Ace thinking bullpen stint in Game 7
If Sox force winner-take-all finale, Beckett willing to relieve
CLEVELAND -- The Indians may not have seen the last of Josh Beckett. The Red Sox starter has added Cleveland to his growing list of postseason victims, and Boston will likely keep a seat warm in its bullpen if there's a Game 7 to be played at Fenway Park on Sunday.
On Thursday night, Beckett dominated the Indians for eight innings in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series, staving off elimination for the Red Sox. Boston still trails Cleveland, 3-2, in the series, with the lone wins coming on the days that Beckett took the hill.
After deciding against bringing Beckett back on three days' rest to pitch in Game 4, the right-hander won't be able to start for Boston if the club forces a seventh game. Instead, as Beckett has done in prior playoff runs, he's gearing up to be potentially utilized as a weapon out of the bullpen.
"We'll delve into that later," Beckett said after picking up his third win of this postseason on Thursday. "Obviously, I'm preparing myself for them to ask me that, and as of right now, yeah, I think that would be something I could do."
Serving as an emergency reliever isn't unfamiliar territory for Beckett, who went 20-7 with a 3.27 ERA this season for the Red Sox. In 2003 with the Marins, Beckett started in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series against the Cubs and pitched a complete-game shutout. Three days later, he logged four innings in relief to help Florida to a victory in Game 7 at Wrigley Field.
Pitching on short rest hasn't appeared to faze Beckett in postseason play, either. During the 2003 World Series, he started Game 3 against the Yankees and then came back on three days' rest for an outing in Game 6. In that start, Beckett shut out New York, clinching the World Series crown for the Marlins.
"I don't really know how to explain it," said Boston third baseman Mike Lowell, who was on the '03 Marlins squad with Beckett. "I'm just really glad he's on my team. It's nice to watch. He's on his game every time there's a big game in the postseason. Hopefully we have a chance to see him more than just this time."
Lowell was most likely referring to having Beckett start for Boston in the World Series, but the third baseman might as well have been talking about Game 7. Then again, Beckett might've been able start in a seventh game against the Indians had he taken the mound in Game 4. Sox manager Terry Francona opted instead to start Tim Wakefield.
That decision to start a rusty Tim Wakefield resulted in a Game 4 loss to Cleveland, but also allowed Beckett to return on normal rest for Game 5. In the ALCS opener, Beckett was pulled after throwing just 80 pitches over six innings, leading to questions about his availability for the fourth game. A report later indicated that Beckett was dealing with a minor back issue during his start against the Tribe, which may or may not have been the case.
Beckett looked fine on Thursday, when he struck out 11 and yielded just five hits over eight innings en route to a victory. With the win, he improved to 3-0 with a 1.17 ERA, 26 strikeouts and just one walk over 23 innings. Beckett is 5-2 with a 1.92 ERA in his postseason career.
"He's expected to have a good outing and he has a great one," Lowell said. "That just shows you that he's got something that other guys don't have. He's got it. He's got it and there's a much different feeling when he takes the mound than any other guy."
Using Beckett in Game 5 also allowed Boston to give right-hander Curt Schilling an extra day of rest, which the Sox didn't mind doing, considering he missed roughly six weeks with a right shoulder injury earlier this year. Schilling will now start in Game 6 against the Indians on Saturday at Fenway Park, and Daisuke Matsuzaka is slated for the potential Game 7 on Sunday.
Of course, if the series lasts until Sunday, Beckett may be called upon to follow Matsuzaka. Sunday would be Beckett's normal day to throw in the bullpen, so turning in a handful of innings shouldn't present much of an issue.
The Indians are probably hoping the situation doesn't arise.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.