Josh Beckett solid as Red Sox win fourth straight

BOSTON -- The Boston Red Sox sure could use former ace Josh Beckett to get on a roll and help their playoff chances.

He's not sure he will.

"I don't know," he said after Boston's 5-3 win over the Seattle Mariners in the first game of a day-night doubleheader Wednesday. "If I can pitch like I did the first six innings, yeah. If I pitch like I did in the seventh inning, no, probably not."

Beckett (4-3) was 0-2 with a 10.69 ERA in his previous three starts but through six innings allowed just an infield single to Ichiro Suzuki leading off the game. But then he gave up three runs in the seventh on homers by Russell Branyan and Casey Kotchman. Fortunately for the Red Sox, they had broken a scoreless tie with four runs in the sixth and their bullpen held Seattle hitless for 2 2/3 innings.

"The first six innings were tremendous" for Beckett, manager Terry Francona said. "The biggest inning of every game is after you score, you certainly want to go up and try to put up a zero. So we've got to do a better job of that, but we're also sitting on a win."

Boston won its fourth straight game and improved to a season-best 19 games over .500 but still trails the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays by 5 1/2 games in the AL East.

Seattle lost its fourth straight.

Tim Wakefield was scheduled to face Felix Hernandez in the night game, a makeup of Tuesday night's rainout. Jon Lester, originally set to pitch for Boston, was pushed back top the opener of Friday's three-game road series against the Rays when Daisuke Matsuzaka, who had been set to pitch then, developed lower back soreness.

It rained heavily Wednesday morning but only a light mist fell at times during Wednesday's opener.

Once Beckett left, the Mariners were shut down by Daniel Bard for 1 2/3 innings and Jonathan Papelbon in a perfect ninth for his 32nd save in 38 opportunities.

Papelbon has allowed just one hit in five scoreless innings in his last five appearances after blowing a 5-3 lead at Toronto by giving up three runs in the ninth of a 6-5 loss.

"Now I'm to the point where I know what's working for me, what's not working," he said. "I definitely have the feel back for my split and I'm able to keep hitters honest with it."

For five innings, Beckett was engaged in a duel with David Pauley (2-5) whose only major league wins came in his previous two games. Pauley allowed two hits until getting knocked out of the game in the sixth.

"I started losing the grip of the ball," he said. "For the most part, my fastball was good. The fifth, sixth inning was when the ball was wet."

Pauley pitched a total of nine games for Boston in 2006 and 2008 and he returned to Fenway Park where he baffled hitters from the start. He retired the first nine batters and gave up only a double to Marco Scutaro in the fourth and a single to Bill Hall in the fifth.

Then the Red Sox teed off in the sixth.

Scutaro led off with a single to third and took second on Victor Martinez's one-out single to left. David Ortiz then walked, loading the bases. Adrian Beltre followed with a hard shot to the mound off Pauley's glove that bounced toward the third-base line as Scutaro scored the first run.

Mike Lowell hit a sacrifice fly to right and Daniel Nava made it 4-0 with a two-run lined single over the head of second baseman Chone Figgins. Jamey Wright replaced Pauley and struck out Hall to end the inning.

"I think [Pauley] threw the ball well," Seattle manager Daren Brown said, "just made some mistakes in the sixth that just cost us the ballgame."

Beckett kept up his dominance in the seventh by starting with his seventh strikeout, fanning Figgins. Then, like Pauley, he quickly lost his touch.

Branyan his 20th homer of the season to right field, Jose Lopez singled off the left-field wall and Kotchman followed with a two-run shot to right field, his ninth. Suddenly, it was 4-3 and Beckett was done after allowing four hits and one walk. Bard did the job quickly, fielding grounders by Franklin Gutierrez and Josh Bard and throwing to first to end the inning.

The Red Sox made it 5-3 in the eighth on Darnell McDonald's RBI single.

Game notes
Branyan has homered in 36 of the 39 ballparks in which he's played after connecting for the first time at Fenway. The three he hasn't homered in are Target Field in Minnesota, which opened this year, Nationals Park in Washington, which opened in 2008, and Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, where the Phillies played from 1971 to 2003. ... The doubleheader was the first for both teams this year. ... Beckett has at least one strikeout in each of his 243 games, the longest active streak in the majors to start a career.