Back to Fenway

1192808770Something changed last night. Josh Beckett, previously known as a Big Game Pitcher, became something else. He is now the Big Game Pitcher, inheriting that mantle from Curt Schilling and John Smoltz.

What made Beckett’s performance all the more brilliant were the circumstances: His team facing elimination, on the road, against a hyped-up crowd. The supposed Cy Young favorite pitching for the opposing team. And, of course, the Bush League circus that popped up several hours before game time with his ex singing the national anthem. (“I don’t get paid to make those [expletive] decisions,” Beckett said. “Thanks for flying one of my friends to the game so she can watch it for free.”) None of that mattered even a little bit.

This is not the Josh Beckett of 2003. This is the finished product.

The Beckett of 2003 was a kid with ability and arrogance. No one told him he wasn’t supposed to go into Yankee Stadium on three days rest and throw a shutout, but he did with dominating, overpowering stuff. The Beckett of 2007 still has the ability, and the arrogance, but he now has the smarts and the savvy to go with it.

Example 1: First Inning

Unable to locate his fastball, and also the victim of bad luck when Grady Sizemore’s bloop became a double, Beckett induced a double play from Travis Hafner — conceding a run, but otherwise escaping without further trouble.

Example 2: Kenny Lofton

If Kenny Lofton played hockey he would be Theo Fleury, an obnoxious pest. Jason Varitek told him to hurry it along in Game 3 and he promptly hit a home run and gloated about it afterward. In the fifth, Lofton dropped his bat after what what he assumed was Ball 4. Beckett didn’t care for it, and after getting him to pop out had a few choice words. In full hold-me-back mode, Lofton made a U-Turn at first to come at Beckett.

Said Lofton:

“That’s the way he is. He’s that kind of guy. He was saying stuff to me and I didn’t like it. When you say stuff to Kenny, he’s going to say stuff back.”

We’re pretty sure Kenny won’t like what’s said about Kenny on Saturday, but then that’s just Kenny being Kenny. The look on Beckett’s face, meanwhile, was pure incredulousness. And then he went back to dominating with off-speed pitches and 96 mph fastballs as if nothing happened.

Example 3: Lofton Again

After Beckett failed to field Lofton’s comebacker in the seventh, he got a fly ball and a strikeout. Inning over. Say good night, Kenny.

Any of those moments could have very easily snowballed into something worse. But none did because Beckett never relinquished control. That’s not just the mark of a pitcher with dominant stuff, that’s a measure of maturity.

We have been blessed with pitching the last two decades. From a young Roger Clemens, to the great Pedro Martinez, to the 2004 version of Curt Schilling. With the exception of Pedro’s tour-de-force relief appearance in 1999, there has not been a better pure pitching performance under the circumstances than the one witnessed last night, and that includes the Bloody Sock game.The 2007 ALCS is still a longshot. There’s still the little matter of Fausto Carmona and the questions about Schilling and Daisuke Matsuzaka, but there will be baseball at Fenway for at least one more day. And Beckett is the reason why.

Couple of quick notes:

1. Manny, would it kill you to run out of the box? If you do, Fox can’t slice and dice your otherwise innocuous quotes and make you look bad.

2. Jacoby Ellsbury, please.

3. Memo to Tim McCarver: Ellsbury going in for defense in the eighth doesn’t mean he’s a lock to start Game 6. That’s only been the gameplan since the playoffs started. McCarver spent 21 seasons as Major League catcher, and was universally hailed as one of the smartest people in baseball during that time. It’s still a mystery as to how he is so daft in the booth.

However, something tells me that McCarver and Joe Buck would not have been so certain in their pronouncements that Ellsbury would play Saturday, if they had not been tipped off. Just a hunch.

4. Saturday will not be a fun evening in the life of Kenny Lofton. Just remember fans: Don’t say anything to Kenny. Kenny doesn’t like that.