BOSTON – Josh Beckett didn't need another shutout to beat the Cleveland Indians. David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez took care of that.
Beckett threw six innings of four-hit ball to outpitch C.C. Sabathia on Friday night, and Ortiz and Ramirez reached base all 10 times they came to the plate to lead the Boston Red Sox over the Indians 10-3 in the AL championship series opener.
"Especially against a pitcher like C.C., to get on every time is incredible," said Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell, who drove in three runs batting behind the two sluggers. "For them to get on base like they did today is a little bit ridiculous."
Ramirez went 2-for-2 with an RBI single and three walks — two of them with the bases loaded — and Ortiz went 2-for-2 with two walks and a hit-by-pitch. Ramirez also had two crowd-pleasing catches in left field: one going back, one coming in.
Ortiz has reached base 16 of 18 times this postseason, going 7-for-9 (.778) with eight walks and a hit-by-pitch. Ramirez has reached base 11 of his last 12 times since Game 2 of Boston's first-round sweep of the Los Angeles Angels; he's 5-for-10 with seven RBIs in the playoffs overall.
"They're a constant threat," the Indians' Casey Blake said. "They've got a couple of the best swings in the game, and they have a couple of the best eyes in the game. So that's not a very good combination for a pitcher."
But it was a great combination for Beckett.
"I'm definitely excited I don't have to face those guys," Beckett said, "particularly back to back, or even if it's just one or the other."
The Red Sox ace, who pitched shutouts in his previous two playoff starts, gave up a first-inning homer to Travis Hafner before retiring 10 batters in a row. By the time the Indians got another run, Boston led 8-2, Sabathia was gone and the Red Sox were on their way to jumping ahead in the best-of-seven series.
"He gave us just what we needed," Boston manager Terry Francona said. "I don't think `struggle' is the right word, but that first hitter of each inning he had to kind of refine himself every inning. And, once he did, he got in the flow of every inning and he was very good."
The 2003 World Series MVP and the only 20-game winner in the majors in the past two seasons, Beckett struck out seven while giving up two runs, a hit batter and a wild pitch, and he threw just 80 pitches. He has a 4-2 career postseason record and 1.87 ERA.
And the guy following him to the Fenway mound may be even better in October.
Curt Schilling, who also has a World Series MVP award on his resume, faces Fausto Carmona in Game 2 on Saturday night.
Sabathia and Carmona were among those tied for second in the AL with 19 wins in the regular season, and they are expected to be Beckett's toughest competition for the Cy Young Award. But in the playoffs, Sabathia hasn't been able to keep up.
"He just never got in sync," Indians manager Eric Wedge said. "He's our No. 1 and I think one of the best in the game. He's proven to me before and he's proven to us before that he can be a little bit off and find it, and that's what you're looking for. ... Unfortunately it just didn't happen tonight."
Eight days after struggling while earning a victory in the first-round opener against the New York Yankees, Sabathia allowed eight runs, seven hits and five walks in 4 1-3 innings.
"I didn't really stick with our plan and kind of got away from that and didn't really challenge guys," Sabathia said. "I need to be more aggressive next time."
Cleveland's ace gave up three consecutive singles in the first inning, then loaded the bases in the four-run third and again in the three-run fifth.
"A pitcher like C.C., when he gives you something to hit, you want to make sure you hit it, because otherwise you might never get to see that pitch again," Ortiz said. "He was a little wild tonight, and you've got to take advantage of it."
The balmy temperatures of the division series gave way to a brisk, 54-degree night and a stiff breeze blowing out to right. The mood got more serious, too, with the World Series just one step away.
Hafner put a fly ball into the wind in the first inning and watched as it sailed over the Cleveland bullpen. The shot ended Beckett's hopes of a third consecutive shutout and a record-tying fourth of his career; only Christy Mathewson has done that.
But if the Indians were hoping for a sign that the 27-year-old right-hander was lacking his best stuff, they soon learned otherwise. Beckett struck out Victor Martinez to end the first and retired 10 in a row in all before hitting Ryan Garko to start the fifth.
Hafner's homer put Boston behind for the first time these playoffs.
It didn't last long.
Kevin Youkilis, Ortiz and Ramirez all singled in the bottom half of the first to tie it 1-all. In the third, the Red Sox sent nine batters to the plate and scored four more runs to give Beckett a cushion.
Julio Lugo doubled and took third on Dustin Pedroia's sacrifice bunt. Youkilis walked, and Sabathia hit Ortiz to load the bases. Ramirez walked to bring in one run, and Lowell brought in a pair with a ground-rule double. Jason Varitek made it 5-1 with an RBI groundout.
Bobby Kielty, making a start in right field in place of J.D. Drew, had a two-run single in the fifth.