Fenway Park erupted last night at the sight of Josh Beckett walking to the bullpen in the middle of the second inning. With the Red Sox breaking open a tight game by scoring eight times in their last two at-bats, Red Sox manager Terry Francona never had to summon him during the game. But Beckett still got last call when it was announced that he had been named Most Valuable Player of the American League Championship Series.
Beckett won the series opener, then came up huge in Game 5 with the Sox at the brink of elimination in Cleveland, with a dominating 7-1 victory. For the series, Beckett was 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA, walking just one batter while striking out 18 in 14 innings.
Beckett now is in line to pitch the opener of the 103d World Series Wednesday in Boston. Including his win in the opener of the division series against the Angels, Beckett is 3-0 with a 1.17 ERA in the postseason, surrendering just 13 hits and a walk while striking out 26 in 23 innings.
"I go out there every time and I try to figure out what you've got and what's not going for you and what's not working so well," said Beckett, who can put this trophy next to the World Series MVP for the Marlins in 2003, while reserving room for the Cy Young trophy that may come his way.,
"Don Sutton used to tell me, 'Every time you go out there, you're going to be a different guy. So throughout the course of the year you can be between 30 and 35 people.' "
Crash to a halt
Coco Crisp, bounced from the starting lineup in favor of rookie Jacoby Ellsbury for the last two games, placed his own stamp on last night's 11-2 victory by crashing into the center-field triangle after running down Casey Blake's gapper for the game's final out.
"I hit my knee into the wall and caught padding, but I felt wall behind it mostly," Crisp said. "I was feeling a little pain right there and happiness at the same time. It was definitely nice to end it against my good friends over there."
Crisp played for the Indians before being traded to the Sox before the 2006 season.
"We had our backs against the wall against one of the toughest teams in the league, maybe the best team in all of baseball, and we wanted to prove we're the best team," Crisp said. "We have a ways to go. They were resilient, but we fought back."
Right back at it
Ellsbury was back in the starting lineup last night in center field after going 1 for 5 with an RBI single and run in Game 6. He went 1 for 3 last night with a walk and two runs scored.
"I thought he handled himself fine," Francona said. "If you pick it apart a little bit, he probably could have got back to the wall [on Ryan Garko's triple in Game 6] because he's athletic enough to make those plays. I didn't think he looked overwhelmed by what was asked of him, or we wouldn't have played him.
"I think all the things we've talked about with Jake are true. He competes, and for a young player put in that situation, I think that's pretty high praise."
Roster turnover ahead
The Sox have 11 potential free agents whose Boston careers could be over very soon.
The team holds a $4 million option on 41-year-old Tim Wakefield, and unless there is concern his shoulder trouble is more serious than it appears, they are expected to exercise it. They also hold a $3.85 million option on reliever Julian Tavarez, a much less likely candidate to be back.
The biggest question marks are third baseman Mike Lowell and pitcher Curt Schilling. Lowell has said his first choice is to come back, and the Sox have said they would like to make that happen.
But he is likely to command serious interest from other clubs, including the Yankees, especially if Alex Rodriguez opts out of his contract. Lowell began his career in the Yankees organization, and has not said he would reject them out of hand, like Schilling said he would.
Another team Lowell recently expressed interest in is the Phillies. "Where would I fit in the offense? You look at Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley and guys like that, and that has to bring a smile to your face," Lowell told the Philadelphia Daily News. "And I've always hit well in that park. So that would definitely be a team I would consider."
Lowell had the only three-homer game of his career in Philadelphia, and is batting .353 (24 for 68) lifetime in Citizens Bank Park. His father, Carlos, spent two years at Saint Joseph's in Philadelphia and played for the Hawks.
"I grew up an ardent Phillies fan because, on that trip with my parents, we stopped at a Burger King and they were giving away baseball cards. I got a Mike Schmidt," Lowell told Paul Hagen of the Daily News in '03, when the Marlins were in the World Series. "I asked my dad, 'Is he a good player?' He said, yes, he was a very good player. That was 1980 and Schmidt won the MVP that year."
The other free agents are reliever Eric Gagné; Matt Clement, who will try to draw interest from another club after missing a year following shoulder surgery; 37-year-old infielder Royce Clayton; Mike Timlin, who wants to pitch another season - he will be 42 in March - but is uncertain of getting that chance here; catcher Doug Mirabelli, who just turned 37 Thursday; first baseman Eric Hinske; and outfielder Bobby Kielty.
The Sox elected not to have Wakefield in the bullpen last night. The stated reason by Francona was that they were uncertain he had recovered from his last start. The unspoken reason was to keep him prepared for a start in either of the first two games of the World Series. "Wake is going to throw a side [session] now," Francona said. "Just because of what he's gone through pitching, I think we felt like it was in his best interest - and we're not trying to put the cart before the horse, but getting him up quickly won't work. I think we're all hopeful that we'll have more baseball to play, and that's our best way to go about it."