BOSTON -- If this was a craftier version of Josh Beckett, the Red Sox will gladly take it. Coming home after a 1-5 road trip, dominance wasn't needed from the veteran righty nearly as much as a win.
Though Beckett had only one strikeout over eight frames -- and it didn't come until the eighth inning -- the Red Sox opened the 100th-anniversary season of Fenway Park with a 12-2 victory over the Rays on Friday afternoon.
This was the 11th time in Beckett's career he struck out just one batter, and the first time he registered a win with that total.
Beckett didn't feel the need to pretend he was trying to pitch to contact.
"The game ended up dictating that," Beckett said. "They were swinging, not really letting me get ahead or behind. They hit some balls at some guys. It's nice when that happens."
Most important for Boston was the way Beckett held Tampa Bay in check all afternoon.
Beckett scattered six hits over eight innings, walking one. He threw a mere 94 pitches and would have had the opportunity to go the distance if not for a batting barrage by his teammates, who scored eight runs in the bottom of the eighth to break it open.
It was a rebound performance to savor for Beckett, who was shelled for seven runs and five homers in Detroit six days ago.
And it was of particular importance to the Red Sox, considering there was at least some concern about the lingering effects of a right thumb injury that prompted Beckett to see three doctors in the span of a week at the end of Spring Training.
There are a few players the Red Sox probably can't go where they need to without, and Beckett is one of them.
"It was just what the doctor ordered," said manager Bobby Valentine. "We were wondering and hoping, and he relieved all doubt. Threw great curveballs, had terrific control, threw all his fastballs over 90 mph. That's the performance we were looking for. The home opener and everything else combined, that was a perfect outing."
It had the makings of a perfect day for the Red Sox. Amid another festive home opener -- the retired duo of Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek handled first-pitch honors -- there was one piece of troubling news.
Star center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury had to leave the game in the bottom of the fourth following a collision with Rays shortstop Reid Brignac. On a double-play ball off the bat of Dustin Pedroia, Brignac landed on Ellsbury's right shoulder.
Ellsbury went to Massachusetts General Hospital for observation, and there was no immediate word on his condition, though Valentine did say he expected the team to call up another outfielder before Saturday's game.
"He didn't look like he was very comfortable," said Pedroia. "Ells is pretty tough. Hopefully he's all right. He finished second in the MVP [race] last year. He's a superstar. We definitely need him in our lineup."
For the Red Sox, it was the eighth straight year they've opened Fenway with a win. Beckett has started five of those games, winning four of them.
"It was incredible," said Cody Ross, who started the game in right and moved to center when Ellsbury exited. "The energy was as expected, the crowd was into it as usual. It was just nice to get some runs early for Beckett. Wow, he was really good today."
Beckett has been a force against the Rays in recent years, going 4-0 with an 0.84 ERA against them in six starts, dating back to Sept. 12, 2009.
"Obviously he wasn't throwing 96, 97 like he has in the past, but he's pitching a lot more now," said Rays left fielder Matt Joyce. "He's using a cutter and a good changeup and a good curveball."
Don't let the score fool you. Until the eighth, this was a close game, albeit one that Boston led most of the way.
Offensively, the Red Sox simply wore Rays ace David Price down, making him throw 83 pitches over just three innings.
It was a nice breakthrough for a team that struggled during the opening road trip.
"We'd been mentioning that it's a very good offense, and it came out of its shell tonight against David Price, who's an ace," said Valentine. "They did get the pitch count up."
Five of Boston's nine starters had multihit games, including Adrian Gonzalez and backup catcher Kelly Shoppach, who each had three hits. Shoppach also scored three times and stole a base for the first time in his career, sliding well short of the bag and somehow lunging in safely.
"I think we have to get it on the highlight reel," quipped Valentine. "That will be good for a rainy day, that's for sure."
Of all the positive developments that occurred, Beckett was probably the one that earned top-shelf status.
But if you think he's going to turn into a full-time craftsman, you're probably in for a surprise.
"I don't think feel like I'm throwing 85 mph. I definitely don't throw 95 as consistently as I used to," said Beckett. "I'd like to think that my arm strength is going to get back there this year, and I'll probably be touching that again. [Until then], you've got to locate a little bit better."