It was truly unexpected.

If anyone tells you they “expected” Josh Beckett to give the Red Sox the kind of performance he gave them against the New York Yankees Monday night, then they are telling a tall tale (be prepared for a story about a 65-pound bass they caught at the local fishing hole last year).

It was unexpected because the native of Spring, Texas, went 6-6 with a 5.78 ERA and 1.54 WHIP in 21 starts last season. It was shocking because he went 1-2 with a 10.04 ERA and 2.04 WHIP against the Yankees last year while allowing 40 hits in just 26 innings pitched.

It was the kind of outing Red Sox Nation has been hoping he would produce for nearly two years, but it certainly wasn’t something that anyone on God’s good Earth could have expected.

With the Red Sox offense sputtering and Yankees ace CC Sabathia on the bump for the club’s archrivals, it seemed more appropriate to hope for an off-night by CC Sabathia than a stellar performance from Beckett.

There was a glimmer of hope right from the get-go. The right-hander’s fastball, which averaged 93 mph last season, repeatedly popped catcher Jason Varitek’s glove at 94-95 mph throughout the first inning.

Whereas he induced ground balls at a 31.3 percent clip in his first start of 2011—substantially below his career mark of 44.5—Monday night he had Yankee hitters beating the baseball into the ground. And as I have written in the past, I haven’t seen many ground balls hit for home runs—last year he surrendered 20 HR in just 127.2 innings pitched.

We have grown accustomed to seeing Beckett “pitching scared” over the last season-and-a-half—nibbling, getting behind in counts and then getting pounded by the opposition. He appeared to have lost confidence in his fastball and in turn relying more on his off-speed pitches. In many respects, he had become something he had never been.

Last night, the first two pitches he threw were balls. I immediately thought, “Here we go again!”, but it was the only time all evening I had any such thoughts. He threw strikes. The Yankees box score was populated with strikeouts and ground outs. He surrendered just two hits and issued one walk in nine innings pitched. He retired the last 14 batters he faced—five by strikeout and seven by ground out.

Yankees hitters put a grand total of FOUR batted balls into the outfield against him tonight.

Admittedly, it may be too early to declare that the old Josh Beckett is back, but he had not struck out at least 10 batters since July 27, 2009—and he hadn’t held an opposing team scoreless for eight or more innings since July 12, 2009 (a 6-0 shutout over Kansas City).

At the very least, we can at least say the “old” Josh Beckett made a cameo appearance at Fenway Park Monday. Whether or not he makes a recurring appearance in the 2011 baseball version of “That Championship Season” remains to be seen.

As for Monday evening’s performance, Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said, “He was probably as good today as we’ve seen him in quite some time. He’s always a challenge, but that’s as good as I’ve seen him since I don’t remember when.”

Hopefully we will see a lot more of that Josh Beckett this season. I’m sick of watching him pitch and wondering: “Who are you, and what have you done with the REAL Josh Beckett?”

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