10/09/09 2:16 AM ET
Beckett looks to pull Sox even in Game 2
Injured in last year's playoff push, Boston's ace good to go
By Joe Frisaro / MLB.com
Pain free, a revitalized Beckett will start for the Red Sox against the Angels in Game 2 of the American League Division Series at Angel Stadium.
Encouraging news for the Red Sox is the fact there are no physical impairments on the power-throwing 29-year-old, who dealt with a right oblique strain in the playoffs a year ago.
"There's no issues physically at all," Beckett said. "Obviously, last year was a little bit different. So as far as physically coming in, it's a lot better."
After being blanked, 5-0, on Thursday night in the series opener, the Red Sox will be looking for the brash Beckett to pull the series even.
"With Josh pitching, we have a lot of confidence in him," first baseman Kevin Youkilis said. "We hope he goes out there and throws the way he can, and hope our bats can come alive. That would be a good thing."
History has already shown us what Beckett is capable of in October when he's at full strength. A World Series MVP with the Marlins in 2003, and the American League Championship Series MVP with the Red Sox in '07, Beckett has firmly entrenched himself as one of the top big-game pitchers the game has seen in a while. He's already had two championship rings and looks forward to doing his part for a possible third.
Even banged up in the 2008 postseason, Beckett gutted it out without his full arsenal. His fastball velocity was down in the low 90s, and his offspeed pitches weren't as crisp, yet Boston's ace did what's he's been known to do -- competed regardless of what he had in the tank. In the 2008 ALDS against the Angels, he gave up four runs on nine hits but grinded out five innings in a no-decision.
In the ALCS, he collected one win against the Rays, who won the series in seven games.
"I think my experience, if anything, it helps me just go at it the exact same way that I would a regular-season game and to prepare myself the exact same way for the games that I was successful in during the season," said Beckett.
The oblique issue now is in the past. Most recently, the fiercely-competitive Texas native has been hampered by mild back spasms, caused by sleeping awkwardly on hotel beds. Beckett missed his second to last start, but he's ready to go.
|Red Sox's Josh Beckett||Angels'
|2009 REGULAR SEASON|
|Overall||32 GS, 17-6, 3.86 ERA 55 BB, 199 K||33 GS, 16-8, 3.75 ERA, 66 BB, 174 K|
|Key stat||1.19 WHIP||.304 OBA|
|Career||12 GS, 7-2, 2.90 ERA||1 GS, 1-1, 2.57|
|AT ANGEL STADIUM|
|2009||1 GS, 0-1, 6.00||17 GS, 9-3, 2.90|
|Career||3 GS, 1-2, 4.05 ERA||53 GS, 27-12, 3.27|
|AGAINST THIS OPPONENT|
|2009 regular season||2 GS, 0-1, 4.50||2 GS, 1-0, 0.66|
|Career||8 GS 2-3, 4.13 ERA||8 GS, 2-2, 3.99|
|Loves to face||Kendry Morales (0-for-7, 3 K, 0 BB)||Jason Bay (0-5, 2 K, 1 BB)|
|Hates to face||Howie Kendrick (8-for-19, 1 HR)||David Ortiz (7-for-20, 2 HR 9 RBIs)|
|Why he'll win||1-0, 2.57, 14 K, 14 IP in 2 career ALDS starts||2.90 ERA at home was 5th best in A.L.|
|Pitcher beware||Allowed 19 hits over 11 IP in last two starts||6-5, 4.47 in 15 starts after All-Star break|
|Bottom line||Big games bring out his best||Relatively untested in playoffs|
Now, he's ready to for his fourth year in the playoffs.
"Last month, [my health] has been a lot better than it was two months ago," Beckett said. "So I'm looking forward to going out there and doing what I'm supposed to do."
Beckett comes off a solid regular season, finishing 17-6 with a 3.86 ERA. He had 199 strikeouts in 212 1/3 innings, both career highs.
The playoffs, however, are where Beckett has built his reputation.
"I think the focus is going to be there," he said. "I think the extra adrenaline helps that. I think everybody is a little more locked in in the postseason.
"I know you come in and, obviously, you don't feel like you did when you come into Spring Training. You've got a little bit of physical, you know, tiredness, whatever it may be."
The way manager Terry Francona has set up his rotation, with Jon Lester in Game 1 and Beckett in Game 2, Beckett is in line for the decisive fifth game, if it's necessary.
"This way, Lester gets an extra day, and Beckett gets an extra day [rest]," Francona said. "Not one guy on regular rest and one guy on eight.
"It has as much to do with possibly being able to bring Beckett back for Game 5, too. We might be able to use these [two] guys for four games. So that's part of it also."
In Game 1, Lester suffered the loss. While he scattered four hits and struck out five in six innings, the left-hander surrendered a three-run homer to Torii Hunter.
Lester has full confidence the Red Sox will bounce back behind Beckett.
"We're OK. We've lost a game before," Lester said. "This isn't the end of the world. We'll come back tomorrow. We've got J.B. going for us and hopefully we can do the same thing we did tonight. Grind it out and hopefully it's in our favor next time."
The way the Red Sox have set up their first two games, they will follow up a power-lefty like Lester with more heat coming from the right side in Beckett.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia said the challenge of facing two consecutive hard throwers coming at you from different directions isn't as drastic as if, say, mixed in between there was a soft-thrower.
"Maybe if you had [knuckleball tossing Tim] Wakefield starting, and at some point you bring in a real power arm," Scioscia said. "I think that has probably a little more [effect].
"I think during the season there is probably more of a lefty-righty balance that will come into play as a long season plays out. But as far as facing Lester or Beckett, they're both terrific pitchers. I don't think it's going to make that much of a difference, because one is left-handed and one is right-handed."
Clay Buchholz is scheduled to pitch Game 3, on Sunday when the ALDS shifts to Fenway Park.
In four years managing Beckett, Francona has been impressed with the right-hander's work ethic. At 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, Beckett puts his time in the weight room, getting ready physically and mentally.
"He works really hard every day of the week," Francona said. "So when his day comes, he can go out and be ready to rise to the occasion. He doesn't have to try to push a button. He's prepared for what he's supposed to do. Because of his talent, he put that together in a lot of big situations. He's come up big."
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.