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Beckett's run reflects stuff of legend

Game 1 starter Josh Beckett has been at his best this postseason with a 3-0 record, 1.17 ERA, and 26 strikeouts. Game 1 starter Josh Beckett has been at his best this postseason with a 3-0 record, 1.17 ERA, and 26 strikeouts. (RAY STUBBLEBINE/REUTERS)

The Impossible Dream, as it was called 40 years ago, couldn't survive a proud, fierce dose of reality known as Bob Gibson.

In this, the 103d World Series, the difference maker is pitching for the Red Sox, which could prove a nightmare for the Colorado Rockies, weavers of their own improbable run toward immortality.

Josh Beckett, who so far has had an October worthy of Gibson, the Hall of Famer who vanquished the Sox three times in the '67 Series, will follow another Hall of Famer, Carl Yastrzemski, the ceremonial first-ball thrower, to the mound tonight to face the Rockies in Game 1 of the World Series in Fenway Park.

The Sox will be attempting to win their second World Series in four seasons after going 86 seasons without a Series title. The National League's wild-card entry has never played in a Series in the 15 years since they began playing major league baseball in Denver, but has won each of its seven postseason games this year and has won 21 of 22 overall.

Technically, the Rockies have yet to face an elimination game, but since mid-September, when they were five games out of the wild-card race with four teams ahead of them, they have played nothing but elimination games.

"He's been everything you think about when you think of dominance," said Jeff Francis, the Rockies lefthander who won 17 games in the regular season, both of his starts in the postseason, and will become the first Canadian-born pitcher to pitch a Game 1 (former Sox pitcher Reggie Cleveland, who took the loss in Game 5 of the '75 Series, is the only other Canadian to start a Series game). "I think he's shown that he's one of the best pitchers in baseball all year, not just this postseason."

The parallels between the pitching line crafted by Beckett, the MVP of the American League Championship Series, and the one posted by Gibson against the Sox, are uncanny. Beckett is 3-0 with a 1.17 ERA, striking out 26 while walking 1 in 23 innings. Gibson, the MVP of the '67 World Series, was 3-0 with a 1.00 ERA, with 26 strikeouts and 5 walks in 27 innings.

The Cardinals' ace ultimately vanquished all in his path, including Gentleman Jim Lonborg, who lost a perfect game with two outs in the eighth inning of Game 2 and finished with a one-hitter. But on two days' rest, and despite a prediction of "Lonborg and Champagne" in one newspaper headline, Lonborg was no match for Gibson and the Cardinals in Game 7.

Beckett, who beat the Angels in Game 1 of the Division Series and the Indians twice in the ALCS, has yet to meet his match. And after Beckett extended summer for at least another week by staving off elimination in Game 5, Sox bats awoke in record-setting fashion, Boston establishing ALCS marks for runs (51), team batting average (.318), and team slugging percentage (.521).

Five Sox starters batted .300 or better, led by Kevin Youkilis, who hit .500 and set an ALCS record for runs (10) while tying the record for hits (14). The biggest impediment to the Sox offense continuing to have its way may be the rules. The club will not be able to use a DH in the three games scheduled to be played in Denver, which means Youkilis, Mike Lowell, or David Ortiz will have to sit.

"It puts us at a disadvantage," manager Terry Francona said. "Some of it may [depend] on how David's knee feels. So we're really not set. Youkilis, Lowell, Ortiz, two out of three play. We'll get to that when we know more."

Francona never wanted to get to what he had to announce yesterday, that Tim Wakefield, the longest-tenured member of the team, was left off the Series roster because of ongoing inflammation in the back of his right shoulder.

"If I continue to do this, based on the information I'm getting from the doctors, I'm seriously at risk of injuring myself for the rest of my life," said the 41-year-old knuckleballer, who already has had two cortisone shots since the end of August, was unable to throw a side session earlier in the week, and may be facing a decision on whether he will pitch next year.

Without Wakefield, a Game 4 start appears likely to go to lefthander Jon Lester, who threw a four-inning simulated game yesterday. Curt Schilling is scheduled for Game 2 tomorrow night, with Daisuke Matsuzaka pitching the opener in Denver Saturday night.

Less dramatic was the news that Coco Crisp, who had been replaced in each of the last two games of the ALCS by rookie center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, would not be in the starting lineup again tonight, in part because his left knee is sore from banging into the wall while making the catch that ended Sunday's pennant-clinching game.

The Rockies, virtual unknowns until their magical run, have lost just once in the last 38 days. They took two out of three from the Sox during an interleague visit in June, and have outscored their opponents, 34-16, in the postseason.

"When we saw them, we saw a very good baseball team that knocked the ball around quite a bit," said Sox catcher Jason Varitek. "Their lineup is a lot like an American League team."

The last time anyone saw Jonathan Papelbon on the mound, he looked again like he was auditioning for a spot in the "Riverdance" tour. "I didn't know there was a Riverdance tour," he said. "I was listening to the voices in my head."

And what were those voices telling him about this series?

"Let me listen real quick," he said, placing his fingers on his temples. "They were just telling me, go out and have fun. That's what I'm going to do. Nothing's changed. How many games have we played? This is game 200 and something, and that's how we've got to take it."

For Sox owner John W. Henry, this much has changed since the Sox last won in 2004.

"It's so great for the team not to have the monkey on the back that used to be there, carrying on past unluckiness or past failure. That's all dissipated. It makes it much more enjoyable. This year is much more enjoyable than 2004, which was suffering until the last out of the World Series for me, and I think, for those of us in ownership who wanted it so badly. There was always this thought in me that the Red Sox, something bad may happen."

Manny Ramírez, self-proclaimed "bad man," has company. His name is Beckett. Let the Rockies beware.

Gordon Edes can be reached at edes@globe.com.

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