The Associated Press
BOSTON — The Boston Red Sox didn’t need Josh Beckett in the rotation to open up a double-digit lead in the AL East.
It sure is nice to have him back, though.
“It’s not about one player. It’s not about one pitcher,” first baseman Kevin Youkilis said after his homer helped Beckett return from the disabled list and win his eighth consecutive decision, a 4-2 victory over the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday night.
With Julian Tavarez and some spot starters filling in for Beckett and Jon Lester, Boston has opened an 11½-game lead in the AL East while proving Curt Schilling right when he said of Roger Clemens, “We don’t need him.”
Nor have the Red Sox missed slugger David Ortiz for the last three games, when they extended their winning streak to five in a row.
After resting a “barking” hamstring, he will return tonight, manager Terry Francona said.
“We don’t need Papi,” Youkilis said jokingly. “Save him for the playoffs. If we need a big hit, a walkoff, we’ll bring him in.”
Beckett (8-0) went on the disabled with a torn flap of skin on his right middle finger. He returned Tuesday and pitched seven innings of three-hit ball, facing the minimum number of batters in the first six innings before allowing two seventh-inning runs.
“He looks like a guy who hadn’t missed a game,” Indians manager Eric Wedge said. “We were hoping to make him work a little harder and maybe get him out of there a little earlier, but he had it all going tonight.”
Beckett struck out seven and walked one to become the first Red Sox starter to win his first eight decisions since Roger Clemens opened the 1986 season 14-0. Hideki Okajima pitched the ninth for his fourth save.
Jeremy Sowers (1-5), coming off his only win, allowed four runs on six hits and an intentional walk while striking out one.
“They basically don’t have a flaw in their lineup, so your margin of error is small,” Sowers said. “You try to keep yourself out of jams where you’re giving up consecutive hits. I thought I did a decent job of that, obviously I could have done a better job of keeping the ball in the ballpark.”
Youkilis doubled and homered — his ninth consecutive multihit game, the most by a Red Sox batter since Jim Rice in 1978. Youkilis extended his hitting streak to 21 consecutive games, raising his batting average from .280 to .358 during that span.
Jason Varitek also homered for Boston.
Youkilis hit an RBI double in the first and led off the sixth with a towering homer over the Monster Seats. Two outs later, Mike Lowell doubled to chase Sowers. Fernando Cabrera walked the next three batters to make it 4-0 before striking out Julio Lugo on a 3-2 pitch to end the inning.
Beckett won his first seven starts before getting a no-decision on May 13, when he lasted just four innings. He went on the 15-day disabled list, and spent the last few days “convincing myself that I’m fine, my finger’s fine.”
“It made it a lot easier knowing that we were playing as well as we were,” Beckett said. “I think we were smart with this thing. Dr. (Thomas) Gill and those guys, they stopped at nothing to make sure that we nipped this thing in the bud.”
He struck out Grady Sizemore to start the seventh before Jhonny Peralta singled and Travis Hafner tripled into the right-field corner. Hafner scored on Victor Martinez’s groundout to make it 4-2 before Beckett fanned Trot Nixon for the third out.
Lester, who is recovering from cancer treatment, pitched five innings in a rehab stint at Triple-A Pawtucket, allowing four hits and two walks while striking out six.
* Cleveland RHP Jake Westbrook threw a simulated two-inning game and will make a rehab start at Triple-A Buffalo on Friday.
* Hafner has two triples in five games, after hitting just one in his previous 317 games.
WHO: Cleveland at Boston
WHERE: Fenway Park, Boston
PITCHERS: Byrd (5-1, 3.81 ERA) vs. Matsuzaka (7-2, 4.43)
TV/RADIO: Channel 3, ESPN2; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM