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Ace's performance was striking

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / October 25, 2007

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Josh Beckett's so locked in it would surprise few if he were led to the mound blindfolded and still hit Jason's Varitek's mitt location spot on. No matter that the Red Sox scored 13 runs last night, Beckett could have been staked to 1 1/2 runs and he could have held on to the lead. The fact that the Rockies even mustered one run in his seven innings was an upset.

Beckett, 4-0 in the postseason, is throwing BBs.

He is hitting the corners, throwing low heat and high heat, two-seamers and four-seamers, and a devastating breaking pitch. He has been as precise as any postseason pitcher in recent times, showing an edge and a kick-in-the-pants attitude.

"He has that Bob Gibson about him," said former Toronto manager Buck Martinez. "That, 'This is my game and I'm in charge' [attitude] when he's out on the mound. The game is in slow motion for him. He feels he can make any pitch, any time. That's [Juan] Marichal, [Warren] Spahn, [Bob] Gibson, [Sandy] Koufax."

The American League Championship Series MVP continued his postseason mastery against a team that actually solved him this season. The Rockies whacked Beckett around pretty good June 14, when Garrett Atkins hit a grand slam and Colorado beat the Cy Young candidate, 7-1, at Fenway Park at a time when Beckett was looking for his 10th consecutive win. Last night was not June 14.

The Red Sox probably didn't need to keep Beckett in for seven innings. Manager Terry Francona could have yanked him after five and been safe. Who knows if they might need Beckett to pitch on short rest?

Beckett struck out the first four Rockies, and five of the first six. It was an emphatic statement. The Sox supported Beckett from the get-go, scoring three first-inning runs. He didn't need that many.

Colorado's only run came in the second when Troy Tulowitzki doubled in Atkins. In the fourth, Todd Helton doubled with one out, but Beckett, seeming a little ticked off, struck out Atkins and Brad Hawpe to end the inning.

Beckett, the majors' only 20-game winner, faces stiff competition for the Cy Young Award from Cleveland's C.C. Sabathia, who was an absolute dog in the playoffs. Do not be surprised if Sabathia edges Beckett as ballots had to be in before the playoffs began. Sabathia won 19 games and led the league in innings (241). If voters who were on the fence knew then what they know now, there'd be no debate. Beckett has proven to be the best starting pitcher in baseball from start to finish this season.

Former Florida manager Jack McKeon always knew Beckett would be a superstar. He believed Beckett had the most potential on a staff that included young guns A.J. Burnett and Brad Penny. McKeon thought Burnett had the best arm and Penny had the best stuff. But he always thought Beckett had the best combination. He always thought Beckett was the best pitcher.

In 10 postseason games, including nine starts, Beckett, 27, is 7-2 with a 1.75 ERA. He has 82 strikeouts and 14 walks in 72 2/3 innings. He's struck out 35 in 30 innings this postseason, with only a pair of walks. He's already pitched a World Series-clinching game in 2003. He's already been a World Series MVP. Barring an injury or a complete Red Sox collapse, the tough Texan could become one of the best postseason pitchers of all time.

"Since I've been around him from June of last year on, he's been a true treat to watch," said Kyle Snyder. "He's made such incredible adjustments. Curt [Schilling] might have the best command in the league of the last 20 years and you can see the influence that Curt has had on Beckett. He's got phenomenal stuff. The thing from a technical point of view that's so impressive to all of us on the staff is his ability to repeat his delivery so consistently. He's really the best at it."

Francona didn't want to jump the gun in anointing Beckett as the greatest October pitcher just yet.

"Well, we're not done and he's not done," Francona said. "So that would be a comment for later on. Every time we've gone to him, he's given us a great outing."

Beckett has been short on hyperbole in the postseason, choosing to remain focused on the prize rather than assessing every single performance. He gave the Rockies their proper respect, comparing them with a tough American League lineup, but last night he mowed them down, allowing six hits as if they were Triple A.

"That's a good lineup over there," Beckett said. "You can tell how hungry they are. I made the pitches when I needed to execute them. They held them off just long enough. You're just trying to get outs. In the first inning, you're trying to get your guys back in there."

Beckett claimed he never looked back at the first Rockies performance.

"I didn't look at it one time, no," he said. "I try not to harp on those negative things too much. Obviously that wasn't a smart start that I want to go back and replay in my mind. I think just kind of go with my strengths and execute those and when you need to exploit hitters' weaknesses."

When told of his extraordinary postseason, he said, "I hope my teammates are happy. That's who I'm really here to please. If they're happy, I'm happy. I feel like I need to carry my share of the load."

He's done more than that. He's on his way to being one of the best postseason pitchers in history.

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