rays before Pedroia came up with one out and homered over the Green Monster. Pedroia also walked to start the three-run third, scoring on J.D. Drew’s groundout before Jason Bay’s RBI single and Mike Lowell’s run-scoring double.

But even more welcome for last year’s AL wild-card winner was Varitek’s homer around the Pesky Pole in the sixth. The catcher, who turns 37 on Saturday, is coming off the worst season of his career and a drawn-out negotiation with the Red Sox before signing a cut-rate deal for $5 million with options for 2010 that could make it worth as much as $10 million.

Varitek made his ninth straight opening-day start, most for a Red Sox catcher. Left fielder Carl Yastrzemski holds the franchise lead with 15.

Shields fell to 0-4 with a 9.56 ERA in four career appearances at Fenway Park.

Notes: Kennedy’s grandfather, John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, threw out the first pitch at the first major league game ever played at Fenway, on April 12, 1912. … The makeup of Monday’s rainout started at 4:06 p.m. as a nod to Ted Williams’ batting average in 1941. … Lowell has hit safely in all 10 of his opening-day appear-ances. … Boston SS Julio Lugo, on the disabled list recovering from right knee surgery, was in the park for introductions. He’s scheduled to report to extended spring training on Thursday. … Former Red Sox outfielder Gabe Kapler, now with the Rays, got a warm ovation when he was introduced. … Jacoby Ellsbury went 0-for-4, snapping an 18-game hitting streak.

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