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Workmanlike Francis on for Game 1

Workmanlike Francis on for Game 1

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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.

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Catcher Yorvit Torrealba knows the tried-and-true formula against this kind of offense: throw strikes in good locations, early and often.

"Francis is going to be the same Francis that we all knew, all year long," Torrealba said. "He's going to pitch his game. I'm basically going to call his game. We're not going to try to do anything different.

"He's not a pitcher that's going to go out there and strike out 20 guys in one game. He's going to get a lot of ground balls, and he's able to make his pitches when he needs to. It's something that we need to work on, to pitch his game and not try to overdo stuff because we're against these guys."

Francis acquired familiarity with the Red Sox and Fenway Park in mid-June, shutting them out across seven innings in a 7-1 win while the Rockies were taking two of three.

"He's got some history against these guys," Torrealba said. "He pitched here before, so we have a really great idea of what we want to do."

Francis feels it was a benefit getting the experience of Fenway, with all its history and tradition, out of the way four months ago.

"We got to see it for the first time ... take it all in," Francis said. "Now, I think we can come in here and concentrate on the game. We're not in awe of the stadium. We're not kind of blown away."

The Red Sox have their own Canadian, Eric Gagne, and he's come to know Francis during winters at charity events for Baseball Canada.

"It's pretty amazing," Gagne said. "It's not really something that happens every day, two Canadians [in the Fall Classic]. It's pretty cool. When I came into the [NL], I think there were three Canadians. Now [there are] two of them in the World Series.

"I know he's good; that's all I know about him."

Francis realizes this is a big deal back home, in B.C., following in the Mile High footsteps of Larry Walker. The great Canadian outfielder, a beacon in the early days of the Rockies franchise, has reached out to Francis with messages of support.

"Hearing from him after we won the National League was special, because I know he had been there with St. Louis, coming into Fenway and playing in a World Series for the first time," Francis said. "That was pretty cool to hear from him, especially being from B.C. I've been watching him play forever. He's a hero back where I'm from.

"We're all very proud to be Canadian. But I think more so than that, right now I'm proud to be a Rockie. It's something special we have as a team."

Lyle Spencer 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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{"content":["world_series" ] }
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