Baseball / Sports

Beckett wavers in Dodgers' 2-1 loss to Pirates

The once-in-a-lifetime performance remained a once-in-a-lifetime performance. Five days removed from the first no-hitter of his career, Josh Beckett didn't throw a second.

Beckett looked considerably more human in the 2-1 defeat to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday night than he did in Philadelphia the last time he scaled a mound.

He gave up a run-scoring single to Neil Walker in the third inning. He served up a towering solo home run to Ike Davis in the fourth.

With the no-hitter requiring a career-high 128 pitches, Beckett was limited to five innings on this night at Dodger Stadium. He was charged with two runs and five hits. He walked one and struck out five.

Beckett departed the game with the Los Angeles Dodgers trailing, 2-0 -- in other words, he gave them a chance to win.

Starts like this have become routine for Beckett, obscuring that what he's doing this season is something of a minor miracle.

This was supposed to be the closing act of Beckett's career. Instead, it's turned into a revival that figures to land the three-time All-Star another eight-figure deal in free agency this winter.

Beckett was considered to be close to finished when he was acquired by the Dodgers from the Boston Red Sox in 2012. The Red Sox wanted to dump his hefty contract. The Dodgers agreed to it because they wanted Adrian Gonzalez.

The outlook turned bleaker last season, when nerve problems forced Beckett to undergo a surgical procedure to remove a rib.

The Dodgers didn't know what they would get out of Beckett this year in the final year of his four-year, $68 million contract.

Turns out Beckett is still worth the $15.75 million the Dodgers are paying him this season.

He no longer throws 98 mph, but he's 3-2 with a 2.54 earned-run average in 10 starts.

"He's mixing in all his off-speed pitches at any time and makes the hitters not know what's happening," Gonzalez said.

That doesn't mean Beckett has transformed into a soft tosser.

"Everybody talks about how he's had to reinvent himself because he's lost some of his stuff and he definitely has," Clayton Kershaw said. "He's not throwing 98 anymore. But he's throwing 94. He's throwing plenty hard."

Still, Beckett has made the adjustments necessary to extend his career.

"We feel like he could keep pitching if he wanted to because of what he's doing, because the change of speeds, the feel he has for the two (seamer), excellent breaking balls," said Dodgers manager Don Mattingly. "Change-up's really good too. He's got enough fastball that if he's throwing enough breaking balls, the fastball still can get on you."

Beckett will be part of an upcoming free-agent class that is expected to be loaded with pitching. Max Scherzer, James Shields and Ervin Santana will be free agents this winter. Beckett, 34, could offer teams a less-expensive alternative.

Francisco Liriano also figures to be on the market.

Liriano pitched Friday against Beckett and limited the Dodgers to five hits over 5 2/3 scoreless innings.

Liriano pitched a no-hitter for the Minnesota Twins in 2011. His catcher that day was Drew Butera, who caught Beckett's no-hitter Sunday. Butera caught Beckett again Friday.

Butera noted the striking differences between Beckett and Liriano on the days they made history. Beckett openly talked about his no-hitter while it was in progress.

"Liriano, he was dead silent," Butera said.

NOTES:

--Key moment: Chone Figgins drew a two-out, 11-pitch walk in the fifth inning to load the bases for Yasiel Puig. But Puig popped up to second base to end the inning and the Dodgers still trailed, 2-0. The Dodgers are now four for 37 this season with the bases loaded. Hanley Ramirez led off the sixth inning with a double, but Matt Kemp, Scott Van Slyke and Andre Ethier failed to drive him in. The Dodgers went on to lose their third consecutive game.

--At the plate: Ramirez was two for four and drove in the Dodgers' only run on an eighth-inning single. Dee Gordon stole two bases, raising his season total to a major league-leading 34. That establishes a career high for Gordon, whose previous best was 32, set in 2012. Puig singled in fourth inning and has reached base in 31 consecutive games. As Gordon and Puig continue to play at All-Star-caliber levels, Kemp remains in a funk. Kemp, who was recently moved from center field to left, is 0 for his last 20.

--On the mound: The bullpen kept the game close, as Paul Maholm, Chris Perez, Brian Wilson and J.P. Howell each tossed a scoreless inning.

--On the bench: With the Dodgers facing left-hander Francisco Liriano, manager Don Mattingly used an excuse to give Adrian Gonzalez a day off. Van Slyke started in his place at first base. The last time Gonzalez didn't start was a game was May 7. "With Adrian, what's tough is you always want him in the lineup," Mattingly said. "He wants to be out there." At the same time, Mattingly said he wants to rest his first baseman every now and then, especially now that Gonzalez is 32 years old. Gonzalez pinch-hit in the eighth inning with two outs and Ramirez on second base, but grounded out to short.

(c)2014 Los Angeles Times

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