Boston’s Josh Beckett owns October
Vail, CO Colorado
BOSTON ” Josh Beckett takes some imposing tools to the mound. Blazing fastball, baffling curve ” and an unmistakable mean streak.
Maybe that’s the reason he owns October.
“He’s got some presence out there with him,” Boston Red Sox teammate Dustin Pedroia said Tuesday. “He brings an attitude to this team.”
Indeed, Beckett has been bad news for hitters all postseason. He is 3-0 with a 1.17 ERA in three starts, striking out 26 and walking one in 23 overpowering innings.
He’ll carry those astounding numbers into the World Series opener Wednesday night against Colorado, which banged Beckett around Fenway Park in June and handed him his first loss after a 9-0 start.
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Jeff Francis, enjoying an excellent postseason himself, will pitch for the Rockies.
“They’ve got some speed at the top, they’ve got their thumpers in the middle,” Beckett said. “They remind me a lot of an American League team. They can hit.”
All true, but so is this: If he shuts down the Rockies to help Boston win it all, 2007 will belong to Beckett in baseball lore. Think Kirby Puckett in 1991, Roberto Clemente in 1971, Sandy Koufax in ’65.
“He’s maturing right in front of our eyes. Seems like every game he wants to make more of a name for himself,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said.
And this isn’t the first time the Texas fastballer has dominated under the spotlight.
He first earned his hard-nosed reputation as a cocky, 23-year-old kid in 2003, when Beckett capped a terrific postseason with a five-hit shutout at Yankee Stadium on only three days’ rest to clinch the World Series title for Florida.
Beckett hauled in MVP honors, just as he did in this year’s AL championship series after beating Cleveland twice.
He doesn’t get rattled by pressure. He embraces it. He just doesn’t want to talk about it much.
“Just trying to execute pitches,” Beckett said. “I’m not worried about any of the other stuff. It’s great if you win those awards. There’s about five other guys that could have won that award in the ALCS. We had one guy (Kevin Youkilis) hit .500 and hit three home runs, and somehow I came out with it.”
For good reason.
With his team trailing Cleveland 3-1 in the best-of-seven series and their scintillating season on the line, Beckett was at his best. He struck out 11 in eight innings of a 7-1 victory that sent the series back to Boston, where the Red Sox completed their comeback.
The right-hander is 5-2 with a 1.78 ERA in his postseason career ” with three shutouts in eight starts. That’s one shutout behind Christy Mathewson’s record.
“He gets mad about outs that are hit hard,” Youkilis said. “He’s a perfectionist.”
Beckett was outstanding during the regular season, too, becoming baseball’s first 20-game winner since 2005. That was an important bit of redemption, because he struggled last year during his first season in Boston after coming over from the Marlins in a blockbuster trade.
“I think the biggest thing that I can see that’s changed is his fastball’s moving a little bit more than it has when he was with Florida,” Rockies slugger Todd Helton said. “He always had a real live arm, but I think now he’s got some really good run, puts a little sink on it, and he’s using that to both sides of the plate effectively.”
Plus, that really good repertoire.
Or, as Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell put it: “Ninety-seven (mph), hammer time and changeup.”
Add in a nasty streak and that makes Beckett a throwback to October aces of old like Bob Gibson.
Just a few days ago, Beckett screamed at Kenny Lofton when the Cleveland outfielder hit an easy fly. The pitcher was angry that Lofton had flipped his bat to the ground on what he thought was ball four ” the two had a similar run-in two years ago.
And while Gibson flashed a piercing glare, Beckett has his own signature. That soul patch of stubble just beneath his lower lip definitely sends a message: Don’t mess with me.
“I think I’m pretty much a normal guy on the day I pitch,” Beckett said. “I come in, having fun, talking to guys. I don’t think I do anything differently. I try not to alienate the people that are going to help me win ballgames.”
AP Sports Writer Howard Ulman contributed to this report.