They say Josh Beckett has grown up in the four years since he pitched in a postseason, but the 27-year-old Beckett bore a striking resemblance last night to the 23-year-old who threw nothing but blanks in the Bronx the night the Florida Marlins won the 2003 World Series.
Beckett gave up a leadoff single to Chone Figgins, a ball that struck Dustin Pedroia’s leather before arriving in the outfield, then set down the next 19 in a row before Vladimir Guerrero lined a single to left with one out in the seventh.
Beckett went the distance, as he did that October night in New York, in a 4-0 victory over the Los Angeles Angels, giving the Red Sox their most dominating pitching performance in a postseason opener since El Tiante shut out the Cincinnati Reds, 6-0, in Game 1 of the 1975 World Series. Coincidentally, Beckett completed his work in the same amount of time Luis Tiant did, 2 hours 27 minutes, sending 37,597 home in time to catch the highlights on the 11 o’clock news.
“The one in ‘03, I think, gets all the hype,” said Mike Lowell, who was Beckett’s teammate on the 2003 Marlins. “But he had all his pitches, he’s very composed, he’s hitting spots with great velocity. When they got aggressive he started mixing in offspeed stuff. He’s a complete guy, I’m just very happy for him.
“People expect him to do it and he does it. That’s what I love about his attitude. He’s a guy who wants the ball in that situation. He’s not afraid to take the ball and he expects himself to do well.”
The Angels also wear red, but no one will compare them to the Big Red Machine, especially in Fenway Park, where they have lost 17 of their last 24 regular-season meetings, and were last seen here in the postseason walking off the field after a David Ortiz home run eliminated them from the 2004 ALDS in a three-game sweep.
Angels pitcher John Lackey, who couldn’t contain his contempt for the Fens the last time he was here, his profane outburst caught on NESN when he gave up six first-inning runs, wasn’t given a chance to get any more comfortable this go-round. Kevin Youkilis, whose sore right wrist was the source of some pre-series concern, made his first postseason hit one to remember, driving a home run into the left-field seats with one out in the first.
Youkilis then doubled in the third ahead of Ortiz’s home run, Big Papi’s ninth in postseason play. The Sox added a third run in the inning when Manny Ramirez drew a full-count walk, hustled to second on a wild pitch, and scored ahead of Lowell’s single.
“It’s felt a lot better as the days have progressed,” Youkilis said of his wrist. “And I feel like I’m progressing well. The biggest thing is the wrist doesn’t hurt as much now. It’s playoff time and the adrenaline helps most.”
The Sox were held to just one hit the rest of the way, J.D. Drew’s bouncer off the glove of Lackey, but the Angels did not come close to solving Beckett, a 20-game winner who put his Cy Young Award credentials on display last night.
“Man, let me tell you, I watched some of the innings on TV on the screen we had downstairs,” said Ortiz, who tied Jason Varitek for most postseason home runs in club history and has the franchise record for RBIs (30). “Even on TV he looked filthy. That is the Beckett everybody knows is capable of doing things in the game.”
Figgins was the only Angel to advance beyond first base. He was on the run when Orlando Cabrera grounded to short, and was on the move again when Guerrero grounded to third. But he got no further, Beckett striking out Garret Anderson on a checked swing. That was the first of eight strikeouts for the 6-foot-5-inch righthander, who did not walk a batter and made 83 of his 108 pitches strikes, a stunning percentage.
The teams take today off, then resume play tomorrow night, with the Sox sending Daisuke Matsuzaka to the mound in an effort to open a 2-0 lead in this best-of-five series. In 2004, the Sox won the first two games in Anaheim, then came home to finish off the Angels en route to their first World Series in 86 years.
Beckett benefited from three outstanding defensive plays. Lowell made a diving stop of Mike Napoli’s grounder to open the third, Coco Crisp made a sliding catch of Figgins’s liner to end the sixth, and rookie Jacoby Ellsbury, just inserted as a defensive replacement for Ramirez in left, made a sprawling catch.