BY KEVIN McNAMARA
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- As Josh Beckett worked through a long side session in the Angel Stadium bullpen Thursday, Terry Francona didn't have to ask his ace if he'd be ready to pitch on Sunday in Game Three of the A.L. Division Series.
He'd already heard his answer.
"His ball was loud yesterday," Francona said tonight. "When he was throwing the ball in the bullpen, the ball was coming out pretty nice. We have half of Mass. General out there, but I heard it and John (Farrell, the Sox' pitching coach) said, `This is not a guy that's hurt.' ''
Beckett's 67-pitch session convinced the Sox that he's ready to go when the Red Sox and Angels resume the series at Fenway Park. Beckett hurt the oblique muscle in his right side last Friday at Fenway and the team announced on Sunday night that his playoff start would be moved from Wednesday's Game One back to Game Three.
Francona said there was thought of slotting Beckett into last night's Game Two, but he quickly realized that the time the right-hander needed to rest his side would take away from his normal throwing and conditioning between starts.
Beckett, who finished 12-10 with a 4.03 this season, has been hit hard at times this season and hasn't won a game since Sept. 5, but the Red Sox are thrilled that he didn't have to miss a start in this series.
"I think we were [always] relatively confident about Sunday. I thought Friday was a reach," said Francona. "I think physically he could've done it but I don't know about the preparation for winning. I think we've done this correctly."
Beckett's condition has been one of three medical cases the Red Sox have dealt with closely this week. J.D. Drew's back improved enough where he's starting for the second straight game. Mike Lowell's hip injury can't be cured until offseason surgery and after working his way into the lineup in Game One, he's sitting out tonight.
Francona plans on Lowell returning to third base for Game Three so he can square off against L.A. lefty Joe Saunders.
Beckett simply had to pace himself differently this week.
"We talked with the doctors and the trainers and watched him close, probably to the point where we've aggravated him, but I think we've done this correctly,'' said Francona.
Beckett has not addressed his condition all week, but he'll meet with reporters Saturday afternoon at Fenway Park. It's unclear just how much he agreed with the plan the Red Sox followed over the previous week, but after Jon Lester pitched the team to a 4-1 victory in Game One the Sox avoided the possibility of falling behind in the series without Beckett taking the mound.
"Rather than hold him down and hope, we did it this way," said Francona. "His week (of preparation) is important to him. The long toss, the side. A 67-pitch side is pretty extensive but he needs to know in his mind that he can go out and do what he needs to do to win. And now he does so I think we all feel better.''
The Sox will hope that the Beckett who takes the mound can produce like he has throughout a postseason career that is as impressive as any pitcher in baseball history. He owns a 6-2 record with a 1.73 earned run average in 10 playoff starts with the Marlins and Red Sox. Opposing hitters have flailed their way to a meek .159 batting average, the lowest in history for a pitcher with at least 40 post-season innings.
In the 2007 playoffs, Beckett was perfect. He won all four of his starts, had a 1.20 ERA and beat the Angels with a complete game four-hitter in Game One of the ALDS. The Red Sox would love to see a repeat performance on Sunday night.