Beckett no stranger to big stage
Four years later, Sox ace looking to grab second ring
BOSTON -- Josh Beckett established himself early as a big-game pitcher.
Pitching for the Marlins, the then-23-year-old dominated throughout the 2003 playoffs, reaching a crescendo against the Yankees in Game 6 of the World Series when he tossed a complete-game five-hitter in the series-clinching win at Yankee Stadium.
Beckett's 2-0 triumph gave the Marlins their second World Series championship and earned him MVP honors.
"He shut out the Yankees," said Mike Lowell, Beckett's teammate on the Marlins and now on the Red Sox. "He shut out the Cubs in Game 5 [of the National League Championship Series]. He shut out the Cubs on two days' rest for four innings in Game 7. I mean, that's about as good as I've seen any pitcher."
Important, meaningful stuff -- unless you ask Beckett.
On the eve of his Game 1 start for the Red Sox in the American League Division Series, Beckett wasn't banking on his past to help him against the Angels. When asked what he could take from his 2003 success to help him in 2007, Beckett answered matter-of-factly: "Nothing."
"I've got to go out and execute pitches just like I did in 2003, just like I did throughout this season," Beckett said. "I don't think anything is going to change, because they're certainly not going to be a different lineup because of what I did in 2003. So I don't think it has any bearing whatsoever on what's going on now."
What does have a bearing is the fact Beckett has become a better pitcher.
After putting together decent numbers in his first season with the Red Sox in 2006 -- albeit marks that did not reflect how dominating Beckett can be -- the right-hander stepped up his performance in 2007, posting a 20-7 mark with a 3.27 ERA.
Examine the numbers and Beckett's won-loss record comes into focus. He pitched four fewer innings in 2007 (200 2/3) but allowed 19 fewer home runs (17), 34 fewer walks (40) and he struck out 36 (194) more.
"We've seen a young guy work so hard and mature so much, and he became the guy we really needed him to become," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "And every good team has guys like that on the team, where you send your guy and you say, 'This is our guy,' and, 'Go get 'em,' and he'll respond to adversity, and he competes. He's got a lot of different weapons. And you need that, because we're playing a good team."
Now at the ripe old age of 27, Beckett seems to have entered his prime.
"I certainly think I've learned a lot through failure and succeeding," Boston's ace said. "And as you get older, obviously, I think you're still learning. But I think you learn a lot of crucial things along the way. I don't think anybody will ever consider their learning process complete in this game."
Included in the learning curve is respecting the opposition. Beckett clearly doesn't underestimate the Angels.
"They can run, they've got guys that can hit the ball out of the ballpark, they move runners over," Beckett said. "They play very fundamentally sound. ... And they don't make mistakes, defensively or offensively."
According to Beckett, there is just one way to fight such a fundamentally sound team.
"You've got to play the game right," Beckett said. "You've got to hold baserunners. You've got to know in bunt situations what bunt defense we want to do. You know, it's a fun thing to watch, to watch them do that. But it's also something that, you know, is fun to watch whenever people defend it right."
The Angels' style of play is reminiscent of how teams play in the National League. Beckett is familiar with that brand of baseball from his years spent with the Marlins.
"I think it helps me a little bit, just because ... I've actually been on teams that had to survive like that," he said. "That's not taking away from the middle of their order, because they have guys that can hit the ball as far as anybody -- one guy in particular that can hit anything that doesn't bounce right out of the ballpark."
Beckett was referring to Vladimir Guerrero, who has never met a pitch he didn't like.
"You have to be very careful," said Beckett about pitching to Guerrero. "You have to be even more worried about being careless, because if you think you're wasting a pitch, it may not be a waste pitch to him, and he'll find some way to hit it as far as anybody."
Beckett exudes a confidence that spills over to his teammates.
"Every time he goes out there, we have a good chance to win," shortstop Julio Lugo said. "He's one of the best in the big leagues."
Added David Ortiz: "He's a power pitcher. In the playoffs, if you don't have power pitching, you're done. Because, you know, it seems like the strike zone gets smaller. Everybody's eyes is on top of those games, the whole thing changes. I have confidence in Josh going out there pitching."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.