BOSTON -- They can look each other in the eyes, both standing 6-foot-5, but that's where Jeff Francis and Josh Beckett part company. The differences only start with Francis being a left-handed Canadian, Beckett a right-handed Texan. Francis, Colorado's Game 1 World Series starter, throws to what the Rockies refer to as "soft contact." He likes to frustrate muscular hitters with weak ground balls and lazy flies, relying on a dynamic defense to consume everything that doesn't carry over walls.
Francis' mound rival on Wednesday night at Fenway Park, Beckett, has a different MO altogether. The Boston ace strangles offenses by discouraging contact, savoring the sound of fastballs smacking against Jason Varitek's glove and the sight of knee-buckling curves sending hitters away, head down, mumbling to themselves about the unfairness of it all. "He hasn't been doing it as long as Beckett," rookie Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado's rock at shortstop, said of Francis. "But Jeff's been doing it for us in big games, too. "One guy's a power pitcher, one guy's finesse -- different styles, but both get the same results." Since he won't be taking any swings against Beckett under American League rules, Francis can distance himself somewhat from the confrontation. His concerns are with Big Papi, Manny and Co., not Beckett and his 97-mph heat. "He's been everything you think about when you think of dominance," Francis said. "I think he's shown that he's one of the best pitchers in baseball all year, not just this postseason. "I can't worry about what Josh Beckett is going to do, because he's shown what he's going to do. If he can do it consistently, then they're going to have a good chance -- and that's what makes for a good baseball game." Francis, who finished the season 17-9 with a 4.22 ERA, has been a big part of the 21-1 run that has come to define these Rockies. "He's got a pretty slow heartbeat," Colorado manager Clint Hurdle said of his poised ace. "He's good. He can make pitches. He reads swings well. I don't think he does anything that jumps out at you. But over the course of time, he impresses you." A product of that baseball factory, the University of British Columbia, Francis, 26, is 47-34 in three full seasons -- and seven starts in 2004, his debut season. Francis beat the Dodgers and Padres during the Rockies' September surge, was oudueled by Arizona's Brandon Webb on Sept. 28 -- the last time the Rockies lost -- and opened both of Colorado's postseason series with road wins. Francis went six innings in a 4-2 decision over the Phillies, holding that powerhouse to four hits and two runs while striking out eight. At Arizona in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, Francis was even better in a 5-1 verdict by the Rockies. He spaced seven hits in 6 2/3 innings, giving up one run while striking out four. That's 12 strikeouts in 12 2/3 postseason innings. The Red Sox have seemingly mastered the art of eliminating the starter in the middle innings with patience and discipline, then hammering away at a bullpen.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.