ATLANTA – Josh Beckett nearly fell behind on the second hitter he faced. After that, he settled down to become baseball’s second 10-game winner.

Beckett pitched six scoreless innings before heavy rains ended his night and even chipped in at the plate with a run-scoring double, leading the Boston Red Sox past the Atlanta Braves 4-0 Tuesday night.

Joining John Lackey of the Los Angeles Angels in the 10-win club, Beckett (10-1) surrendered four hits and two walks while allowing only one runner reach third. He didn’t return after the game was interrupted by a 48-minute rain delay with three innings to go.

David Ortiz, on the bench the previous night with the designated hitter not in effect, returned to the lineup with a flourish. He played first base and broke up a scoreless game in the fourth with a towering, opposite-field homer off Tim Hudson, the ball barely clearing the left-field wall.

That was enough for Beckett, who faced his only major scare in the first. No. 2 hitter Willie Harris nearly went deep, driving the ball off the very top of the wall in right-center.

Harris settled for a double and moved to third on a groundout. After walking Chipper Jones, Beckett retired Brian McCann on a fly to right to end the threat.

Atlanta managed to get only two other runners to second base against Beckett. The previous night, the Braves pounded Curt Schilling for six earned runs and 10 hits in a 9-4 victory.

Schilling returned to Boston on Tuesday for a precautionary MRI exam after a disturbing drop in velocity. It wasn’t known if he’d be able to make his next start.

After managing just one hit through the first three innings, the Red Sox began teeing off on Hudson (6-5), who lost for the fourth time in his last five decisions. Alex Cora led off the fifth with a triple that just eluded a diving attempt by Andruw Jones, then Beckett drove a hanger to the wall in left for his first hit of the season.

Beckett wound up scoring himself on a single by Dustin Pedroia, giving the Red Sox a 3-0 lead.

Boston knocked out Hudson in the sixth with two more hits, and Cora made it 4-0 with a sacrifice fly off reliever Oscar Villareal. In 5 1-3 innings, Hudson surrendered nine hits and was charged with all four Boston runs.

A storm moved in during the sixth. The umpires called for the tarp after Beckett breezed through a 1-2-3 inning and the rain really started coming down. The Boston starter didn’t return after the delay, having bounced back emphatically from his first loss of the year.

Having started 9-0, Beckett was roughed up for six runs and 10 hits in a 7-1 loss to Colorado last week.

Kyle Snyder, Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon closed out the five-hitter with one inning apiece.

Though his career record against Atlanta is a mediocre 6-7, Beckett has gained the upper hand on the Braves in recent appearances. He is 4-0 in his last five starts against the NL East team, surrendering just two earned runs in 31 innings (0.58 ERA).

Beckett got a big defensive assist from Coco Crisp, who homered twice the night before. In the fifth, the center fielder stretched out to make a diving, backhanded catch in left-center after Hudson drove one toward the gap.

The play may have prevented a run. Kelly Johnson followed with a single to center.

Notes: Boston C Jason Varitek doubled in the sixth to snap a 0-for-13 hitless streak. … Atlanta CF Andruw Jones continues to struggle, going 0-for-4. He’s mired in a stretch of 18 straight at-bats without a hit, dropping his average to .202.

AP-ES-06-19-07 2322EDT


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