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Masterpiece theatre

Masterpiece theatre

BOSTON -- Josh Beckett started Game 1 of the American League Championship Series and picked up where he left off the last time he appeared in the postseason.

The Red Sox right-hander dominated the Angels in a 4-0 complete-game masterpiece, becoming only the seventh pitcher in Major League history to throw a complete-game shutout in back-to-back postseason starts, and the first since Orel Hershiser in Game 7 of the 1988 National League Championship Series. In addition, Beckett became the first Major League pitcher to throw a shutout in the postseason since Jose Lima did it for the Dodgers on Oct. 9, 2004, against the Cardinals in Game 3 of the National League Division Series.

"He went out there and executed his pitches, in my opinion, probably better than he has at any point in the season," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "He attacked the strike zone with all of his pitches -- cut his fastball at times. He pounded the strike zone with three great pitches. They're very aggressive. We've been over that. He threw first-pitch strikes and kept it out over the middle of the plate. That was a great performance."

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Pitching for the Marlins, the then-23-year-old Beckett 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 at Yankee Stadium. Beckett's 2-0 triumph gave the Marlins their second World Series championship and earned him MVP honors.

"From Day 1, when he was a rookie with the Marlins, I noticed that he was a guy that wants to be great," said Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell, who was Beckett's teammate in Florida. "He doesn't want to just be pretty good. He wants to be the best guy on that field the day he takes the mound. That's something you absolutely want from your ace."

Clearly, Beckett was the best guy on the field Wednesday.

Boston's ace allowed a leadoff single to Chone Figgins and then retired the next 19 batters he faced before Vladimir Guerrero singled to left field with one out in the seventh.

"I was ahead of a lot of guys," Beckett said. "And they [have] a lot of guys that ... foul a lot of pitches off. And I just didn't want to get wrapped up in trying to strike a lot of guys out, because those are the at-bats that will end up killing your pitch count and you're out after 5 1/3 [innings] because you got 120 pitches.

"I just stuck with pitch to pitch, trying to get outs as quick as possible," he added. "When you have a defense like I have, it's pretty easy to sit back and do that."

Beckett does not like to think about the past, but when pressed, he did offer a comparison to his '03 game against the Yankees.

"They're not similar," Beckett said. "They're similar because of the results. I don't think really anything else is similar. I think I got a lot of ground balls tonight; I got a lot of fly balls that night. It was a good game. [Catcher Jason Varitek] did an unbelievable job."

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Varitek pointed to Beckett's ability to spot his fastball as the key.

"He was able to locate his fastball and utilize all of his pitches," Varitek said.

Beckett now has three shutouts in two postseasons, but he remains indifferent about his accomplishments, in particular when a question was asked about him wanting to be thought of as a postseason ace by his peers.

"I think that those are all things you should worry about when you retire, not really worry much too about them [when you are still playing]," Beckett said. "I always go back to one pitch at a time. That's what you do in games like today. That's one thing that I can point out for myself that I did well. I never got ahead of myself. It was always one pitch at a time. [It] didn't matter what was going on. If they had a guy on third base or if they didn't have anybody on, you just go one pitch at a time."

Francona obviously is more impressed with his ace than Beckett is with himself.

"He was in control of himself, of the game," Francona said. "He's a very emotional guy, but now his pace of the game, he got in a groove. I think he retired maybe 19 [in a row] at one point. He worked quick, stayed with all his pitches."

Angels manager Mike Scioscia might have been the most impressed by Beckett on Wednesday night.

"The kid ... is really the story tonight," Scioscia said. "The guy pitched an incredible ballgame. We didn't have many good looks at him. ... Beckett was about as good as we've seen him. I don't think you're going to be able to pitch a much better game than that."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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