Josh Beckett Holds The Key For The Boston Red Sox
“Popeye’s Chicken & Cold Beer”, now officially apart of the New England Baseball lexicon, no different than “Bucky –bleeping- Dent” or “Yankees Suck”. Right or wrong Josh Beckett has become the face of Chicken & Beer nation, which coincides with the fact that he may be the most important pitcher on the Red Sox staff, let alone one of the team’s most crucial players. Make no mistake if the Red Sox are going to return to the October tournament this season, and put September 2011 in the past then Beckett has to be out at the forefront.
Beckett, who turns 32 in May, is in his 3rd season of a 4-year, $68 million dollar extension he signed in April of 2010. His 5 seasons in Boston have alternated between brilliance and M*A*S*H, not withstanding his own personal September 2011 meltdown where it appeared that he had strapped a Bridgestone tire to his waist before each start.
Beckett arrived in Boston in November of 2005, courtesy of the late, great, Bill Lajoie who was temping as Sox GM while Theo Epstein staged his now infamous walk-off rebellion against Team President Larry Lucchino. Beckett, who came at the expense of all-world prospect Hanley Ramirez, would win 16 games in his first season, mixing in several strong performances along the way. The good news ended there. Beckett finished the year with a 5.01 ERA, giving a league high 36 home runs. Still there was plenty about Beckett to like, namely his demeanor and overwhelming talent.
It all seemed to come together over the 2007 season for Josh Beckett.
His pitching line for the year was exceptional:
20–7, a 3.27 ERA, 194 strikeouts, a 1.14 WHIP, 40 walks.
Possibly his most impressive stat was the 17 home runs allowed. That numbers more than anything represented Beckett's growth as a pitcher. Too many times in 2006 Beckett had simply tried to overpower American League hitters with straight 97 mile an hour fastballs that had a tendency of winding up out of the yard. Now Beckett was locating pitchers, and working with Jason Varitek to setup batters using specific pitch patterns.
What Beckett did in October of 2007 is ultimately what earned him the lucrative extension he signed last season. Beating Cleveland twice in the ALCS, Beckett won the series MVP honors going 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA. In the most important game of the season, Beckett dominated the Indians in Game 5 by throwing 8 innings, allowing 1 earned run, and striking out 11. Add another 7 inning, 1 run, 9 strikeout masterpiece in Game One of the World Series at Fenway against Colorado and Beckett's place in Boston Baseball Lore was set in stone.
But then came 2008, when Beckett came to camp out of shape, got hurt and only won 12 games with another ERA over 4.00. The Red Sox season would end with a loss in Game 7 of the ALCS in Tampa, with Beckett's post-season performance a shell of the work he submitted in the previous October.
2009 turned out to be a bounce back summer for Beckett. He won 17 games, with a 3.86 ERA and a career high 199 strikeouts. All while throwing 212 innings, also a career high. Though Beckett was indeed dominant during extended stretches of 2008, he did make a DL trip and wore down near the end of the season. In his only post-season start Beckett would come unraveled in the 7th inning, giving up 4 earned over 6.2 frames in Anaheim.
Beckett’s 2010 campaign could’ve been be summarized in 2 words: injured and underwhelming. After the ink dried on his $68 million dollar extension, Beckett thanked the Red Sox by posting 6 wins.
When 2011 began Beckett spoke of playing on a team that could win over a 100 ball games, and when he stoned the Yankees in his second start of the season, a game where he was clearly in 2007 form. For much of 2011 Beckett resembled the Bob Gibsonesque gun slinger that spit nails at the Cleveland Indians in the 2007 ALCS. But then, as Theo Epstein wrote in his beautiful op-ed in the Boston Globe, ‘September Happened’.
September 2011 will always be an opponent of Beckett’s when he toes the rubber this summer. Whether he’s facing The Yankees, Rays, Tigers or Angels, he’ll be battling last September. The Red Sox can only hope that when he does take the ball every 5th day he looks like an ace, rather then The Fool On The Hill, which remains the defining image of his 2011 season