Right place, right time for Beckett
At his best in postseason, Sox ace will look to finish off Angels
BOSTON -- The emphatic tone-setter from last October, Josh Beckett now gets a chance to announce his presence in this postseason by being the cold-blooded finisher.
Could there possibly be anyone better suited than Beckett for the job of finishing off the Angels and giving the Red Sox a sweep in Game 3 of this American League Division Series?
Some players raise their level this time of year. Beckett has taken it to an extreme.
His 1.73 ERA in 10 postseason appearances (nine starts) is the third lowest among pitchers with at least 40 innings. The .159 opponents batting average in the postseason is the lowest of any pitcher with 40-plus innings.
"I don't think there's any pitcher I've been around that comes up bigger in times like this," said Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell. "We feel like we have a lot of momentum going, especially with him on the mound."
During last year's ride -- which consisted of three Game 1 masterpieces in Boston's march to the World Series championship -- Beckett went 4-0 with a 1.20 ERA in his four postseason performances.
This time around, the Red Sox went with Jon Lester in Game 1 because Beckett had right oblique issues. But those are healed now, and Beckett will go about the business of trying to send the 100-win Angels home early to the golf courses of their choice.
A long time ago, Beckett's father told him to deflect credit and take blame. Ever since then, he has lived by that motto. That's why you don't hear any chest thumping from Beckett over his past conquests this time of year, which included a vintage four-hit shutout against the Angels in Game 1 of last year's ALDS.
|Ace Josh Beckett, who will start Game 3, is 6-2 with a 1.73 ERA in 10 career postseason outings.|
Instead, you hear Beckett talk about opportunities.
"I think a lot of it has to do with opportunity, [being] put into situations to succeed. You take advantage of them," said the 28-year-old Beckett. "A lot of it comes down to preparation and being put in that opportunity."
The last time Beckett had the opportunity to pitch a clinching game for his team was 2003, when the Marlins played Game 6 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium. With Lowell playing third base, Beckett fired a shutout on three days' rest.
So as the 2007 postseason started, Lowell wondered how his friend could possibly top what he had done four years earlier. Then, in relative amazement, Lowell watched Beckett do just that.
"It was dominating," Lowell said of Beckett in '03. "I said it was the most dominating pitching I've ever seen until '07 when he did it again and even better."
It should be noted that 2008 hasn't been the most memorable season to date for Beckett. The numbers (12-10, 4.03 ERA) have been ordinary, particularly when put in the context of last season's 20-7 breakout.
But there have been reasons. Beckett's back flared up in Spring Training, forcing him to miss Opening Day in Tokyo. A severe flu weakened him in late April, forcing him to miss a start against these Angels.
GAME 3: JUST THE FACTS
|Angels starter: LHP Joe Saunders|
|2008: 17-7, 3.41 ERA|
|2008 on road: 10-3, 2.55 ERA|
|2008 vs. Red Sox: 2-0, 3.38 ERA|
|Career vs. Red Sox: 4-0, 2.75 ERA|
|Career postseason: no appearances|
|Red Sox starter: RHP Josh Beckett|
|2008: 12-10, 4.03 ERA|
|2008 at home: 5-5, 5.65 ERA|
|2008 vs. Angels: 0-2, 7.43 ERA|
|Career vs. Angels: 2-2, 3.99 ERA|
|Career postseason: 6-2, 1.73 ERA (nine starts, one relief appearance)|
|Red Sox lead series, 2-0. Boston has beaten the Halos a record 11 consecutive times in the postseason, dating back to Game 5 of the 1986 American League Championship Series.|
|Game 2: Red Sox 7, Angels 5|
|Did You Know? The Red Sox are 30-15 over the past six postseasons, good for a Major League-best .667 postseason winning percentage over that time.|
Then, Beckett's right elbow began to hurt, and he pitched through it until Aug. 17, when the Blue Jays gave him a severe beating and it was clear he needed to take some time off.
The Red Sox assured him it wasn't serious, but Beckett didn't rest easy until he visited Dr. James Andrews, the renowned orthopedist. Beckett got that clean bill of health from Andrews and finally had the mental peace he needed to regain his dominance on the mound.
Beckett posted a 2.16 ERA in his four September starts and was all ready to go as the ace of the postseason until the oblique twinge cropped up in a side session. So Beckett watched his close friend Lester dominate the Angels in Game 1, and saw his teammates grit through an exhausting last-inning win in Game 2.
With the latest obstacle cleared, Beckett is ready to resume pitching in his favorite time of year.
"I like it because the weather's nice," said Beckett. "Like I said, it just comes to opportunity. I've been put in a lot of situations during this time of year to be successful. I've taken advantage of them, so I really don't put too much else into it."
With Beckett unable to come up with any specific reason for his past October excellence, his manager tried to put it into context.
"Well, first of all, I think you have to be a good pitcher during the season, but the stage or the size of the game, he doesn't shrink from that," said Terry Francona. "I think he looks forward to that challenge. He has pitched some unbelievable games, not just in the postseason, but during all of his seasons. But when you get to the postseason, he has been some kind of pitcher."
Though the Red Sox aren't cocky enough to start lining up the champagne bottles, they feel pretty good with their ace on the mound in a closing situation.
"I guarantee you everyone in this clubhouse wouldn't want anyone else out there than Beckett," said Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon. "That's the way we feel, and we've got to keep applying that pressure. Just as easy as we went over there and took those two games, they've got a ballclub where they can come here and do the same thing. If we don't apply that pressure, that could easily happen. We've got to be very cautious of that."
But there figures to be very little caution when Beckett steps on the Fenway Park hill on Sunday night. As usual, the hard-throwing righty will air it out and see where his next October opportunity takes him.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.