BOSTON -- The bar that Josh Beckett set for himself in October -- at least before this one -- was somewhere around the moon. The right-hander would take the ball with that familiar snarl on his face and overpower anyone who stood in his way. This was the case when he was with the Marlins in 2003, and even more emphatically for the Red Sox last year.
But this postseason, Beckett has struggled mightily and the inquiring public is desperate for answers. The problem is that Beckett doesn't have them either. If he did, he wouldn't have labored over five innings (nine hits, four runs) in Game 3 of the American League Division Series against the Angels and he wouldn't have been shelled by the Rays to the tune of eight runs over 4 1/3 innings in Saturday night's Game 2 of the AL Championship Series. The Red Sox lost the game by a score of 9-8 in 11 innings.
Because Beckett had elbow problems in August and a right oblique strain at the end of September, he keeps getting asked if he's healthy. As he held court in front of his locker on Sunday afternoon, it was clear Beckett had reached a state of annoyance with the health questions.
"I felt fine -- do you guys know something that I don't know?" Beckett said.
The right-hander was near defiant in maintaining his health and wondering why there were so many questions about it.
Such is the case when a pitcher of Beckett's caliber has such glaring struggles on the big stage. In his two starts in the postseason -- both no-decisions -- Beckett has an 11.57 ERA. Beckett went 6-2 with a 1.93 ERA in his two previous postseasons.
Faltering this fall
Josh Beckett struggled in Game 2 on Saturday, giving him back-to-back tough outings in what has been an otherwise stellar postseason career.
"It just looks like he's leaving the ball over the plate a little bit more," said Red Sox cleanup man Kevin Youkilis. "I don't really know. Being at third base, you can't really tell where the pitches are. It just seems like the balls are over the plate and he doesn't have his pinpoint control. But if he gets his pinpoint control, he'll be back to being Josh."
Beckett had a long flight back from St. Petersburg -- the Red Sox landed at Logan Airport at 6:12 a.m. ET on Sunday -- to mull over what went wrong. Did he pinpoint anything?
"No, not really," Beckett said. "Like I said, I think it just comes down to execution. [I] left too many balls over the plate. I know the home runs were not good pitches. I went back and looked at those. Those weren't good pitches. I think if you look at most of the other hits they got with runners in scoring position, they probably weren't very good pitches."
In other words, Beckett is adamant that his problem is geography within the strike zone and not any health problems.
"It's frustrating, it really is," said Beckett. "For your team to score eight runs and for you to not be able to hold any of the three leads they get while you're in the game, that's frustrating."
The Red Sox continue to search for answers along with Beckett. He is lined up to pitch Game 6 on Saturday at Tropicana Field if the series -- which is now tied 1-1 -- stretches that far.
"He feels pretty good, physically," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "We spent a few minutes with him a little bit ago, just trying to go through what his day will be like today, because today is a big workday. And again, just to double check and make sure he's OK, because as we all know, when guys are competing, guys will fib or try to get through it."
After the discussion with Beckett, Francona seemed convinced that the righty isn't trying to cover up any ailments.
Look out for the long ball
Josh Beckett had yielded only six homers in 77 2/3 postseason innings prior to Saturday, but he gave up three in 4 1/3 innings in Game 2 of the ALCS.
"No, he's fine," Francona said. "He's certainly battling some consistency issues, and I think some of that is having some of your starts interrupted and then having the oblique a couple weeks ago. You know, it's been a battle for him."
Beckett doesn't plan on any dramatic changes between now and Saturday.
"Same thing I did in between my last one," said Beckett. "You can't get into this [high and low thing]. It doesn't work that way."
To a man, the Red Sox displayed confidence in the ace righty who played such a crucial role in their World Series championship season of 2007.
"Josh will be fine," said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "[Saturday] night and the last couple starts, he's looked a little different. Everyone goes through stuff like that. We have confidence in Josh. You saw last year, he carried us the whole season."
The man who has picked up a huge piece of slack during Beckett's struggles is Jon Lester, who will pitch Game 3 on Monday.
Lester felt for his close friend while watching him struggle in Game 2.
"It was tough," Lester said. "It's tough for any pitcher. It doesn't matter who you are, what your postseason record is, what your regular-season record is. You never want to see a teammate, let alone a pitcher, go through stuff like that. And everybody has starts like that, and he battled his butt off. That's what you do; you go out and you battle when you know you're not as sharp as you'd like to be, and you still have to go out and try to just battle, try to get as many outs as you can and try to get as deep as you can."
A fierce competitor, Game 2 was tough for Beckett to swallow.
"Yeah, I don't expect that out of myself," said Beckett.
The Red Sox hope Game 2 was just a small blip on the radar and that Beckett will restore order next time he takes the ball.
"Nobody's perfect in life," said Youkilis. "There's times where you have a struggle and you bounce back. For us, we need him to bounce back and just get his confidence and be the Josh Beckett that we know -- and hopefully that's it, and it's the last time he pitches like that and he dominates after that. You can't worry about it. We have a lot of confidence in Josh."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.