Remarkable revival has Beckett back in command
Veteran hurler's superb pitching coming at welcomed time for Dodgers
LOS ANGELES -- Josh Beckett has revived his career in a big way on a big stage.
The quality of the revival is remarkable, and the timing of the revival is exquisite. This being the fourth year of Beckett's current four-year contract, this particular revival comes at a highly convenient time. As much as this situation is beneficial for Beckett, it also represents a large chunk of assistance to his employers, the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Thursday night, Beckett was one-half of a compelling pitchers' duel, opposite Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright. Beckett pitched seven shutout innings. Wainwright had a no-hitter for five innings and eventually pitched deeper into the game than Beckett, going eight innings.
But in that eighth inning, the Dodgers scored the game's first and last run. Beckett was not involved in the decision, but this Dodger victory had his fingerprints all over it.
It was a tight, tense contest, from the first pitch to the last. It became clear early that neither Beckett nor Wainwright was going to be pushed around in the least.
"It was kind of like a playoff game, honestly," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "It's one of those games that you don't feel like you can make mistake. If you make a mistake it's going to cost you."
Beckett was traded by Boston to Los Angeles in 2012. He was seen in Boston as one of the primary villains in the Red Sox's tumble into basement of the AL East. With the Dodgers last season, injuries limited Beckett to just eight starts. This did not appear to be a career still capable of ascendance.
But this year, Beckett regained both effectiveness and prominence. On May 25, he threw a no-hitter at Philadelphia. Since then, nobody has hit him particularly hard. In his last seven starts, he has an earned run average of 1.34.
"Obviously, Josh has been pretty amazing this year," Mattingly said. "He just kind of continues; he changes speeds, showing why he's been so good for so long. And that's a good-hitting [St. Louis] club over there. That's a veteran club that has dealt with guys changing speeds the way Josh does. They've seen it before."
In the peak years of his earlier career, such as 2003 when he was a World Series hero for the Marlins, or in 2007 when he dominated the postseason for the championship Red Sox, Beckett was a power pitcher. He had plus offspeed pitches, but he could also be overpowering.
This year, the Dodgers have convinced him to, as Mattingly put it, "pitch backward," working primarily off his curveball.
"To be honest with you, guys just don't hit the curveball anymore," said Mattingly. "You can see it with Wainwright, too. It's a pitch that's dying. Guys don't see it enough. You don't see near as many guys with the good curveball.
"But you see the guys who have the good curveball -- Wainwright, [Zack] Greinke, [Clayton] Kershaw -- it sets up your other pitches. It has made Josh more effective. The curveball gives added velocity to his fastball because you have to wait longer."
Beckett baffled the Cardinals with his curveball Wednesday night.
"A lot of guys don't [hit the curveball], as a whole maybe there's some truth to that," Beckett said. "But [the Cardinals] actually have guys who do. Yadi [Molina] does. You look at the numbers, he hits curveballs well. Matt Holliday hits curveballs well."
But the Cardinals didn't do a lot with any of Beckett's pitches. He was helped out by Matt Kemp throwing out a runner at the plate from left in the seventh inning. He received nice defensive plays from Dee Gordon at second and shortstop Miguel Rojas, who initiated a first-inning double play that probably helped set a tone for the entire evening.
"Any time you go up against a guy like [Wainwright] you know it's going to be tough," Beckett said. "But my defense really deserves all the credit for this. I think I struck out just [four] guys. The double play in the first inning was big and obviously Matt throwing that guy out at the plate.
"I knew it was going to be tough, but I don't think I deserve very much of the credit. My defense really picked me up. And then we got a late run off a really tough pitcher."
Asked to describe his stellar work over the last seven starts, Beckett said once again, that on this night, his defense deserved all the credit. This was a modest approach to what has occurred recently with his career, but at least the guy was consistent.
This was a big deal at Dodger Stadium. This was the first time these two teams had played since the National League Championship Series last October. The Cardinals won then in six games. But Thursday night, the Redbirds could not manage even one run against the revived career of Josh Beckett.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.