Friday, October 19, 2007

Josh Beckett: Mr. October/Ladies Man/All Around Bad Ass

As I was watching Josh Beckett thoroughly bamboozle the Indians last night, I started thinking about other great playoff performances by Red Sox pitchers. Ironically, the one I kept coming back to was the incredible Game 5 performance by Pedro Martinez in the 1999 ALDS - when he heroically emerged from the bullpen and threw 6 innings of no-hit, 8-strikeout ball to stun the Indians in Cleveland. That, of course, was the 'waayyyyyy back' game, when Troy O'Leary smashed a huge grand slam to break the game open.

Josh Beckett last night was the closest thing to peak Pedro I've seen. After a rocky first inning - in which the Indians scored their first run on a double-play grounder - Beckett was ON. His fastball was consistently in the mid to upper 90's - he touched 101 at one point - and his curveball was positively knee-buckling. Throw in a couple of timely changeups and he had the Tribe mesmerized. (Though Eric Wedge would never admit that - he incredulously gave very little credit to Beckett after the game - instead saying that he was disappointed that his hitters didn't make the necessary adjustments after seeing Beckett in Game 1. Eric - the man dominated your team. Man up.)

Game 5 in the 2007 ALCS had many interesting nooks and crannies. Kevin Youkilis got things started with a homer to left off C.C. BigAssia in the first. The Indians tied it up at 1 in the home half, and then the fun began in the 3rd. With David Ortiz on at first, Manny smashed an opposite-field blast that appeared to be a home run. The ball hit off the yellow stripe on top of the wall and bounded back onto the field. Manny of course, that sterling baserunner that he is (the TBS guys said so in the ALDS), thought it was a HR right off the hop and only made it to first base, where he hilariously began making the call for a timeout. Big Papi, meanwhile, who thankfully doesn't march to the beat of Manny's drummer, hot-footed it around the bases to score and make it 2-1. After a decent argument, the umps got together and ruled that it was indeed the longest single in the history of the ALCS. In hindsight, after understanding the convoluted 'yellow stripe' rules of Jacobs Field, the umps probably got it right.

Fortunately, it didn't matter. Beckett was superb, and the 2-1 lead held up until the 7th, when Youk again came through in the clutch with a triple that scored Dustin Pedroia. A Papi sac fly gave the Sox some much-needed breathing room and a 4-1 lead. They tacked on three more in the 8th to seal it.

From 8 p.m. Thursday night through the wee hours of Friday morning, Beckett's mean streak was on display for all to see. First, Beckett had a little verbal exchange with Kenny Lofton in the 5th inning. Lofton, thinking he had secured a walk in his at-bat, flipped his bat and made a move toward first before the ump called it a strike. We later learned that these two have a little history, with Beckett not appreciating the little bat-flip move. On the next pitch, Lofton flied out to left and Beckett said something as the ageless punk ran to first. Not wanting any part of Beckett, Lofton took quite the circuitous route to the mound before being held back by first base coach Luis Rivera. While this was going on, all I was thinking about was Beckett's focus. Here he is pitching the game of his life, and he decides to bait an opposing player? But he settled down nicely and continued his dominance. He also threw high and tight to Franklin Gutierrez early in the game to move him off the plate. But the best may have come in the post-game press conference. Some wiseguy writer asked Beckett what he thought about the Indians inviting one of his former ex-girlfriends (too bad it wasn't Leeann Tweeden, above)to sing the anthem. "I don't care what they fucking do around here," said a miffed Beckett. "She's a good friend of mine so I'm glad they flew her in to watch the game. It was nice to catch up with her." Classic response, and the f-bomb on live TV - as NESN's Tom Caron reminded us - was unavoidable because it truly is live.

All in all, it was a delectable night of baseball and on a side note, I'm pretty sure I had something to do with the win. When it was 1-1, I grabbed my daughter's Wally doll and the cork from the champagne bottle I chugged from on the night of October 27, 2004, and put them prominently next to the TV. From that point on, the Sox started to get some breaks. Needless to say, Wally and the cork will be back in action tonight.

Game 6 at Fenway Park. Curt Schilling vs. Fausto Carmona. The pressure is now squarely on the Indians, who know full well that if they lose this game, Game 7 at Fenway will be raucous and could very well send them home wondering 'What if?' While I'm skeptical that the Sox can get to the Indians' pair of aces twice in the same series, I feel pretty good about tonight. The fans have to be into it. And no queer white towels, please.

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