Beckett makes dominance routine

Beckett makes dominance routine

BOSTON -- For a while, Fenway Park's hungry faithful took to their feet on every two-strike count.

Before a few more dominant innings by Josh Beckett and a historic helping of offense left them happy and sated -- and seated -- Red Sox fans backed their ace with pure volume. The atmosphere forced Rockies National League MVP candidate Matt Holliday to call time in the top of the first to silence the crowd.

He struck out on the next pitch, one of four consecutive strikeouts to open the game by Beckett, who became just the third pitcher in World Series history to achieve the feat while improving to 4-0 with a 1.20 ERA in the playoffs this season.

Now, Beckett's brilliance is in danger of becoming routine. After seven innings of one-run ball, in which the Boston ace yielded six hits and one walk against nine strikeouts, it is becoming something not only to be marveled at, but perhaps expected.

"He's been effective for a while now," Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said. "As advertised, we've seen it before. We saw more of it tonight."

"Every time we've gone to him, he's given us a great outing," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said, "and we certainly hope that continues."

Beckett's win was his fourth of the postseason, moving him to within one of the all-time mark shared by Randy Johnson (2001) and Francisco Rodriguez ('02), a record that nonetheless carries a caveat. Only four of Johnson's wins and none of Rodriguez's came in games they started. Thus, Beckett's four wins as a starter have tied a postseason record shared by Burt Hooton (1981), Dave Stewart ('89), Jack Morris ('91), Orel Hershiser ('95), John Smoltz ('96), David Wells ('98), Johnson ('01) and Curt Schilling ('01).

Beckett's Game 1 performance, meanwhile, lowered his career World Series ERA to 1.16, tied for 10th among pitchers with a minimum of 20 innings. His nine punchouts improved his career playoff average to 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings, the second-highest figure in history (minimum 20 innings).

Beckett victimized Colorado outfielder Brad Hawpe three times in the Fall Classic opener.

"He obviously cut me up tonight," said Hawpe, who struck out swinging twice and looking once against Beckett. "His fastball was moving a lot tonight, a lot more than it was last time. He was pitching in and out. His curveball was good, too."

Elite company for Beckett
Highest strikeouts per nine innings in World Series history
Player
K/9
Innings
Orlando Hernandez
11.3
28 2/3
Josh Beckett
10.8
23 1/3
Bob Gibson
10.22
81
Tug McGraw
10.12
21 1/3
Sandy Koufax
9.63
57
Hal Newhouser
9.58
20 2/3
John Smoltz
9.18
51
Steve Carlton
9.09
31 2/3
Roger Clemens
8.94
49 1/3
Danny Cox
8.69
29
Joe Wood
8.59
22

Beckett is becoming so great, in fact, that he is handing his manager some uncomfortable choices. What to do when he has been so efficient, after six innings of a 13-1 blowout, that he has thrown 53 of 78 pitches for strikes? Should he be pulled, keeping him fresh for a potential Game 5? Should he remain in the game to power through the seventh, as he proved capable of doing in only 15 pitches?

"We lined up to play a nice game," Francona said. "With the weather potentially kind of hanging around, sometimes I think you can get in the way of a good game. And if we go to the bullpen early and the weather breaks like it had a chance to, no, suddenly we're stuck. If something happens [to Game 2 starter Schilling] tomorrow, we go for the bullpen."

"It's better," Francona added, "to just stay out of the way. He didn't get real deep. ... Sometimes, like I said, you can get in the way."

Beckett was characteristically understated after his Game 1 win, telling the media that he "had enough pitches today to survive."

"That's a good lineup over there," Beckett said. "You can tell how hungry they are."

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Beckett is used to being tagged the postseason hero. He earned that designation in 2003, when as a 23-year-old, he bullied his way through the playoffs and shut out the Yankees in the Marlins' Game 6 World Series clincher.

"I thought that was the best three-week stretch I had seen by any pitcher," said Mike Lowell, who arrived in the same November 2005 trade that brought Beckett to Boston. "He's putting up a good comparison to that so far this postseason."

Even then, the right-handed former phenom was used to the attention, and not only from the local Houston suburbs where he grew up. Beckett graced the covers of national baseball magazines as a high school senior in 1999, making waves with his high-90s heat. The Marlins made him the No. 2 pick of that year's First-Year Player Draft.

"I think right now, he's setting his mark," Kevin Youkilis said, "and ... living up to all the expectations that were put on him when he was younger. You've got to tip your cap to Josh. He's handled it well the past few years, and he's doing an unbelievable job for us. He's a guy out there that we want in a big game."

Six career playoff wins later, an American League Cy Young Award potentially awaiting him after the postseason, Beckett craves recognition from his peers only.

"I hope my teammates are happy," Beckett said. "That's who I'm really here to please. If they're happy, I'm happy."

And so were Boston's fans on Wednesday night.

Alex McPhillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.