Boston turns to Beckett to save season
Righty shut out Cubs in 2003 NLCS to keep Marlins alive
CLEVELAND -- Josh Beckett has been here before. The fate of Boston's season is being placed upon his shoulders, and history would appear to indicate that the pitcher is up to the task.
Four years ago, when the Cubs stood one win away from reaching their first World Series since 1945, Beckett stepped in and led the Marlins to an improbable comeback. He took the ball in Game 5 of the 2003 National League Championship Series and spun a two-hit complete-game shutout to send the series back to Chicago, where Florida prevailed in seven games.
Now, after his Red Sox absorbed a 7-3 defeat at the hands of the Indians in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series on Tuesday, Beckett is once again being asked to revive his team's hopes for October glory. Mike Lowell was on that famous Florida squad with Beckett in 2003, and Boston's third baseman said there's no one else he'd rather have on the hill for the Sox in Game 5 on Thursday.
"There's no one better for us," Lowell said on Tuesday night. "That's the guy we want on the mound. It's kind of ironic. He took Game 5 in '03 and that spelled out good things for us. Hopefully, he does the same for us."
Beckett and Lowell are hardly the only Red Sox players who have experience in such a critical scenario. In one of the most amazing rallies in sports history, the 2004 Boston club came back from a 3-0 deficit in the ALCS against the Yankees. From there, the Sox went on to take the World Series crown.
"There's a lot of guys in this clubhouse still that know in '04 we were down three games to nothing to New York," said Red Sox starter Tim Wakefield, who took the loss in Game 4 on Tuesday. "We've got our work cut out for us, and hopefully we can take this back to Boston and get in front of our home crowd.
"We've got to win Thursday -- that's the bottom line. If we don't, we're going home. We've got the right guy on the mound that day and hopefully we can continue this in Boston."
Ever since Terry Francona pulled Beckett from his Game 1 start against Cleveland after just 80 pitches, Boston's manager has been constantly questioned about sending Wakefield to the mound instead of Beckett for Game 4. That continued prior to Tuesday's game, just hours before Wakefield took on the Indians.
"I can't believe somebody asked me that question," joked Francona. "What we considered was trying to put our ballclub in the best position to win the series, and there's a lot of different reasons why we feel like that. Some of it certainly concerns Josh, some of it concerns the guys behind him."
Beckett, who went 20-7 with a 3.27 ERA during the regular season, would've been pitching on just three days' rest had he replaced Wakefield in Game 4. Now, after being held back, Beckett will be on his normal schedule, which could prove to be crucial when he toes the rubber with Boston's fate in his right hand.
Even Beckett was asked if he would've liked to take the ball on Tuesday, when the Red Sox had the chance to even the best-of-seven series at two games apiece. Beckett -- one of the leading candidates for this year's AL Cy Young Award -- said all the right things, opting to stick by Francona's decision.
"We wouldn't be where we're at without Tim Wakefield," Beckett said. "Obviously, I don't get paid to make those decisions, and I definitely support Terry Francona. ... Just like he backs us up, we back him up."
The Red Sox probably wouldn't be where they are right now without Beckett's strong regular-season showing, which has carried over into the playoffs. Boston's lone win thus far in the ALCS against the Tribe came in Game 1, when Beckett turned in six solid innings en route to his second victory of the postseason.
"He did a good job against us," Indians manager Eric Wedge said. "We could have done a better job with him. Having seen him a little more recently, hopefully it'll help us a little bit. But the flipside is he's also had a pretty good look at us."
In Game 1 of the AL Division Series against the Angels, Beckett opened the series with a complete-game shutout, striking out eight and issuing no walks. Over 15 innings this October, Beckett has allowed just two runs with 15 stikeouts and no walks in two wins. In his playoff career, he is 4-2 with a 1.87 ERA and three shutouts.
Two of those gems came in 2003, when Beckett pitched his way to the World Series Most Valuable Player honor. Four years later, Beckett is a little older and a little wiser, but he's still the same big-game pitcher he was back then.
"I'm more focused on what I need to do," said Beckett, when asked how he has changed since his days with Florida. "It was kind of like a party in 2003. It was fun, it was a bunch of young guys, and we were just out having fun, just happened to beat ... whoever we were playing every day that year."
That experience helps the Red Sox understand that the series isn't lost.
"You realize that it can be done," Lowell said. "It's not something that's impossible to do. We definitely have our work cut out for us, but I don't think we should look at it as we have to win three games in a row. We've just got to win two days from now."
Beckett gives Boston a good chance.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.