|With blazing fastball and ruthless attitude, Beckett owns October|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 23 October 2007 13:10|
The accolades, the analysis - he insists none of it matters this time of year. The only thing that counts is making one good pitch after another.
Maybe that's why he owns October.
``He gets mad about outs that are hit hard,'' Boston Red Sox teammate Kevin Youkilis said. ``He's a perfectionist.''
Indeed, Beckett has been nearly perfect this postseason. He is 3-0 with a 1.17 ERA in three starts, striking out 26 and walking one in 23 overpowering innings.
He'll take those astounding numbers to the mound Wednesday night in the World Series opener against Colorado, which banged Beckett around Fenway Park in June and handed him his first loss after a 9-0 start.
Jeff Francis, enjoying an excellent postseason himself, will pitch for the Rockies.
``They've got some speed at the top, they've got their thumpers in the middle,'' Beckett said. ``They remind me a lot of an American League team. They can hit.''
All true, but so is this: If he shuts down the Rockies to help Boston win it all, 2007 will belong to Beckett in baseball lore. Think Kirby Puckett in 1991, Roberto Clemente in 1971, Sandy Koufax in '65.
And this isn't the first time the Texas fastballer has dominated under the spotlight.
He first earned his hard-nosed reputation as a cocky, 23-year-old kid in 2003, when Beckett capped a terrific postseason with a five-hit shutout at Yankee Stadium on only three days' rest to clinch the World Series title for Florida.
Beckett took home MVP honors, just as he did in this year's AL championship series after beating Cleveland twice.
He doesn't get rattled by pressure. He embraces it. He just doesn't want to talk about it much.
``Just trying to execute pitches,'' Beckett said. ``I'm not worried about any of the other stuff. It's great if you win those awards. There's about five other guys that could have won that award in the ALCS. We had one guy (Youkilis) hit .500 and hit three home runs, and somehow I came out with it.''
For good reason.
With his team trailing Cleveland 3-1 in the best-of-seven series and their scintillating season on the line, Beckett was at his best. He struck out 11 in eight innings of a 7-1 victory that sent the series back to Boston, where the Red Sox completed their comeback.
The right-hander is 5-2 with a 1.78 ERA in his postseason career - with three shutouts in eight starts. That's one shutout behind Christy Mathewson's record.
``He's maturing right in front of our eyes. Seems like every game he wants to make more of a name for himself,'' Boston manager Terry Francona said.
Beckett was outstanding during the regular season, too, becoming baseball's first 20-game winner since 2005. That was an important bit of redemption, because he struggled last year during his first season in Boston after coming over from the Marlins in a blockbuster trade.
But his October exploits are almost unmatched. So what is it that makes him so unbeatable this time of year? A blazing fastball that approaches 100 mph, plus a wicked curve and effective off-speed stuff.
Or, as teammate Mike Lowell put it: ``Ninety-seven, hammer time and changeup.''
Not to mention a mean streak that makes Beckett a throwback to October aces of old like Bob Gibson. You get the feeling Beckett doesn't like his opponents one bit.
Just a few days ago, he screamed at Kenny Lofton when the Cleveland outfielder hit an easy fly. Beckett was angry that Lofton had flipped his bat to the ground on what he thought was ball four - the two had a similar run-in two years ago.
And while Gibson flashed that piercing glare, Beckett has his own signature. That soul patch of stubble just beneath his lower lip definitely sends the message he's looking for: Don't mess with me.
``I think I'm pretty much a normal guy on the day I pitch,'' Beckett said. ``I come in, having fun, talking to guys. I don't think I do anything differently. I try not to alienate the people that are going to help me win ballgames.''
He put his team in a hole against Colorado, however, on June 14 at Fenway. Beckett gave up a grand slam to Garrett Atkins, allowing six runs and 10 hits in five innings.
``Maybe from a confidence standpoint it helps,'' said Rockies slugger Matt Holliday, the NLCS MVP. ``But that doesn't do anything for tomorrow.''
Colorado rookie shortstop Troy Tulowitzki added: ``Obviously, it helps to know that we can hit him. But this is a different situation. I'm sure he's going to have his best stuff.''
``This is October. This is when he comes to pitch.''
AP Sports Writer Howard Ulman contributed to this report.